The Dadfluenza defense

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter Viva, who is driving her dad to have a valid motive for all kinds of mayhem.

You’ve probably heard about Ethan Couch, the “Affluenza Teen” who skipped away from multiple vehicular homicide charges. His lawyers cited that Ethan’s privileged upbringing made him blind to truths such as “killing people is wrong.” Recently he broke the terms of his probation by moving to a beach in Mexico with his mom, and most observers are rooting for the entire family to be drawn and quartered. Presumably, his lawyers will say that his judgment was blurred by tanning oil and putting lime into coconuts and drinking it all up.

So, if young Master Ethan can literally get away with murder because of “Affluenza” (being too rich to have clear judgment), then surely I can get away with bad behavior because of “Dadfluenza” (having my brains go to mush because of parenting).

Below is my defense, stating the symptoms of Dadfluenza and making a case as to why these symptoms negate any culpability for my actions.

Your Honor, I’m exhausted

I literally haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 4.25 years. Nearly half a decade. An eighth of my life. For the first couple of years I woke up a hundred times a night, now it’s down to just a few – to fetch water, to help in the potty and of course to schlep down to the couch when my daughter wants to spoon with Mommy in my spot. Sleep deprivation is utilized by the military to make enemy combatants break; imagine what it does to a comedy writer entering middle age. So, do I fall asleep in my car in parking lots? Sure. Do I fall asleep every time I screen a film for my students? Absolutely. Do I fall asleep every time I sit down or stop walking, leaving my daughter to bat me about the head shouting that she needs more pretzel bunnies and episodes of “The Lion Guard”? Indeed, I do. But I’m just a man, Your Honor, a man who has had too little sleep for far too long.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I’m malnourished

Perhaps not underfed, but certainly malnourished. Who can be expected to feed themselves balanced and adequate meals after making a plate for a little girl whose tastes are cruelly mercurial? She asks for macaroni and cheese, but when you bring it to the table, she wants gyoza. You steam some gyoza, but she insists it was a ham sandwich she wanted all along. After chasing the feather in the wind that is my daughter’s appetite, I have no to time to do anything but eat half-finished preschooler portions of food typically too cheese-laden for my aging entrails to even fully digest.

As anyone in this courtroom can plainly tell, I’ve forgotten how to interact with adult humans

Most of the things I say these days are either ignored, spoken through the proxy of a hand puppet or stuffed puppy or repeated by request “in a monster voice.” No requests I make are followed without deal-making, begging or threats of cartoon deprivation. I haven’t heard anyone use the correct past tense of a verb in a year, and I have to spell out words from the news of the day like “shooting,” “car accident” and “Rauner” so I don’t have to explain what they mean to my child. And so I ask each and every one of you here, can I be blamed for saying to my staff at break time, “Why don’t you all get a snack and go potty and then we’ll re-adjourn?” I say to you that I cannot.

The man standing before you has not a shred of dignity left

When I’m not being made to wear a tiara like Princess Tiana and having candy-flavored lipstick smeared across my face, I am literally being ridden like a horse. Like a horse! Even made to whinny and buck on command! I am kicked and prodded, my hair is pulled and my galloping is always declared, “too slow” or “too fast!”  My 40-year-old knees are crushed into the hardwood, and I’m never allowed to use the bathroom in peace! At least Dumbo’s mom got to sit down in her circus jail.

So, Counselor, was I caught chasing down a bicyclist who nearly ran me over in front of the Walgreens and did I ask him if he’d like to wear his backpack jammed inside his body through his mouth or up his bottom? Perhaps I did, in fact, do those things. But if you were forced, daily, not only to act like a horsie but to carry a child upside down with one hand and tickle them with the other for hours at a time, would you not be a bit on edge when you leave the house? Would you not be inclined to spirited outbursts? Do I even need to ask?

My dreams lie shattered around me

Your Honor, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, everyone gathered here today to see justice done: I know I flipped over a display of Skylanders Happy Meal Toys when I was told there were no more Sausage McMuffins, but the sign said, “Breakfast All Day.” Everyone is talking about the damned Breakfast All Day. I am going to be paying back student loans for the rest of my life in exchange for a useless arts degree. I work 14 hour days just to stay broke. I’ll never take that backpacking trip to Macchu Picchu, nor write my novel. I shan’t ever live abroad or be interviewed by Charlie Rose. God knows I’ll never meet Bowie – not in this life. And I drive a hatchback. Am I not entitled to a mild psychotic break when denied the Sausage McMuffin that would be a small bit of salve on my existential wounds?

I leave you with this question, are we to declare a man evil man for letting his child use the display toilet at Home Depot when there were no employees anywhere to help me find a bathroom (or the wall-hanging hardware I came in for)? Is such a man really a bad man, or just a desperate one – heartbroken and disillusioned? Send me to jail if you must. I would enjoy the sleep, regular meals and time at the gym. But I tell you that I am not cruel, thoughtless or destructive. I am merely an ailing, aging, good man suffering from a disease many people contract: Dadfluenza.

The defense rests.

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