Dr. Phil Shares “The Holiday I’ll Never Forget.”

A secret father-son pact still delights TV show host and author Phil McGraw decades later.

Image by Robert Trachtenberg/ Courtesy CBS Television Distribution

Before I begin, let me make it clear that I have seen enough evidence (thanks to my children and grandchildren) to believe that Santa lives at the North Pole and swings down to the States every year. Here is a little story about the time I played Santa’s helper.

The McGraw Christmases are known in our family as “Robin Originals,” with each year’s decorations more elaborate than those of the year before: lights, garland, and life-size figurines. One year, our son Jay, who was six years old and an only child at the time, asked for a new sound system. “Please bring me a new stereo so I don’t have to listen to my dad’s old music,” he told the mall Santa. Robin and I took note.

On Christmas Eve, we placed Santa’s cookies and milk by the fire, tossed a few carrots on the roof for the reindeer, and put Jay to sleep in our bed at the back of the house, where the sound of Santa’s boots wouldn’t wake him. That’s when I retired to the NASA-level workshop I had set up in the spare bedroom and spent the whole night putting together that stereo.

At one point, I took a break to move Jay from our bed to his—he was afraid that Santa might think he wasn’t home and would forget to leave presents. He squirmed a bit while I carried him but never opened his eyes. At long last, I finished the stereo and positioned it by the tree, worried sick that it wouldn’t play but too scared to turn it on and accidentally blast our son out of bed. Robin and I fell asleep early that Christmas morning, filled with satisfaction. At 7 a.m., Jay woke us up and led us to the Christmas tree at a dead run. He fell in love with the sound system—we were deaf for a week.

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