When Dad Stepped Up

When my husband rose to the challenge of our daughter's attention deficit, they grew even closer.
Mom Is the Word | posted by Jennifer Gay Summers
Happy Father's Day

My husband and I needed to help each other help Lee.

— Jennifer Gay Summers

"No!" my husband cried, as he pushed the button on the old voice recorder again and again.

"Screeech..." The old machine sputtered out one last scratchy screech and ground to a halt.

My husband groaned. The tape had the one recording he loved most, Lee's three-year-old voice saying, "Daddy, I love you. I want a big hug!"

He leaned back in his chair. "Remember the toads?"

I smiled. He was thinking of the trip we took to Death Valley when Lee was six. Every night, after dinner, they ran off under a full moon to the creek nearby to search for toads. Side by side, they squatted, thrusting their arms into the water and scooping up black, squishy toads. I marveled at how she latched on to her father's love for those slimy creatures, how his obsession for amphibians and reptiles was becoming her own.

He hit the button one more time — no luck — then pushed the recorder away. "Remember the hole in one?" I asked.

Golf couldn't hold a candle to toads — except once. When she was eight, my husband took Lee to the driving range and tried, once again, to coach her on her swing. Boy, did she swing. Balls flew behind them, to the left, to the right, and far out on the driving range. Then one errant ball flew through the air and made a clean drop into the hole. Lee screamed and my husband shouted, "Yes!" as they hugged each other tight.

These are the memories I remember on Father's Day. I revisit the more difficult ones, too. They are the barometer of how far we've come.

When Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, it was a challenging time in our marriage. Teachers, doctors, and a psychologist handed me charts and papers, and it fell to me, as the spouse who worked at home, to manage them, as well as to take Lee to occupational therapy, tutoring, and doctor appointments. I needed help, but my husband was putting in long hours at work. When he got home late at night, I assumed he wanted just me to handle the extra challenges. What I didn't realize at the time was that he assumed I didn't want his help.

I was starting to feel pretty darn resentful when I heard about a conference in San Francisco on ADHD and booked a ticket. I couldn't wait to hear what the experts said about parenting. But the support group I attended for the parents whose children were diagnosed with ADHD was more rewarding.

We sat in a circle, 15 mothers and only one couple. All of the mothers' struggles were familiar, all of us had taken on more than we could handle. The couple, though, wasn’t struggling, at least not in their marriage. They were working together as parents, helping their child meet his ADHD challenges. As I listened to them encourage us to do the same, I realized they were right. My husband and I needed to help each other help Lee.

When I came home, we made a decision to get on the same page. He cut back on his work hours, helping me with the charts and doctors and Lee with her chores and homework. He gave her as much time as he could in his busy day. I let go of trying to do it all and watched them grow closer.

Sometimes, when the glare from the TV screen woke me at midnight on a school night, I snuck down the hall from my bedroom to watch them. Any irritation I felt — Lee was supposed to be in bed — vanished when I saw them hanging out on the couch eating popcorn and watching reruns of The Crocodile Hunter. One night, they went on a hunt themselves with flashlights, moving quietly through the back yard. When Lee's light shone on a king snake resting under a bush, they nearly fell over each other in excitement. "That..." Lee told me the next morning, "...was the best night of my life."

The voice recorder my husband tried to revive now sits in the garage ready to be recycled. It doesn't matter. The sound of Lee's little child's voice is just one of many memories he made with his daughter that live in his heart, never to be forgotten.

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