Even Good Presidents and Good Kids Make Mistakes

Found myself baking a cherry pie on a Friday night.

In St. Anthony of Padua Grammar School, in South Ozone Park, we had two holidays in February: President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday (Feb. 12) and President George Washington’s Birthday (Feb. 22).

You want a fun fact? George Washington was actually born on Feb. 11, 1732, but this was under the Julian calendar. When we switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, it became Feb. 22.

In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which converted Washington’s Birthday into the third Monday of February. It became known as Presidents Day, although the federal government still officially calls it Washington’s Birthday. Odd fact No. 2: Since the holiday is now designated as the third Monday in February, it can never actually occur on Feb. 22.

 The act was signed into law by then-President Nixon on Feb. 21, 1971. He declared the third Monday to be a “holiday set aside to honor all presidents, even myself.” He must have already figured out that he wouldn’t get any traction for Nixon Day (Jan. 9). A good lesson in presidential humility, but still and all, I would not make plans for taking off June 14 in future years.
But back in Ozone Park, I had been tricked out of a second holiday in February.
The nuns at St. Anthony’s used to tell us that for his sixth birthday, George Washington’s parents gave him an ax. OK, that was their first mistake. You can bet good money that I’d never buy Zane or Aidan an ax for any of their birthdays. But then again, it’s unlikely that little George was expelled for bringing a Nerf musket into the school.
But even good little presidents make mistakes. The story goes that George damaged his father’s cherry tree, and when asked him about it, he replied, “I cannot tell a lie. ... I cut it with my hatchet.” His father embraced him and rejoiced that his son’s honesty was “worth more than a thousand trees.”
Nurse Vivian’s birthday was Feb. 23, and so Pop always said, “Your mother’s not so old. Why, she’s a full day younger than George Washington.” Nurse Vivian smiled, looked at my father’s neck and said, “If I had an ax, Harold, you can be sure I wouldn’t waste it on a cherry tree.”

By the time I got to Archbishop Molloy High School, the monks told me that this cherry tree thing was make-believe, made up by a bookseller named Mason Locke Weems. This seemed a double betrayal, that in order to describe one guy’s honesty, an other guy made up a lie.

As I grow older, however, I realize that myths are the stories that we like to believe about people.

I repeated this myth to Zane and Aidan not so they would know that presidents lie. The moral of this story is that sometimes presidents do lie, but good presidents will eventually admit it.

Zane got suspended at school this week. He had cut his third-period class. In the hallway, he met a sixth grader, who later accused him of making an inappropriate remark best left to your imagination.

When I asked him, Zane admitted to cutting the class, as it was social science and “all they were talking about was the president.” But he absolutely denied the inappropriate remark, saying, “Dad, I wouldn’t say that. I thought about it and you’re right. If I’m not mature enough to hand in my gym homework, I’m not old enough for sex.”

I believed him. So did Papa. We argued with the principal, telling her that Zane gets into fights, he doesn’t do homework, he makes the science teacher mad enough to use the f-word, but he does not lie. Not to us. Not about the big things. She reinterviewed everyone who was in the hallway cutting third-period class, and eventually, she agreed to suspend the suspension. In other words, he had two days off, but no one was calling it a suspension.

The damage was done. He had lost those days of education, Papa had canceled his dance class to watch Zane, and I had taken time out of the maximum-security jail for the security of my family. So the Fisher-Paulsons decided to call this an extra holiday. In February. We’ll call it Nurse Vivian Day. We invited Aunt JJ over to eat Bravo’s Pizza and play Sorry.

Might not be worth a thousand cherry trees, but at least we are together.

Previously published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Posted by Kevin Fisher-Paulson

Kevin is the author of "A Song for Lost Angels," his memoir of how he and his husband fostered, raised and lost newborn triplets. Kevin is also featured in "When Love Lasts Forever," "MHR is my home," and writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, his two adopted sons and his four rescue dogs.

Website: http://www.twopennypress.org/

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