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The Liar

The Face in the Mirror

By John CoxPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
Konstantin Somov - Self-Portrait in the Mirror - detail -

"Why do people lie, grandpa?" My eldest grandson looks at me, his earnest face a mixture of curiosity and concern.

It's difficult to hold his gaze without my eyes getting a little wet. I owe him the truth, even at the tender age of seven. So many others have lied to him and let him down. I hope this isn't the only place in his life where he hears the truth.

Looking at him kindly, I say "That's a hard thing to answer. You see, people lie for a lot of reasons. Sometimes to avoid embarrassment, at others to get something they want. Sometimes it just easier to lie."

Looking at me intently, he rubs his nose. "I just wish they wouldn't, that's all."

I give him a grin and tousle his hair. "Me too," I reply.

But I don't tell him about the worst kind of lie. Maybe I will someday when he is old enough to reflect back on his young life and begin to apply what he has learned.

In the meantime, we go outside and bounce on the trampoline while the sun still rides above the horizon.

After he goes to bed, I lay with my eyes open wide, staring into the sleepless darkness.

Why do people lie to themselves? My mother raised us to tell the truth. She hated lying, or at least thought she did.

When we were children, truth was sacrosanct in our home. But our parents passed onto us myths and lies about themselves just as their parents had once passed the same onto them. Unfortunately, we did not realize the truth soon enough to avoid passing them to our own.

Raised in the era when a 'good man' provided for his family and was given a pass for being an absentee husband and father, I truly believed I was a 'good man.' When my wife complained, I told her she was not being fair. When our children rebelled and treated me like a stranger and interloper in their lives, I believed their actions were unjustified and disrespectful.

But one day I looked in the mirror and saw my father staring back at me. Another 'good man.'

I did not respect him when I was growing up either.

I am old enough now to have seen my grandfather's face as I gaze in horror at my reflection in the mirror.

We were all liars. We lied to ourselves. We lied to our spouses. We lied to our children. I did not mean too. But when you lie to yourself, you lie to everyone else as well.

Since my dad died, my mom has often reminded me that my father was a 'good man.' That's right. Those are the words she uses. But I remember a different story.

I remember when he broke her heart.

The image of her on hands and knees washing the floor with her tears still forms in my mind's eye even though sixty-five years have passed since the witnessing. How many times did I plead with her, 'What's the matter mommy?' But she never turned, never answered. She continued weeping as she slowly scrubbed the floor.

That is my earliest memory.

To this day I do not know what happened. But after that, a cloud hung over our family without explanation or expiation. I still remember my younger brother clinging to her leg as she worked in the kitchen, trying without success to wring a little affection from her.

I really don't know how my siblings coped. But as I entered adulthood, I was as cold as a stone.

During the celebration of our parents fiftieth wedding anniversary, when my mother spoke, she inadvertently shed a tiny light on what had happened forty-seven years before.

Standing at the podium when it was her turn to speak, she said, 'I knew the first three years of our marriage that it was the best decision I ever made....'

I still don't know what happened and don't expect I ever will. But each year, she more strongly defends our father than the year before, and I can't help but wonder if that is what people do when someone close to them dies. Has she forgotten who triggered all the many years of her misery?

A couple weeks ago, she started with "your father was a 'good man'" speech again but this time she got angry and told me 'How lucky I was that he was my dad and that I should appreciate him more.' It would have been easy to lie and agree with her, but I was speechless with shock.

In death, my father has become the man our mother always wanted him to be.

I'm not a fool. I know I'm lucky in many respects and quite frankly my dad was no worse a father than I was. The only saving grace is the second chance to get it right with my grandsons.

Avoiding lying to myself and others is easier now. I'm old, invisible, and glad of it. I'm so tired after decades of trying to impress others. It someone else's time now.

I simply hope that when my grandsons are old enough to understand, I can tell them the truth about why we all lie to ourselves. And I hope with all my heart that both my grandsons become honorable and loving men.


About the Creator

John Cox

Family man, grandfather, retired soldier and story teller with an edge.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (17)

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  • Charlene Ann Mildred Barroga2 months ago

    I was quite moved by this narrative since it poignantly and realistically highlighted the complications of truth, family, and time passing.

  • Bonnie Bowerman2 months ago

    Beautifully written, sadly written truths...

  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    Excellent piece as always John 👍

  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    Ok, older person here - I think your parents had an argument and she washed the floor crying but it was to work out her annoyance - to let out her anger. Everyone has their own relationship- my dad was a different dad to me than to my siblings m because of ages and work stance and personalities- it is all in the experience and eyes of the person at the other end of the invisible string. My oldest brother was 12 yrs older than I and by the time I came along, the parents lived had changed and so do the relationship. Yours with your grandchildren will be how you make it to be. Wonderfully written heartfelt story shared with us by a good man.

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    That was heartfelt and relatable. Thankfully "a good man," standards seem to have evolved in later generations, at least I hope so.

  • Lindsay Sfara2 months ago

    This really hits home in several ways for me. The first because I've seen my family in an all too similar situation as you described, the second being a child of that childhood/situation and old enough now to look back and learn the needed insight from it. Yet despite my personal relation to this, this story is compelling and heartfelt, and really makes you stop and think about your own actions toward yourself and loved ones. And I relate to the grandfather too, because I hope that people can grow out of the pattern of lies for everyone's sake. All in all, well done, John!

  • Rachel Deeming2 months ago

    John, I don't think it is ever too late to learn or make amends from that learning. Our role models are our parents but more than that, they are our grandparents too. My grandfathers were both wonderful men and I emulate them daily in their kindness, fun and humour. I can see your grandchildren feeling the same way about you. We can always beat ourselves up about what we could have done but what's the point? You can't change anything. Just look forward. You'll be good.

  • John Cox (Author)2 months ago

    Thank you for your kind words and for reading!

  • Anna 2 months ago

    It was deep and meaningful... I enjoyed it a lot!

  • Well said… glad you’re getting a second chance with the next generation…

  • Gabriel Huizenga2 months ago

    Such a genuine and heartfelt piece- driven by deep honesty. Even if you don't feel you've done things perfectly or gotten to exactly where you want to, the fact that you perceive the temptation to keep lying and you yearn to always be honest speaks volumes about your heart, John! Thank you for sharing this piece!

  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    Very "Dorian Grey" feeling to this.

  • ROCK 2 months ago

    John, this is where I pause with y coffee and say "perfectly conveyed"; having had a father who was a perpetual liar was horrible and it still gets to me this very day. This deserves to be Top Story, imo. xx

  • Arjun Sahasya2 months ago

    "But when you lie to yourself, you lie to everyone else as well." the story peaked here, and I genuinely hope that your heartfelt wish for your grandsons comes true.

  • People can tell the whole world that this man/woman is a good person but it all depends on said man's/woman's behaviour, attitude, words, actions, etc. Talk is nothing when there is no walk. I'm so glad you're getting a second chance to make ammendments. I too hope your grandsons would become loving men 🥰🥰🥰

  • Hannah Moore2 months ago

    It is often said about my partner - he is a good man - but the meaning has shifted enough. He is kind and puts huge effort into trying to respond to our emotional needs as well as keeping us fed! He doesn't always get it right, he's human, but he is a good man in a far broader way than perhaps generations before have understood it.

  • Alex H Mittelman 2 months ago

    Great story! Well written!

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