My dad is a great guy. He is loving and caring and he’s always ready and willing to lend a sympathetic ear and offer helpful advice. It’s hard to whittle down 28 years of advice and pick a favorite, but I’m leaning towards this one:
Don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Some folks might suggest that, when you get right down to it, he is advocating fibbing to make a story better, but it’s not a bad thing – it’s for the good of the audience.
Now, I can get behind that idea. I really can. I do have to say, though, that it’s good in theory…as long as you’re in the know. Having been on the receiving end of a number of these stories, listening slack-jawed and fascinated, I have to warn you that if a story that is coming from my dad sounds too good to be true, he might be pulling your leg a little.
When I was a Freshman in high school, we spent some time covering the Influenza Epidemic in my American History class. Our teacher asked us to go home and ask our parents if their parents had shared with them any stories about their (or their parents) experiences relating to that time in history. I asked my dad if he had any stories that had been passed down through our family and without missing a beat, he told me that my great-grandfather had been one of the city employees who was in charge of driving the “death cart” that traveled around to the different houses, collecting the bodies of the victims of the virus. He went into detail about my great-grandfather and how the job affected him and how it was such a difficult time for the family.
It was gold.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I was going to have the best story in the class! I furiously jotted down everything I could, while my dad paused and repeated facts to make sure I had gotten it all. I walked into history class the next day with my head held high, ready to share my family’s story. I proudly read my notes and and smugly noticed that there wasn’t anyone else in the class who had a story like mine. My teacher was thrilled and asked if I could get any more information from my parents, maybe – dare he ask – pictures of my great-grandfather with the death cart? Sure, it was an odd request, but his students were engaged and interested in the topic, so why not get everything out of it that he could?
I trotted home and told my dad what a hit the story was at school, and passed along the request for pictures of the death cart. It was then that he broke the news that the story was, in fact, not true. He had made the whole thing up.
Needless to say, there were no pictures.
We all laughed about it for a while (or maybe it was just my dad laughing, I can’t remember), but then harsh reality set it. I certainly couldn’t go back to school the next day and admit to my fib; my teacher had been so excited and let’s be honest, a death cart is an odd thing to lie about. So I had to keep up the charade. I pretended to share in his disappointment when I told my teacher that there weren’t any pictures of the death cart and then tried to stave off any further questioning by telling him that since it was such a difficult time in my family’s history, it wasn’t talked about much.
When asked about his reasons for making up the death cart story, my dad responds, matter-of-factly, with a question:
“It gave you a good story, didn’t it?”