The Phrase Fathers Fear Most on Christmas Day
by Tim Herrera
Tim's Family Room
There are three words often heard at this time of year that strike fear into the hearts of fathers everywhere. Those three words can crush the spirit of even the most capable Dad. Those words: “Some assembly required.”
My children have now grown beyond the stage where every blasted Christmas gift they receive needs to be constructed using tools thinner than sewing needles by the skillful, unwavering hands of a neurosurgeon. I cannot tell you how many times I have cursed Santa’s elves – or the blue-vested Toys-R-Us guys – for not pre-assembling the mountains of toys my kids have received over the years. I have the scarred knuckles to prove my point.
“Come see what Santa brought us!” our kids would yell when they were very little. “Daddy, why are your hands bandaged and packed in ice?”
It’s easier when kids are very small. Many of their Christmas toys come pre-assembled. In fact, many come in one piece. Parents just remove the expensive gadgets from their boxes, make sure all the bells ring and the buzzers sound. Then we put the toys on the shelves because the kids are too busy exploring the empty boxes rather than enjoying the whiz-bang educational SAT improving PBS and pediatrician approved learning plaything we just bought, thanks to a bank loan.
“Some assembly required.” That phrase echoes in my head like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, or that abrasive duck from the insurance commercials.
It’s harder when the kids are at that in-between age where they are too young to assemble toys themselves and too young to be of any help whatsoever.
“Hey, pal, please hand me the screwdriver.”
“You mean this?”
“No. That’s a garden hose. The screwdriver is the long metal thing with the plastic handle.”
“You mean that?”
“No. That’s a shovel that we use to clean up after the dog. Never mind. Go get Mommy for me now that I’m pinned under this basketball hoop and can’t move. Tell Mommy that Daddy is losing consciousness.”
Now that three of our kids are teenagers and one is an almost-teen, gift giving doesn’t involve Craftsman tools, words under my breath or directions written in Swedish. The only knuckle scraping I experience now comes from constantly reaching into my back pocket for my wallet. And the only blood loss I risk comes from putting things in envelopes and risking paper cuts.
“Merry Christmas, Sweetheart! Here’s a Target gift card to keep along with your Borders gift card and your Blockbuster gift card!”
I know that giving gift cards seem like the lazy man’s way out. There are times when I look back sentimentally on those past Christmas Eves, where my wife and I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. struggling to follow the directions for assembling dollhouses, bicycles or life-sized Batcaves. Our hands shook from overwork and from downing two-liter bottles of Diet Coke to stay awake. Our eyes were tired and crossed from trying to connect too many slots “A” to slots “B”. Then after getting about twenty minutes of sleep the kids would stampede into the bedroom announcing that Santa left behind a mountain of toys, and several empty plastic soda bottles.
I do miss the blissful looks on their faces and the loving hugs around the neck from tiny arms. I do miss the excitement that the anticipation of Santa’s visit brings to young children. I miss the trampling of tiny feet up and down the steps. I don’t miss the bruises and contusions and the clanking at midnight that comes after Daddy tripped over the toolbox.
The nightmares have stopped but the haunting phrase “some assembly required” still makes me flinch. It is important to remember, however, that scraped knuckles do heal over time.
(Tim is the author of “From Wedgies to Feeding Frenzies: A Semi-Survival Guide for Parents of Teens.” For more information e-mail Tim at
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