Friday, March 5, 2010

ADHD Anecdote--A Father's Influence

Father and Son Playing Together

I don't know much about my Grandpa Weed. The little I do know screams to me that he had the inattentive subtype of ADHD at a time where diagnosis was literally impossible. I believe his is a classic story of what ADHD-I must have resulted in in prior generations.

Harold Weed, my great-grandpa, was a Swede. He was very tall and very obdurate. He had various children. The only ones I know about are Wendell, my grandpa, and Gordon, his older brother. The reason I know about Gordon is because while Gordon was everything that Harold seemed to want in a son--athletic, a good hunter, responsible, hard working--my grandpa, apparently, was not. My grandpa wasn't focused, didn't seem to care about competition. He wasn't as organized--wasn't as "with it." He was a "lazy ass" who would never amount to anything. That was the message he got from his father his whole childhood.

Sound familiar?

By the time my grandpa married my grandma, it seems he'd internalized much of the harsh criticism he so often heard in his childhood. He appeared to feel helpless to the disorder--unable to change things for himself. He had started drinking to mitigate depressive symptoms. He couldn't keep a job. He appeared to be totally irresponsible--unable to keep it together long enough to provide for his family. Finally, he began to get physically violent in the home, and my grandma took my dad, who was about three, and left him.

Not long thereafter, my dad's last memory of him was this: Wendell called the house saying he'd be there to pick my dad up at 12:00 to go to a movie. My dad was thrilled--he loved movies, and he loved his dad. He got ready, sat in the living room and waited. He waited and waited. And his dad never came. Never came again.

My dad didn't see him for the next 15 years.

After my Dad got home from serving his LDS mission in Texas, he and Wendell reconnected. His dad apologized for not being there--for not being a father to him. Wendell invited my dad to go for a visit. My dad was selling books at the time prepping for school, and he took the opportunity to go visit his father. They reunited, my dad met his step brothers whom he'd never known. My dad says they actually had a really good time, and that it was wonderful to get to connect with his father, at least on some level.

One of the things my dad has always mentioned about that trip was his shock at a phone call Wendell received. The two of them were sitting there talking when the phone rang. Wendell picked up the phone and said, "Hey dad." Then, through the phone, my dad heard: "Why don't you get off your lazy ass and do something productive for once in your damn life, you good for nothing..." It was Harold, calling to chastise Wendell, even after all those years. My dad says he was stunned, but that it suddenly became at least somewhat clear why things had happened with his father as they had.

Looking at this story from the lens of ADHD-I, and knowing its genetic prevalence, I kind of ache for Wendell. It's like he's a snapshot of what I might have become if my own dad had been more ruthless.

Personal accountability is very important. My Grandpa Weed made a lot of poor decisions that have had a negative ripple effect on my entire family, and which have affected me in very specific and unfortunate ways. I think he could have made better choices. But, at the same time, knowing the source of his own self-loathing as intimately as I do, I also have a great deal of sympathy for the man--born in a time where symptoms of the inattentive subtype of ADHD were regarded as absolutely nothing other than downright slothfulness. He was unable to unshackle himself from the fiercely negative feedback from his own father--and the unfair comparisons to his "perfect" brother--until he was virtually unable to believe he could ever be or do anything of value.

Not long after this meeting, my dad got word that his father had died of a heart attack. Wendell was 47 years old.


  1. My heart aches for Wendell, and for your dad. It's powerful the impact that your dad has had on you though, despite not having that influence in your life. It also makes my heart ache for all kids who struggle with ADHD, or anything else that sets them apart and makes them feel like a failure in any way. It makes me think of Dan, actually. How lucky is he to have supportive parents like you do? You guys have the greatest family. I love me some Weeds.


  2. Josh, thank you so much for sharing this. Such a reminder of the way we pass things on to each other. I love how you're looking through the history to see the patterns...and I feel so sad for your grandpa, and yes, even your great-grandpa...think what he must have struggled with to have his son die so young AND knowing he'd recently been so hard on him.

  3. Kayla--Thanks a lot. Yeah, I'm so glad my parents have been nothing but supportive. It has made all the difference.

    Marcia--That's a really interesting point. I never thought about the pain Harold might have felt. Interesting to feel empathy for someone so distant and nebulous, yet so impacting all the same.