Would you tell the truth in this situation?

There is neither Rhymer family drama nor sci-fi silliness in today’s thread; there’s not even a situation from a story. There’s just a little ditty about Jack & Diane.

Despite the allusion to the song, Jack is not a kid. He’s a man in his forties who, twenty years back, married in haste and repented at leisure. Five years or so into the marriage, Jack and his wife divorced, and not long after that, she remarried and moved to the other side of the country; let’s say from Seattle to Alabama. After that, he saw her about twice a year for the first few years. After that not at all, for he too moved: in his case to England, where he remarried.

Diane is not Jack’s ex. She is, however, a kid–Jack’s kid, in fact, all of fifteen. She has issues. Tthe man her mother married was a fundamentalist Christian preacher, and her mother got very deep in the faith after her marriage. Diane hasn’t seen Jack since he moved to England when she was twelve, but they’ve never lost track of each other; there’s been correspondence, there’ve been phone calls, there’ve been presents on birthdays and Christmas. But Jack hasn’t been nearly as much as part of her life as her stepdad. This has always bothered him, but he’s told himself it was for the best.

Jack was wrong. You see, Diane’s a lesbian. This has not been pleasant in Podunkville, Alabama, where Stepdad’s the pastor of the largest church. She’s been told all her life that her deepest urgings are not just unnatural but sinful. At thirteen she asked her mother’s advice on how to deal with her sexuality; in response, her mother ratted her out to Stepdad, who proceeded to re-enact the most unpleasant scene from Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. After said attempted exorcism/beating she tried to suppress her sexuality, but it’s always been hard, and over the last year she’s gotten more and more depressed. Recently she kissed her best girlfriend, whose signals she had entirely misread. The girlfriend denounced her to the congregation, and Stepdad & Mom threw her out. Despairing, she attempted suicide.

This is where Jack comes back into the story. Summoned from England by the doctors (Stepdad & Mom refuse to see Diane unless she repents), he learns for the first time that his daughter likes girls. This distresses him. He’s not a fundamentalist, and he doesn’t believe in hell or demons, he’s always felt homosexuality was unnatural and wrong. He thinks that, if a homosexual cannot turn heterosexual, he or she should never express their sexuality. But Jack has also always regretted spending so little time with his daughter. He loves her; he’s worried about her; he wants her to be happy, healthy, whole,a and to outlive him by at least 40 years.

Which brings us at last to the thread question. After being released from the hospital, Diane asks her father if she can come live with him; having talked this over with his second wife already, he agrees instantly. Then she asks him if he thinks there is anything wrong with her because she prefers doughnuts to crullers.

How should Jack answer this question? Should he share his true opinions and damn the consequences, or should he lie? Why?

He should tell the truth:
(1) that he thinks homsexuality is wrong.
(2) that, nevertheless, he loves his daughter and wants her to live with him and his wife.
(3) that, despite his beliefs about homosexuality, he’s not going to try to exorcise or beat it out of his daughter.

It may be hard for the two of them, but at least it’s going to be better than her life with her mother and step-father.

I am fairly certain that neither Hell nor Heaven exists. But if there is one, a man who tells the truth in such a situation belongs in the hottest section of the former.

Oranges are not the only fruit, and honesty is not the only virtue. Or even the most important. Honesty is important, don’t me wrong, but it’s an important tool to creating a good and loving world; it should not be a goal in itself. The loving thing here is to lie like a rug.

The problem is that, if you lie to your children, they find out about it sooner or later. If it’s about something as important in the relationship as this, it will damage or destroy the relationship. So, I don’t believe that lying is a good option. That doesn’t mean you have to be blunt with the truth: he can say, “I’m very uncomfortable about homosexuality,” and not “I think homosexuality is evil and a sin against God,” and make it easier for the daughter that way.

Because of the magic truth-meter every child gets when she or he turns 18? We don’t have that in Memphis.

So you prefer this scenario

(two years later)
DIANE: Daddy, right after I got out of the hospital with bandages on my wrists, and you said that there was nothing wrong with being a lesbian, you were lying, weren’t you?
JACK: Yes. I think that being a lesbian is kind of disgusting, frankly, but I love you and you’re my kid. If someone had told you you were a disgusting dyke at that moment, I’d have beaten him with the nearest blunt object. I certainly wasn’t going to do it myself.

to this one?

(in the hospital room as Diane is waiting to be discharged)
DIANE: Daddy, do you think there’s anything wrong with being gay?
JACK: (after hesitation) Yes.
DIANE: What do you mean?
JACK: It’s gross. It’s disgusting and unnatural. I won’t beat you like your stepfather did, but I hope you change.
DIANE: (unvoiced) So every single person I love thinks I’m an unnatural pervert. I wonder if I can get my hands on any pills?

Lie, lie, lie. Telling that truth to a teenager who has just been so badly abused that she tried to kill herself is not the way to do anything good in this situation. It will scare the shit out of her and crush any developing self confidence that she might have.

If he comes to change his mind in the future then perhaps he can tell her that she’s made him a better man. Under no circumstances should he tell the truth now.

I originally answered this with a furious answer, against Jack. The scenario pisses me off. But here is an attempt at a calmer answer. I would have told him never ever to mention or show his feelings but since she has asked directly…When asked a direct question like this, lying is not the answer, but the truth is definitely not the right answer. He should at the MOST say “I am uncertain of my feelings on homosexuality but I love YOU, my daughter, so come home.”

