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Speaking the Truth

Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media.  He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.


It was bound to happen. Like most parents, I had successfully fooled my children as long as I possibly could, feigning confidence, using rhetorical questions, and mastering the internet in order to convince them that I was smarter than I actually was. Whether the problem was homework, the opposite sex, or competitive sports, they felt comfortable coming to me, confident that I would have the right answers.


 A few years ago, my son – then a senior at Cedarburg High School – came home from school as usual and began doing his physics homework. The question came much like they had in the past, “Dad, how do I answer this question?” I don’t remember the exact physics question, but it had something to do with Newton’s Third Law and a series of force vs. time graphs. At first I was just silent. I read and re-read the question and the material in the textbook. My face went numb. The words just wouldn’t come and I couldn’t think on my feet fast enough. Even the time-honored “Well, just think through the problem slowly and carefully” wouldn’t work here. I didn’t have a clue, and he knew it. Surprised by my silence, he turned and looked up at me. Then came my slow reply, “I don’t know.” The world would never again be the same for either of us. Dad didn’t know.


To make matters worse, my youngest son – a sophomore at the time – was in the room at the time and overheard everything. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and now the Omniscient Dad. In an instant, the last of the three most important social myths in life vanished. They knew the truth. Dad doesn’t have all the answers. And if he didn’t know this, what else might he not know?


The feeling of failure soon gave way to one of liberation, however. I used the experience to let them know that half the fun of knowing something was the journey spent learning it and that I too had to dig in order to discover things I didn’t know. I had come out of the closet and could now proudly proclaim that I too was puzzled by even some of life’s simple imponderables.


What happens to your Social Security number when you die? Why is Barbie’s hair made of nylon, but Ken’s hair is plastic? What exactly makes up the ever-mysterious “new car smell?” Why do pirates love parrots? There was suddenly a flood of questions to which I had long refused to admit I just didn’t have the answers.


Since the doctor always says to take two aspirins, why don't we just double their size? What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop and iPod for takeoff? Why do the signal-strength bars on my cell phone change when I’m standing still?


My kids now ask questions in the most unusual places. A stroll down the aisle at Piggly Wiggly reveals a veritable cornucopia of things to scratch your head over. Why do Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes and Kellogg's Corn Flakes both have 110 calories per ounce? Why do hot dogs come in packs of ten but hot dog buns are sold eight to the pack? Why can't they make a cracker package you can open with your hands? What does Campbell's do when they sell alphabet soup to countries that don't use our alphabet? Why does sour-cream have a use-by date? If a Snickers satisfies, why do they make a king size? Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, while dishwashing liquid is made with real lemons? Why are peanuts listed as an ingredient in plain M&Ms?


A trip to the zoo will leave the curious among us feeling even dumber than before. Can elephants jump? Why don’t we ever see baby pigeons? Do fish drink or sleep? Why don't cats like to swim? Do penguins have knees? Do starfish have faces? Why do dogs have wet noses?


Life around the house now provides my boys with more than enough to make my wife and I both feel stupid. How do you throw away a garbage can? Why do we wash bath towels?  Aren't we clean when we use them? How does soap clean clothes anyway? Does the dirt just slip off? Why do hair shampoo instructions say "Lather. Rinse. Repeat"? If you did this, would you ever be able to stop? If shampoo comes in so many colors, why is the lather on your head always white?


The more I look around, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Why are certain parts of our bodies more ticklish than others? Why do fire stations have Dalmatians? What exactly is One Hour Martinizing? 24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? Can atheists get insurance for acts of God? Why do they sterilize the needles for lethal injections? What was the best thing before sliced bread?


Sunday sermons provide plenty of introspective questions for my family and the ride home from church is now filled with dizzying questions which I usually can’t answer. Will we recognize each other in heaven? Where exactly is hell? Where did God come from? Of course, responding to questions such as these played right into my role as a father, responding that such riddles bring us not only to the end of ourselves but also to the beginning of a new understanding of God. To get these answers, we should study God’s Word and attend church faithfully. My boys cried foul upon hearing that answer.


My boys now tell me that watching television is even better at challenging them to make new discoveries than homework. For example, why did The Incredible Hulk's shirt always rip but his pants never did? Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard? If Superman could stop bullets with his chest, why did he always duck if the bad guy threw the gun at him?


My experience with the physics question may have cost me superhero status, but it opened the door to teaching my boys that life is full of opportunities to wonder. Mysteries are everywhere and being inquisitive about the world around us and everything in it makes life interesting and entertaining.

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