The Disappointing Donut

prune donutMy dad always looked for ways to make himself useless around the house. If he was asked to vacuum a room, the telltale rotating brush tracks would be missing from half of it. If he was asked to do dishes, he’d end up with a dishpan swirling with shards of glass. If he was asked to paint a room, he would buy the paint one quart at a time, thereby necessitating four trips to the hardware store to complete the job.

Dad might have been genuinely incompetent, but I believe his actions were all part of a passive-aggressive master plan. He knew that if he made a mess of things, Mom would yell, but she also would never — ever — ask him to do the job again. Mom had a very low threshold for incompetence. On more than a few occasions Dad was on the receiving end of Mom’s infamous bon mot: “You can’t be that stupid.”

To Dad, such harsh words were a small price to pay for a life of leisure.

Since Mom couldn’t count on Dad to do anything of value inside the house, she sent him out to the yard. This worked for a while. Yard work, unlike dishes, is more inherently “manly” and Dad took to it well, often taking off his shirt while digging up stumps. Our fossilized old lady neighbors peeked between the slats of their picture window blinds and swooned.

But yard work was still work and Dad soon searched for ways to get out of it. When I reached the tender age of eight, Dad seized what I imagine was a long awaited opportunity.

“Hey, boy! Guess what? You’re going to make some money cutting the lawn!”

“How much?”

“Seven dollars.”

To stupid little me seven dollars was a fortune.

So every Saturday I got stuck mowing and bagging an acre-and-a-half worth of grass while our old lady neighbors found something else to look at.

Photographic proof that Dad violated child labor laws.
Photographic proof that Dad violated child labor laws.

Dad had a gift for avoiding work, but his role as a Passive-Aggressive Immovable Object was no match for Mom’s Aggressive-Aggressive Unstoppable Force. If Dad was useless on our property, fine. She would send him off of it.

“Jim!” she’d call. “Go to the store! We’re out of milk!”

Mom’s purchasing requests were never unusual; she always told Dad to get food staples: milk, bread, eggs, butter. What was unusual was the time of day Mom needed them. Without fail, she sent Dad to the store late in the evening. On more than a few occasions she sent him out after midnight. I don’t know why. Or maybe I do.

Dad tried to screw things up, of course, but he was working at a disadvantage. If Dad tried to come home with the wrong item, Mom would send him back out into the night until he got it right. Mom was a night owl. Dad wasn’t. The longer he farted around, the more determined and invincible she became.

Dad soon recognized that this new job was his forever. So he stopped screwing up. Mostly. His one act of rebellion was to always purchase a leaky carton of milk.

“They were all leaky,” he’d say by way of explanation.

Uh huh.

To her credit, Mom was generous in victory. She accepted the leaky carton without comment and placed it on a specially designated saucer in our fridge known colloquially as The Drippings Dish.

Mom’s plan to make Dad useful around the house was an unqualified success.

Until, one day, it wasn’t.

One evening, after my older sister, Gina, and I went to bed, Mom instructed Dad to go to Dunkin’ Donuts to select a dozen donuts for the family. I don’t know why she asked him to do such a thing. Maybe she had grown complacent in her victory. Maybe she just wanted to get rid of him for a while. Whatever the reason, she sent Dad — a man who took a sort of perverse pride in messing things up — on an extremely important mission. One that required an inordinate amount of independent thought.

True to form, he screwed it up spectacularly.

Dunkin’ Donuts has a wide selection of donuts. Some (glazed, jelly) are tasty but ordinary. Others (vanilla and chocolate kreme) can place the donut eater in a blissful, euphoric state of nirvana.

Then there are the donuts designed, I assume, to serve as a kind of social experiment, one that asks the question: “Just how badly do you want a donut?”

I found the Dunkin’ Donuts box early the next morning. I made many new discoveries that day. Did you know that Dunkin’ Donuts once made prune Danishes? Neither did I. But they did. Dad bought three of them.

He squandered 25 percent of donut box real estate on prune-flavored pastries.

