About a year ago, I started seeing a therapist for several issues. One being this mental and emotional disconnect I feel inside. There is a public Daniel. There is an internal Daniel. Public Daniel can take over a party or public setting. Public Daniel can spin a story, can charm his way through almost anything. Private Daniel just wants people to understand him. Private Daniel wants to be taken seriously. Private Daniel craves emotional intimacy. Private Daniel is the fuel public Daniel burns to survive. When Public Daniel makes an appearance, the entirety of the next day Private Daniel regrets it all. Why do I keep doing it? Because I need the approval. I need the laughs. I want each and every person at that party to not dislike me. So, you get the show.
Looking back at my childhood, it is easy to see where it started. I was the youngest of two siblings. I have three male cousins all older than my sister on my father’s side and three female cousins two older than my sister and one that is a year younger than her. I was the odd one out. At once coddled by the adults and exiled by the children. Soon, I NEEDED to be a part of it. I wanted to be part of the conversations they would be whispering about when adults were around. I wanted to be in on the inside jokes. I wanted attention. From parents. From Aunts and Uncles. From my cousins. So I did whatever it took.
At first, it was the typical youngest whining and tattling. That is just what us youngest do. As I went through those early years of school, I learned that if you start reciting facts and memorized things, people were impressed. Family likes smart kids. In fifth grade, we learned bones of the body. General ones. Patella, clavicle, tibia. Things like that. I easily retained that. I loved science, and I loved impressing family. Sure enough, it became a party trick. “Daniel! Come here! Watch this. Do you still know all the bones in the body? Yeah? Okay. What bone is this?” I’d give them all they wanted. To this day, my father’s nephews still ask me if I can name them. You bet your ass I can.
Being the smart one eventually had drawbacks. As my cousins got older, suddenly smart wasn’t cool. I was the nerdy cousin. I wanted to read and be smart. They wanted to be smart asses. It was time to learn a new gimmick. I started to make them laugh. Now I was the little cousin who was hilarious. At age seven or eight, I even created a new persona that I called Doctor Funny. I created a jingle for him, a voice, and even a walk. I learned early sometimes you need to bury parts of you and exaggerate other portions if you want as much control of people’s reactions to you as possible. While my family were laughing, they were paying attention to me, and I needed that more than anything.
Around the same time I discovered laughter was a great way to garner attention, someone gifted me a magic set. It had card tricks a thing to push a pencil through a foam cup without spilling water, and a few other gimmicks. I loved it. Eight year old me could do magic tricks while making people laugh. Brilliant! I studied the manual. I practiced the tricks. I wanted to do a show. I was going to be the star of the night. My father obliged.
At this point my father was living in a small two room apartment built in his best friends garage. During this time there were a husband and wife and their two adult children living there as well. I had my audience. I started with your basic card tricks, Then I asked for a dollar bill, rolled it up, slid it into the little tube in my hand that was attached to my sleeve with elastic. TA-DA! They clapped and feigned amazement. They were all giving me the approval I wanted. Time for the finale. I poured water in the foam cup I had. I took a pencil. I shoved the pencil through the side of the cup. I removed the pencil. DISASTER. Water started to fountain out. I was mortified. They started laughing. I was near tears, but my father couldn’t stop laughing. He came up and hugged me. Despite my internal struggle, I still won the room.
Looking back, I always thought my sister inherited the entirety of our father’s showmanship. She loves to sing, to dance, to get on stage and perform. She did a few shows at a local dinner theater in town. Going through these memories, it looks like I got my fair share as well.