I am crazy. That is not debatable. But what's so strange about wanting my daughter to believe her ADHD dad is an unruffled, wise, power-tool-handy father figure this holiday season?
by Frank South
"Parenting is the greatest of all hum-a-few-bars-and-I'll-fake-it skills." – Stephen King, Duma Key
I can't exactly see where I'm going while carrying this seven-foot pine tree, but I keep moving ahead to the Christmas tree check-out shack with our prize. My 16-year-old daughter, Coco, is behind me carrying extra decorating loot we've picked up. My daughter and I both have ADHD with co-morbid short-term memory and temper issues. We’re an edgy couple of nuts but over the years we’ve developed an understanding and patience with each other.
Although lately, as my daughter's growing up and handling herself, and developing her own coping skills with resulting increased confidence and success in her world, I sense that she's looking at her dad and seeing some cracks in the foundation. But she's wrong, I have no cracks.
This holiday season, our whole family – extended and just in our home - is dealing with more combinations of life-changing challenges than we ever have before. We'll get through it together and be fine, but I've become convinced that this is no time for dad to expose any chinks in his armor. I am father, hear me roar. "Dad, look out, you're going to hit those people in front of us," she says, "You should have let that guy help you."
"Have you got the snow blanket thingie for the base?" I ask, ignoring Coco's warning. I'm using one of my own early ADHD coping skills – focusing only on my two immediate goals: 1) Show my daughter how strong and competent a father I still am. 2) Pay and get out of here. And we're so close to the finish line, but stalled.
"Yeah, I've got it," Coco says. "If we need another one we can come back, right?"
"Sure," I say, "Of course." Ever the positive, steady, reassuring father-figure a girl can count on.
"And Dad," she says, "The thingie is called a tree skirt."
"Yeah, you're right," I say. Like she doesn't forget just as many words and names of things as I do.
Hey, cool it you're the dad - calm, unruffled, thick-skinned and wise. Never mind I'm notoriously thin-skinned, jittery, and quick tempered - but not this holiday season. This season my face cracks in the sardonic knowing smile of the grizzled older guy in the Mexican beer commercials. Except I’m an alcoholic. So I don't drink.
My arms ache from carrying the tree, but right now I've convinced myself that putting it down, resting it on it's trunk even for a second, before we get to the check-out stand, would show lack of resolve and diminish me in my daughter's eyes. The over-stimulating claustrophobic-inducing, anxiety-ramping crowd in this place with their incessant yammering about the comparable festiveness of colored or white lights or if the LED ones look like Christmas lights at all, doesn't help.
And if the sweet and sickeningly calm and chuckling elderly couple with matching red and green reindeer scarves and two apple-cheeked grandkids in front of me doesn’t get their attendant to roll their giant cart filled with three huge red bowed wreaths and a Rockefeller Center sized Noble Fir, the press of the crowd mixed with the tinny, distorted never-ending loop of "Little Drummer Boy" blaring from broken speakers tacked up on light poles the combo is guaranteed to bah-rump-a-pum-pum me into a humiliating uncontrollable raving insult-filled fight-or-flight freak out. God knows what Coco would think of me then.
But then a little Christmas miracle – we're at the check-out shack. Coco pulls the wallet out of my jacket pocket and swipes the credit card, and I rest the tree trunk on the ground. Coco holds up the tree as I sign, my hand shaking only a little.
"Would you like us to bag your tree and trim the trunk?” the lady in the shack asks. I tell her no thanks. "I'll trim it at home myself with my chain-saw." What, I’m a lumberjack now? My face flushes.
I grab up the tree by the middle of the trunk, carrying it like a briefcase and stride out toward our mini-van ahead of Coco. Why did I mention my chain saw, for god's sake? I'm caught in some embarrassing panic-induced dad/manhood proving ground that doesn't mean anything to me or my daughter or anyone else. Besides, I have the smallest chain saw ever made. And it's electric. Makes a little humming noise. My wife says it’s cute.
Reading my mind, Coco says, "Dad, you are so crazy."
"Yes, that's true," I say, "But I'm such a tough and totally together guy, nobody else notices."
Behind me, Coco laughs.