He bought two plain donuts. Plain! I thought the plain ones were for display purposes only.

He also bought donuts with chunks of apple inside. No one on earth reaches for a donut when they want to taste a chunk of apple. No. One. Ever.

There were other abominations in the box, but I don’t remember them anymore, I chose to bury them in my subconscious.

His selections were bad enough to seem almost spiteful. It was as if Dad walked up to the counter and exclaimed, “Gimme a box of crap!”

There was a method to Dad’s madness, however, for he has an iron stomach. Dad could endure – even enjoy – just about any donut that ever was. Not only did Dad like all the donuts he picked out, but also he didn’t have to worry about anyone else eating them up. All twelve were his and his alone.

Mom, God bless her, immediately recognized the need to reassert her authority.

That afternoon I heard her familiar call up the stairs: “MICHAEL! GINA! COME HERE!”

My sister and I thumped down into the kitchen to find Dad seated at the dinner table looking almost contrite. Mom stood over him with her arms folded.

She nodded to me. “Get that pad of paper and sit down.” I did as I was told and joined my sister at the table opposite Dad.

“You two are going to tell your father what kind of donuts you want,” she said. “And then he is going to go get them. All. By. Himself. Because he is an adult.”

She let that statement hang in the air for a while.

“Is that clear?”

It was.

“Good. Now I’m going to go work, because my workday does not end once I get home. It just begins.” She snapped up a rag and a can of Pledge and was gone.

For the next 15 minutes, Gina and I wrote up a list and gave Dad a crash course in the art of donut purchasing.

Dad listened. For the first time ever, I think, he seemed to make a real effort to get a household chore right. This trip was for his kids. His kids deserved good donuts.

Armed with his list and a new attitude, Dad returned to Dunkin’ Donuts. The selection he came home with was wonderful.

Well, mostly.

Gina and I couldn’t help but notice that one of the donuts was the crappy apple chunk kind that we specifically told Dad not to get. We decided, however, not to dwell on his small transgression.

Old habits die hard.



112 Replies to “The Disappointing Donut”

  1. This post made me giggle. So like my dad… Clueless most of the time but means best, but boy do we love them. Thanks for sharing. Makes me feel a little more human knowing I’m not the only one with one of these dads.

    1. My dad is not the most ept of household kind of guys, but when it comes to pastry he always has mad skills. We went to a Dunkies in Cranston RI and found coconut covered jam-filled crullers. Never seen them anywhere else. Nirvana.

  2. I’m still amazed at the lawnmower. You sure you didn’t pay to drive such a wonder beast. And donuts?!? They were verboten in our household. Sounds like a dreamy childhood to me, Mike.

  3. Amazingly funny, Mike. What a great observation of marriage and family life.
    Cute picture on the riding mower showing off for the spinsters. At least you had a riding mower. My brothers and I started mowing the lawn with one of those rotating chopper things (the old Vermont way – didn’t have to buy gas). My husband is a bit like your dad. He stops his chores when they’re 3/4 done. It’s annoying…but since I have to be shamed into doing mine, I don’t complain. Glad you got some “real” donuts in the end. 🙂

    1. Oh, those pushing mower things are the worst. I had to use one of them to cut my grandmother’s lawn. She lived on a postage stamp-sized plot of grass, but it was awful. Have you ever noticed that with those things you can only cut the grass when you push and not when you pull?

  4. I’m weird I guess. I like plain glazed donuts with a tall glass of milk. Well, I also like chocolate glazed donuts and blueberry cake donuts..Oh Oh.. and Pączkis… OMG! They are awesome! Unfortunately you can only get them once a year and I can’t find them here in the south…. no one even knows what they are 😦
    Have you ever had a Pączki??

      1. Unfortunately not where I live in a small town in East Texas. I’m sure if I did some research I could find one up in Dallas but I don’t see making a special trip on Fat Tuesday just for pastry! ha ha! 😉
        I was introduced to them by some wonderful people I know in Detroit (area) when we lived there in the 90’s. I don’t think I have had one since then *sigh*

      2. I haven’t had one in years either. Have you tried to Google them under recipes? I found lots. They are deep fried. I believe my mom used Crisco for the lightness of the oil. If you don’t enjoy baking, maybe you have a friend who would like to try making these?

