My father put a great premium on honesty and had a visceral hatred of liars. I have inherited this to some extent, this quixotic quest for unflinching truthfulness and distaste for a lie. Knowing that someone is lying inserts a bone crosswise in my throat sometimes.
At the same time, I understand that people have many reasons for lying. Sometimes they lie to protect somebody else, other times it is out of desperation to conceal their own shame. There are many reasons, and styles, of lying. My father, impressively honest as he also was, was a great stylist in this regard.
“Ah, there we go,” says the skeleton of my father, his smile bitter now, “there’s the Elie we all know and love! ‘My father was a great stylist of lying, though he loved the truth.’ You want some truth? You are doing what you’ve always done, trying to cut out the middle man– going straight to the two or three people you’ve found who will tell you how interesting and important what you’re doing is, applaud your high-minded ‘work’– honest work which nobody will pay you for because you’re too good to let anyone put a price on it…”
Nice try, dad. This is called the Voice of the Internalized Victimizer, as I learned from that maniac I went to law school with. I leave it here as an example of your technique of reframing.
It’s like the story CBS ran about former president George Dubya Bush avoiding military service in Viet Nam by participating, sort of, in that rich boy opt out his dad got him into, the Air National Guard he went AWOL from. Defenders of Bush proved the documents CBS ran were fake, the so-called news a scandalously unsourced overreach by the desperate ‘liberal media’ to try to discredit a great American family– end of story. Commies trying to bring down a true American patriot by claiming he was a rich boy draft dodger who also dodged a physical because of his regular cocaine use. HOW DARE THEY! They are the ones who should be publicly shamed, not a good Christian man like our excellent president.
The truth or falsity of the story, never actually denied by Bush’s people, was beside the point, the point was: THEY LIED. We proved the documents were fucking fake, suck it!
“Ridiculous comparison,” snorts the skeleton.
Sure thing, pops. Yet, I am carrying on a grudge you began decades ago, have kept it going for more than ten years since your death. The person, a reflexive liar, and I have not exchanged more than a dozen words in that time. It is a matter of some delicacy, not to mention who he is, though it will also be clear.
“Well, he’s the perfect example of why somebody lies– to cover their shame, to justify themselves, to manipulate and mislead, to gain some imagined moral high ground,” says the skull that once housed my father’s impressive brain.
All true. It hurts to think of the influence this liar has over people I love and care about, as it must have hurt the old man. I could never be as categorical about writing off this liar, until after my father died, and I saw some examples of this fellow’s habitual dishonesty too hideous to ignore. You will want details, I get it, and it’s a hard dance I’ll have to do to provide them, but I’ll try, in illuminating the difference between an outright liar and a brilliant and honest reframer like my father.
Take the example of my mother’s twelve aunts and uncles taken to a Ukrainian ravine by anti-Semites and shot in the back of the head. My father didn’t dispute that this happened, and yes, that it had happened only thirteen years before I was born, and that they were a few dozen people out of millions killed in the world’s most efficient genocide up to that time. Arguably an eight year-old learning about all this might be upset, OK, fine, fair enough. That much was all beyond dispute. But let me put it in a frame for you, my fretful son.
“We never knew these people. None of them ever came to the United States. They were abstractions. You are getting upset about the deaths of people you never even heard the names of because you are one of these kids who wants to feel like a victim, you have a grandiose vision of yourself as some kind of participant in world history. These people you are mourning were abstractions, do you get it?”
Holocaust denial without the denial, a denial too upsetting to marshal any arguments against. Had I been able to take a step back from the unspeakable, even if well-meant, betrayal of his response I’d have had several excellent questions for him.
Grandma never knew her siblings? Really, dad? Pop didn’t know his siblings, his parents, his nieces and nephews? Really? Oh, when you put it that way, Dad, you’re right, none ever came to the United States, I am just a whining little bitch trying to make myself feel important.
My sister’s husband is a very opinionated man. Well-read, with a good memory, he loved to argue with my father, about virtually anything. He described my father as the most able fencer he’d ever met, by far the most skillful arguer he’d ever encountered.
“Your father could lay on the couch, watching the football game while reading the paper, and he’d,” and my brother-in-law made nonchalant fencing motions, the swordsman still reading his paper.
“You know, you could attack him from any angle and he’d just,” and he pantomimed an easy parry, carried out with a yawn.
“I never saw anything like it,” he concluded, “he’s in a class by himself.” For some difficult to grasp reason he continued to attack the old man, who always easily defeated his most spirited charges while lying comfortably on his back, on the couch, without bothering to sit up straight as he flashed his rapier.
“Nicely done,” says the skeleton. “where you’re going in this piece reminds me of that great moment from a Boy Named Sue: ‘Now you just fought one hell of a fight, And I know you hate me and you’ve got the right to kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do..'”
Nah, man. Skeletons should keep their rictuses closed when the living are trying to describe what they were like when they still carried the skin, muscles, organs and nerves around.
I will ponder this further, and try to describe this dynamic more fully, without, somehow, blowing everything up.