My ADHD Dad Sets His Phaser to Stun
Going back to our hometown is always a challenge for Enzo’s dad and me. Half of my generation relate to the chaotic ballet of a “Divorced Family Christmas.” At their best, holidays are exhausting because you have to pack in so many celebrations. At their worst, they are compounded with uncomfortable emotional challenges. If you […]
Going back to our hometown is always a challenge for Enzo’s dad and me. Half of my generation relate to the chaotic ballet of a “Divorced Family Christmas.” At their best, holidays are exhausting because you have to pack in so many celebrations. At their worst, they are compounded with uncomfortable emotional challenges. If you marry someone whose parents are also not together, and also live in the same town as yours, and you have an adorable son that everyone wants to spend time with, taking trips back home wear you out. But you do them anyway, because you love your family.
A few years ago, the stress level spiraled out of control when we visited my dad, who was in the process of moving. We had planned to help him with the move on Friday, but when we dropped in to say hello on Monday, it was clear they would never be ready. The furniture that would have to go in the trucks was still three layers deep in I’ll-get-to-that-later and where-did-I-put-that clutter that had been building up for years. Always ready to help in a crisis, I excused myself from all the fun family day trips we’d planned with the other family branch, and rolled up my sleeves. On the first day, I made a pathway through the basement office to get to the bundle of cardboard boxes he had purchased a year ago to prepare for the move.
Long story short: I knocked myself out helping him. The process was frustrating, the communication convoluted, the emotions confusing. On Thursday, Enzo and his dad came to help move, almost as planned. Toes were stepped on and shins were banged, but the three of us felt good working together as a family. We smiled at the “Grandpa Gerf” train memorabilia that had been special to Enzo as a child. We laughed at the three wi-fi routers we found, in their original bags, under piles of clutter. No wonder he could never make a good connection!
But on Friday, my dad got mad at me for something he thought I had done, and he unloaded on me. Our relationship was damaged, perhaps permanently.
It took me months to process what had happened that week, and on that final day. I worked with a therapist during this time to unravel our relationship. She had me make a list, without pulling any punches, of all the ways he had supported me and all the ways he had hurt me throughout my life. Being the dutiful daughter, the sweet one, it was hard for me to make the second list. My impulse was to make excuses for all the hard stuff (“But he was going through a divorce”) and forgive him, or just let those feelings go before I felt them. (It’s hard, with ADHD, knowing how you feel sometimes, anyway.) But somehow I got through the list, and it was very long.
Then I stepped back and took a look at it. The good and the bad were very inconsistent.
Then I saw his ADHD.
Every single thing on the “support/love” list was truly him-the talented, educated, fluidly intelligent, and altruistic daddy I loved and felt close to. Every single thing on the “hurt me” list was connected to his ADHD! All of the not listening, the forgetting birthdays, the not keeping promises, the incompletions and interruptions and inconsiderations, the criticisms, the fixed thoughts, the inability to switch tracks, the mis-reading of my emotions. All of these things had confused me, disconnected us in many ways, and, at times, hurt me deeply.
Above all, his vituperous emotional sensitivity, especially to feelings of rejection or judgment, had damaged all of his other relationships with our other family members (I was the only one of seven kids who showed up to help him move). He had finally set his phaser on stun and pointed it in my direction.
Being able to see the invisible, insidious patterns of ADHD enabled me to take this family challenge more seriously, and to start new conversations with my dad. Because I want to love him for who he is. And I do.
Updated on May 13, 2021