In another one of Christy Murphy’s true stories about growing up, you’ll find out why it’s both awesome and hard to be the geeky kid of a fun-loving dad.
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When I was in middle school, I found out that my Algebra teacher Mrs. McClure had gone to high school with my dad. “Gertrude McClure!” my dad said as he pointed at her picture in my yearbook. “Same Old Gertie.”
My Dad told me to tell Mrs. McClure that my dad had gone to Stranahan High School with her and that he says hello. “When she finds out, you’re my kid, It will blow her mind!” he said.
When I told Mrs. McClure that my Dad went to Stranahan High School with her and he said hello, she asked me. “What’s your Dad’s name?”
“David,” I answered.
“Dave Murphy!” she said. “You’re Dave Murphy’s kid!”
I nodded that indeed, yes, I was Dave Murphy’s kid.
“I don’t believe it!” she said.
I had no response for this except to insist that my Dad was Dave Murphy and he went to Stranahan High School and recognized her in my yearbook. “Well tell him I say hello back, and that I think you’re a very good student.”
I was happy to get the sort of compliment, but was kind of perplexed at the incredulous reason why it was so odd that my Dad was my Dad or more to the point that I was my Dad’s kid–a fact I had found incredibly believable for my whole life.
Her mind, like Dad had said it would be, “was blown.”
“What was my Dad like in school?” I asked her.
Mrs. McClure explained that Dad wasn’t really known for having, as she put it, “an active interest in his studies.” I saw her point. Unlike my Dad, I had a more than a active interest in my studies. I was in an eighth grade math class even though I was a seventh grader, and I was on both the Math Team and the Academic Games team. I believed in the myth known as the permanent record and thought that somewhere someone would see that I had won first place in a national propaganda championship and that those flavor of achievements would qualify me for 2.9% financing on a mortgage, a six-figure job or at the very least, get me some kind of trophy for being a good person.
The conversation wasn’t really rolling. I could see Mrs. McClure trying to think of a nice way describe my Dad’s hell raising youth. Finally she said.
“He was a jolly fellow.” We left it at that.
This was the first time that I had noticed, that my Dad and I didn’t really have a lot in common except that we both liked to read and we had the same group of relatives.
Dad was on the football team and in the drama club. He was in the Air Force and was the kind of guy that made friends everywhere he went. I remember once when I was little a bunch of British sailors from the HMS Ark Royal coming over to our very small mobile home one day. They played darts, barbequed, and talked funny. I loved it. I figured since my Dad had been the armed forces he must have known them from then. But later in life, I realized that my Dad was in the Air Force stationed in the Philippines during Vietnam and these guys were in the British Navy during peacetime docked in South Florida. The odds that he knew them were slim. I asked my Mom how Dad knew all these guys. My mother told me, “We took the public tour of the ship and you know your father.”
So when I was in high school, I think my Dad didn’t understand that the captain of the Academic Games Team and lettering in orchestra didn’t equate to having lots of friends. To say that I was a bit of a weird teenager would be an understatement. I went to a science, math and computer logic camp held a local high school two summers in a row for fun. My Dad thought all of this was great. He told there was a kid like me in his high school that grew up to be a really successful computer guy. “I always knew he was special. Just like you!” Dad would say enthusiastically.
My Dad had no idea about the connotations of being a special kid wasn’t exactly positive. But, being very bright is, in some ways, a lot like being mentally challenged. You’re a statistical outlier, you go to separate classes, and counselors worry about how you integrate socially with your peer group. The key difference is that mentally challenged kids that went to my school seemed to have more friends than I did. In shot, I was a high achieving, very anxious and depressed teenager. My father remained clueless to this fact until I was about sixteen. The lack of telephone calls and school dance talk seemed a little odd to my Dad. My teenage brooding and countless hours in my room listening to The Cure also didn’t jive with my Dad’s picture of what a high school kid did.
On one particularly mopey day of mine my Dad finally snapped. I can only imagine what it’s like to have to live with someone who just mopes and drinks diet coke all day with only the occasional bouts of incredible anxiety must have been like for my folks. My brother and sister were what a school guidance counselor would classify as more socially well adjusted. “Why don’t you just go out with your friends instead of sitting up in that room and skulking around miserable all the time?” he said.
I was stunned. Did my father actually think that the it had never occurred to me to get friends and go places like all the other kids. At that time in my life I found socializing very much like I feel about putting together Ikea flat-pack furniture as an adult. The concept is easily understood by me, but it all falls apart upon execution. I shouted back at my father’s statement, “Because I’m ugly and a freak and I don’t HAVE any friends.”
My father was stunned. I was, too. I couldn’t believe I raised my voice to my father. That kind of thing just wasn’t done at our house. I also couldn’t believe that my father had absolutely no response, and before he could wise up and ground me for talking back, I ran to my bedroom. While I was in the hallway, I could hear my father say to my mom in a voice that sounded truly confused. “How can she say that, Sweets?” My Mom had no response. “But, She’s so beautiful,” he said.
I shut my bedroom door and cried. My father didn’t see me like I saw me or how I thought everyone else in the world saw me. To quote the profound and truthful song by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince had said, “Parents just don’t understand,” and I loved mine for it.