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.

Jay taught the Chrismas spirit to younger brother Jordan (pictured here in 1988). Photo courtesy of the McGraw Family.

A few days passed, and Jay asked me a surprising question. “Dad, how did I get from your bed to mine?” Ever the clever one, I said, “Santa moved you! Isn’t that fun?!” He said nothing, walking into the hall and looking closely at the floor. He came back, arms folded. “Dad, we need to talk, but Mom can’t hear. Santa either wears the same cologne as you do, or you are Santa Claus!” I was stunned. “Look at the wheel marks on the carpet. The stereo was rolled out of that bedroom and down the hallway.”

My first thought was: Are you kidding me? The kid was only six, and he busted me with circumstantial evidence. His big concern: that we not tell his mother, because he was certain she didn’t know. “It will be our little secret,” I told him, much to his delight. “We men have to stick together.”

After that, the real fun began. Jay got to be Santa when we donated presents to a needy family­—he just loved it. Then, little brother Jordan was born, and Jay continued to play along. We actually got the most joy from Santa when Jay kept the magic alive with us. Christmas is still a special time around the McGraw household. Robin and I now have a few grandchildren to shop for. The only stipulation when it comes to gifts is that I don’t have to build it. The last time I tried to fix something­—my ’57 Chevy—I ended up taking it to a garage, where it was stolen! Since I’m sure Reader’s Digest makes it to the North Pole, I must take this time to remind Santa that I’d love to have that car back. Unless, of course, he’s using it to deliver his hoard of presents.

Phil McGraw is the author of Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street Books, $26; available exclusively
at thebooknook.com). His television show, Dr. Phil, airs weekdays; check local listings.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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