      1. You will have the best luck finding them on Feb 9th.. that is Fat Tuesday aka the day before Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent) EVERYONE has them on that day, even Dunkin’ Donuts! LOL! But if you want an authentic Paczki you need to find a Polish bakery. 😉

      2. Yeah I figured you would have no problem finding one where you live! They were all over the Detroit area also. That is where I had them the first time. AND my best friend’s dad is polish… 😀

  5. That’s a big machine and a huge yard for a seven-year-old. Must have built character. 😀
    I’ve never heard of such a talented husband when it comes to the unhelpful department. Your mother was a saint. 😀 o_O

  6. Ha, I think there’s some truth to your dad’s logic. Laundry is the one household chore my husband is better at than me. Or so I let him think. As a poor college student, I just washed all my colors and whites together on cold and prayed for the best. Couldn’t spare the extra quarters to wash such small loads. This horrified him when we got married (I was still in college), and he’s been doing the laundry ever since. Of course, I would do laundry much differently now, but I’ll never tell…

    The good thing about your dad’s donut selections? No one would gain any weight because they wouldn’t eat them!

      1. Great idea! But you have to sample the bad donuts. I’m not going near anything prune-related or pumped full of sugary, syrupy apples. If there happens to be a vanilla cream, however, I’ll step up.

  7. Your childhood family dynamic just kills me. I think both sets of our parents were separated at birth. Truly. Can I tell you how much work I did for FREE on our parents’ farm? complete with acres and acres of mowing and weeds to pull, trees to plant, bushes to trim, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. At least they gave you hearing protectors. Me and my brothers? Nada.

    On a positive note: my mother had a sweet tooth. Glazed and chocolate donuts were her friends. So I guess we did receive some form of payment.

    1. Oh, let me point out that lawn cutting was my sole source of income until I was 14 and able to be legally abused by other employers (Burger King). I did countless other chores for free. Allowances were things my friends got. Not me.

      Did you at least have cute animals to feed (and clean up after) on your parent’s farm?

      1. Ah, yes, Burger King resurfaces. I was planning to write something about that. I’ve got to get on the stick!

        I fed baby lambs who had lost their mothers and took them to school for show and tell, before taking them to the stockyards. I raised chickens for awhile. My grandfather chopped off their heads. Then we dipped them in boiling water, plucked their feathers, and cleaned their gizzards before popping them into the freezer. The farm was progressively integrated. We, ah, ate the white calf (from a Black Angus cow bred with a white Charolais bull) named Apollo who was born the day the astronauts landed on the moon. We waited until Apollo was a couple of years old before saying good-bye, taking him to the local butcher and filling our basement freezer with a year’s worth of meat.

        I could go on, but I won’t. You’re probably thinking about becoming a vegetarian right now.

  8. Who the heck had a lawnmower like that as a kid?! And it’s not even dirty! It looks brand new! Are you wearing ear protection or are those music headphones from the 80’s? You look very serious on that mower… or angry… because maybe you had to eat a prune donut on that day. Your dad really knew how to get under people’s skin! There are some things you just don’t mess around with!

    1. You have a good eye, Kelly. It was a brand new mower. The first year I cut the grass was on a rusty yellow rider with duct tape on the seat. It died on the last mow of the season. Dad had to bite the bullet and buy a new one for spring. So the pic in the post above was taken when I was nine, not eight.

      The reason the mower looks so spotless, by the way, is because I was also responsible for cleaning it. I am a touch anal retentive, so I would demand nothing less than a perfectly detailed ride.

      No music, I’m afraid. That was ear protection. I was born with one deaf ear so I was very protective of the one that remained.

      And I think my expression in the pic can be best described as “serious.” I only got “angry” when I had to empty the grass catchers. Terrible job, that.