He is not the priority here. The sheer gall of him to think that right at this moment his honesty matters? His sole responsibility lies right now with his daughter whom he did NOT take care of enough. Granted, circumstances conspired to make it that way, so it is not his * fault*, but that does not absolve him of * responsibility*.

He needs to get over himself and help his daughter. That’s his job, as a parent. When she is a little older and past the teen years maybe he can tell her a bit more of the truth.

He had a kid. Now he needs to take care of her. His own personal whatever is so far second it’s ridiculous. He has a responsibility.

That wasn’t really very calm, was it?

Also: Yes, children always find out you lie to them. But WHY you lied also matters, and explain it to them when they find out!

Why do you equate “truth” with tactlessness?

Anaamika’s proposed statement “I am uncertain of my feelings on homosexuality but I love YOU, my daughter, so come home” is also true.

What about this scenario, though?:
Diane: Daddy, do you think it’s wrong to be gay?
Jack: Actually, even though I don’t have any good reason to believe it, yeah, it just kind of creeps me out. But maybe that’s because I’ve never loved anyone I knew was gay, so I made more of a big deal out of it than it is. But I love you, no matter what you are, so I’ll deal with the part about you being gay. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you any less.
Diane: Do you think the world would be a better place if I’d succeeded in killing myself?
Jack: No! The world is a better place with you in it, no matter what your orientation is! And I can’t believe your mother would abandon you because her second husband thinks being gay is such a sin. And if I could stone that bastard that calls himself a ‘man of God’ to death, I would!

OK, he wouldn’t have to say that last part. But it’s perfectly natural for him to think it.

But I think if he’s honest with her (maybe in terms of being in a therapist’s office), it can open up some good discussions that will lead them to a closer relationship, and lead her to examine why it’s wrong to be so closed-minded that you can’t accept people who are different from you.

There’s a Mark Twain short story called, “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?” that explores the idea of telling a lie to avoid a greater hurt. This scenario could easily be the modern upshot.

In my view, this is not the time to get into details about what you think about theoretical situations. This is a time to proclaim your unconditional love and support for your child. Period.

You left out…

Deflect the question. Jack can say he’s uncomfortable with homosexuality, but absolutely loves his daughter and that love far outweighs said discomfort. If at all possible, he should avoid either stating that he thinks something is wrong with her (which apparently is what he thinks) or outright lying about it.

No I didn’t. It’s merely one method of not answering the question. Also it doesn’t work. If Jack does not answer forthrightly, Diane may well take him to mean “You are a lesbian, and lesbians are gross, and I’m only taking you in out of obligation, you disgusting lesbian. I wish you’d called somebody else before me.”

I’d not be willing to risk that.

Okay, I’ll concede that. I was thinking in terms of trying to address the situation with an answer that related to the question while not actually revealing brutal truth nor lying.

And lying is wrong because…?

I some people are lying when they proclaim how honest they would be in such a situation. There is no point to that. He should obviously lie in some form to help his daughter. His personal biases aren’t relevant to the matter at hand anyway. It is all academic in terms of parenting. The option I wanted to see but didn’t included taking out a hit on the stepfather as well.

Christ, people. Lie, lie, lie like a rug.

I know that fifteen year olds aren’t children, but they’re not very mature yet either. Do you honestly think that an abused, isolated, depressed fifteen year old living in a strange country, with a man she barely knows who could very well be construed as having abandoned her, is capable of internalizing the fine difference between “lesbians are evil” and “I’m not comfortable with this but I still love you”? I give that approach 5% odds of creating a happy ending, 45% odds of a dead 15 year old, and 50% odds of a closeted, self-loathing, miserable-for-the-rest-of-her-life mess of an adult.

His fine feelings have no place here. If she’s in a good place in a couple of years and he still has a problem, they can try to fix it then. Fuck, I can’t believe this is even a debate.

I totally agree that honesty is not always the best policy, but the potential problem I see with lying is that he’ll have to back it up to the hilt for several years, without a single slip. When his daughter brings home a girlfriend in a few months, he’s got to welcome her with open arms, and not show the least sign of discomfort or disgust or whatever else he’s feeling. If she detects any problems in his behavior in the future, she’ll realize she had been lied to as well.

This is a really tough question for me. I believe in a whole lot of honesty, because lying will eventually get you into bigger trouble than an upfront but uncomfortable truth, but not at the cost of a young girl’s life. Maybe a deflection might be appropriate for now; maybe after Jack lives with Diane, he’ll re-evaluate his opinions on homosexuals.

I have a hard time pretending to be squicked out about homosexuality, so putting myself in Jack’s shoes is a bit difficult.
But, having had daughters myself, I have to say that I would totally lie to her at that point. Later when she comes to accept that she has a safe place to live with me and my wife, then I would probably readdress the subject.
But I would hope that during the meanwhile I would seriously deal with my own inability to accept homosexuality as a normal condition for some people.

This is a great question!

In a few months, she will not have just been released from the hospital after a failed suicide attempt and will hopefully be in much better mental shape.

Does lying have potential problems? Yes. It’s not certain to achieve the desired result in the long term. But, as Risha observed, the most probable short-term results of anything but a bald-faced lie suck, as do the long-term.