Teaching Plausible Deniability

This piece is for all you parents out there who've miraculously endured the hapless journey of raising teenagers. And while there's an astonishing array of mind-blowing, come-to-Jesus moments that this particular quest entails, there's one specific incident that changes the playing field forever. One that catapults you and your "I've got this parenting thing under control" delusions of grandeur mentality into a very dark, bottomless abyss never, ever to return again. Talkin' that "coming of age" scenario when you see your son or daughter in a whole different light. That precise instant when they go from babes in the woods to seasoned vets. And if you think I'm alluding to the "eventual son beating Dad in hoops" incident or the "daugher receiving the old 'birds and the bees' talk only to divulge she knows more than mom" scenario, think again. No, this is next level. This is the moment you realize your kids have discovered plausible deniability.

A recollection: Having heard a rumor, I confront my son, lying on the sofa, immersed in a comic book. "You had detention?" He chuckles, "Funny, who told you that?" I'm not smiling. "You were late coming home today." He doesn't blink, continuing to read. "Ever think I might've tried out for the school play?" Having never exhibited an iota of thespian interest before, I'm not buying. "Really?... So what part did you try out for?" "One of the townspeople, I think." "You think?", I counter, sensing a crack in the facade. "Not sure if it was a town or a city," he replies, head down, continuing to play it cool. "You get the part?" "Nah, they gave it to some other kid." I eye him intently, trying to get a read, sensing I'm being played. Finally, "So if I call your principal he'll corroborate your story?" "Doubt it, he's been on leave ever since his wife left him for the janitor." He glances up, knowing the news has caught me off guard. Was that a smirk? I press on. "And this play, it have a name?" From seemingly out of thin air he hands me a playbill, his eyes remaining on the comic. Having run out of ammo, I leave, downtrodden.

"Plausible deniability" was coined by none other than the CIA back in the 1960s. Basically, it's the creation of a credible level of uncertainty regarding someone's involvement due to the absence of any real concrete evidence. Typically, the term involves forethought, where conditions for a plausible alibi are concocted ahead of time, designed to thwart any expected future inquiries by others. You know, like devising a quasi-believable tale about your principal while purloining a playbill from a drama class student with the intent of pulling one over on your old man. Amazing how a strategy employed by politicians, the espionage community and big business somehow wound up in the hands of our kids. Even more amazing is how quickly they learned to wield it with such aplomb, to the point you're convinced they're doing undercover work for the Agency as a side hustle.

Indeed, the enigma regarding how virtually all teenagers manage to stumble upon this superpower had me going. Especially when it seemed to happen overnight. One minute they're hitting you up for help with long division the next they're five moves ahead of any and every interrogation question you can muster. It's like some latent time-release hormone has been sitting in wait until the middle of puberty when it suddenly makes the scene, wreaking havoc on every adult authority figure in sight. They wake up one day with their voices cracking, hair growing in strange places and the uncanny ability to kick Bobby Fisher's ass in 3D chess. So yeah, this mystery bounced around in my head for quite a while. Until...

A slightly later recollection: My son has a question on his mind and I know what it is, getting him to ask just as I'm paying bills. "Heard you're the person to talk to about upping my allowance", he offers. "Funny, who said that?" I counter, not looking up. Frustrated, he continues, "Dad, I've had the same allowance for over two years and everything seems to cost more now." "Welcome to my world," I say, gesturing to the bills. He takes in the mountain of paperwork, looking off balance. I continue. "You want a raise and I need to cut costs; you see the problem?" I glance up, realizing his brain is working overtime. Finally. "Yeah, but you said you got that bonus last month. Plus you have investments and stuff, right?" I let out a heavy sigh. "I'd call my accountant but he's laid up in the hospital; triple bypass surgery." As his shoulders slump and he prepares to leave it hits me right between the eyes: The whole "plausible deniability" thing... it was me. He got it from me.