Johnny Cash Killed My Cat

Bambi’s mommy doesn’t really get better in another movie

Now that I’m a dad I have been trying to follow the path of truthfulness. It’s a process. In full candor, it is not one without a few detours. For example, once I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. I knew it was wrong but if you’ve ever been to Reno you will understand my inability to suppress the urge. Of course, then I compounded the offense by telling everyone that Johnny Cash did it. Johnny wrote that song about it and made a lot of money. I see now how wrong that was.

Despite the occasional slip-up I really am trying to do better. Fatherhood will do that to a man, Honesty is important, after all, according to my wife children learn by example. Who knew? So while I embark on trying to navigate the world of child rearing with the GPS on my conscience set to the straight and narrow I am forced to confront some previous indiscretions.

It turns out that a number of minor untruths have gathered themselves around my child rearing efforts like so many dust bunnies under the bed of parenting. This is troubling because once you tell one lie it seems like you have to keep on telling lies. Presently, I find the new me at the crosswalks (I am trying to be greener too, even if only metaphorically) of a dilemma.

It appears that the demise of our little orange cat is imminent. She turned 17 recently, this is old for a cat, or so I told. Unfortunately our little cat, Arizona, is on more medications than a conservative radio talk show host and she’s skinnier than Kate Moss. She's getting thinner by the day. It so sad. I can't look at the poor little thing without thinking the only humane thing is to put her down. (I mean the cat, of course, not Ms. Moss.)

We actually have two cats and both predate my relationship with my wife. Each, as cats will do, flaunt their seniority with quite effective and perpetually irriating results and it would be disingenuous of me to feign affection now. But that doesn’t make the task at hand any easier.

The cats and I have ironed out a truce of sorts over the years. I feed them and clean the litter box and in exchange they pee on my sneakers and knock over the vase when I buy my wife flowers. Still, we have had our moments together and part of me will actually miss the little thing when the time comes. The problem is not how I will feel; the problem is how to explain this sudden absence to my eight year old daughter.

The easiest solution, and the one I think most parents would have taken when I was a kid, is to lie. "Well, honey, she must have run away to go live on a farm. She’ll be happy there, chasing mice, playing outside."

That works better with a dog, of course, or a least with a cat that isn’t afraid of mice and outside. This old gal has only one use for outside - it’s where I go to get more cans of food and or dispose of the contents of the litter box. She'd never go to a farm and even an eight year old knows that.

That story about the running away to circus just doesn’t seem conceivable for any animal. Clowns are scary and circuses, except for the popcorn, smell.

No, the truth is the best way. The only way. I know exactly what I should say. "Honey, Arizona isn’t coming home anymore. I brought her to the vet today and the doctor gave her a shot so she’ll fall asleep and never wake up." But then what, "Now, off to bed, Love, sweet dreams!"

The truth can also be the hardest way. I panic pretty easily and the potential for weeping has me worried. Once my daughter starts crying God only knows what will come out of my mouth in my mostly vain attempts to make her stop. Yet if I can survive the tears there might be an opportunity here.

How broken can a broken heart get? If she’s completely, utterly, totally crushed by the news about the cat, well, this might be the time to dispel some of those other non-truths and societal myths that have found there way into her life.

"Honey, the cat’s dead." I can tell her and then add "Oh, and... there’s not such thing as Santa Claus."

I have to tell her about Santa sooner or later and it just seems like it would ruin Christmas if we wait until December. Maybe the best thing to do is economize on the tears and heartache and come clean about all the little lies that have slipped out over the years.

"Honey, the cat’s dead and there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Oh, and Bambi’s mommy doesn’t really get better in another movie. There is no Easter Bunny and, I know this stinks, Sweetheart, but I’m the Tooth Fairy. And, oh, Honey, I know this is going to hurt most of all but, you... you’re not really adopted. We didn’t really find you floating down the river in a basket near Paris. I made that up. I’m sorry, Honey but you’ve got the same genes as your crazy Aunt Emma."

Maybe I'll let her keep thinking I was good in baseball for now but this honesty stuff could be troubling. Once you start telling the truth it seems like you’ve got to keep telling the truth. Pretty soon their whole little world unravels.

Even from my position as non-expert in the matter I can see that I have only two viable options. I can put the deed off a little longer, hey, maybe the cat will get better. Or, I can go with the old standby. "Honey, I have bad news about the cat and I think Johnny Cash did it."

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