      1. At least you had them! I had to rake the clippings after mowing with a push mower! My dad had no mercy – or leaf blower! Bad memories, Mike…
        So are you a perfectionist with your own lawn equipment?! That’s kind of weird 🙂

  9. Hey, prune doughnut? What are you complaining about? At least he didn’t come home with a Brussel sprout doughnut. I’d actually go for the prune one – but doubt there is such a thing anymore.
    I can’t imagine my mom ever being brave enough (stupid enough?) to ask my dad to get a gallon of milk, much less a dozen doughnuts. I can’t remember ever, EVER seeing my dad at a grocery store. And he learned to pay my brother to mow the lawn around the same age you were. Only my brother didn’t have cool socks like you did. And we only had a stand-up mower.
    You, obviously, were quite a spoiled boy.

  10. So did you enter the contest? This is another great example of your stellar storytelling abilities! I hope you did! Oh, and I would try a prune Danish. I like prunes. You strike me as a picky eater, so I am surprised you didn’t go for the glazed doughnuts.:)

  11. Well, I sympathize with your mother. Dad seems to be worse than no help at all. Where did he find a Dunkin Doughnuts selling prune danish or danish at all? I’m almost afraid to admit this, but my first job was at a DD. Didn’t fry ’em but did fill and sell ’em. Rarely took any home. I think I lost any appetite for doughnuts until a few years after that job. Can’t imagine a prune or apple doughnut, but am now partial to cake doughnuts with chocolate frosting (and sprinkles). I’d go for one now if all this snow would go away. Can’t seem to find my car. It was in the driveway . . .

      1. Well, I do have an interesting story of why I was fired from the first DD I worked at and how this got me a quick hire at the second DD. It involves cockroaches, softball, and my conspiring mother. Good times!

    1. My dear Vanessa, ever since we starred in the Nutcracker Suite together, I’ve thought the world of you. However, Brits are not know for their sophisticated palettes.

      Chunks of *anything* in a donut is just plain wrong.

      1. Brits might not be known for their sophisticated palettes, but the reputation isn’t entirely justified, not nowadays anyway, but that aside, the apple donut is more of an apple sauce than chunks, I would agree that chunks aren’t good in donuts. But you know our jam donuts here are superior to your jelly donuts which just taste artificial (and yes the jam we use is smooth, so you can’t play the chunk card here). Carrie Rubin said that the best donuts she ever had were in London, so I think we Brits can take you on for a donut war at least.

      2. Excellent.

        And I adore how you Brits spell “apologize.”

        I am going to have to visit England someday. And when I do I shall treat you and your family to the finest donuts your country has to offer.

  12. You got paid to drive around on a riding lawnmower? That would be every kid’s dream…and most Dads. Your Dad was pretty much like most men I have ever met. If you can figure out how to do it wrong you will never be asked to do it again. The thing is it will never be right, woman know before they even ask that it will never be done the way they want it done. These are laws of nature.

  13. Cheers Mike – another hilarious classic, thanks!. Did you ever address your childhood observations about your Dad with him? Am so interested to see things from his eyes? Was he a honest incompetent, or a shrewd rambler?

  14. Because of you, I am now five pounds heavier! You had to write about donuts, didn’t You?

    I have recently been introduced to a place that makes specialty vintage donuts…and they are heavenly! You name it, any tipping you could possibly imagine…they will make it for you. Since reading this post I have bought some for friends, twice! And of course they both insisted I eat some, too.

    See what you did…Grrr! Now I have to eat celery and carrots for a month!

    1. Scientists say you should never try to lose weight in the winter, for we are biologically programmed to store fat when the weather gets cold. So! Eat those donuts until March without guilt!

      Now, if memory serves your are an Ohio person, yes? ‘Cause if so, I’m gonna have to track you down the next time I pass through your state. I’ll buy you and yours a couple of vintage donuts. Whadayasay?

  15. I’m not interested in going into the park but the next time you come to Disney I would love to meet for some coffee and donuts…and I’ll bring the donuts! 😀 😀

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