Friday, June 13, 2014

Why There are No "Brothers by Heart"

The following post is brought to you by... two Heart Dads!  Perfect timing for Father's Day. 

A huge thanks to Travis Lewis and Trent Neely for their candid and honest thoughts and perspectives on being a heart dad and, as the title states, "Why There are no 'Brothers by Heart.'"  So, who are Travis and Trent?


(Trent, Avery, and Ellery)
Trent Neely
Daughter:  Avery (HLHS) - almost 3, Ellery (HH) - 5
Fontan:  Scheduled for early July
Occupation:  Teacher (Anatomy & Physiology, Health & PE)
Favorite kid activity:  Being the tickle monster
Favorite ice cream flavor to share:  Cookies & Cream
Lives in:  Columbus, OH
Hospital:  Nationwide Children's 
Currently reading:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons
Favorite kids movie:  The Goonies
Coping mechanism:  Bad jokes
NFL Team:  Bengals


(Travis and Cael)
Travis Lewis
Son: Cael ( HLHS) - just turned not so terrible two 
Fontan:  Scheduled for early July
Occupation:  Physician Assistant and Athletic Trainer in a pediatric office 
Favorite kid activity:  playing outside 
Favorite ice cream flavor to share:  Moose Tracks 
Lives in:  Butler, PA ( just north of Pittsburgh) 
Hospital:  Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
Currently reading:  Any Given Monday 
Favorite Kids Movie: Charlie Brown Christmas
Coping mechanism:  Coffee
NFL Team:  Steelers


Why There are No Brothers by Heart
by Travis Lewis and Trent Neely

Calling all dads… Calling all dads… Does anybody else hear crickets?  It didn’t take long for us to notice a particular phenomenon in the heart community.  Now we dads aren’t the most observant creatures in the world (unless we’re talking about fantasy football or baseball stats), so the observation had to be pretty obvious.  Sisters by Heart has hundreds of affiliated moms, there are Heart Mom Facebook groups with 1,000+ female members, parent groups are predominately women, and a recent study about how to present a prenatal diagnosis had a 95% survey completion by the fairer sex.  So, where are all the dads?  And why is there not a support group like Sisters by Heart for Dads?

In order to understand this occurrence, it is important to first understand a few key differences between women and men.  In this case, evolution is necessary to provide some insight.  Historically, women have been the primary caregivers for children, and raising children is no easy task.  As caregivers, socializing and bonding became an important survival technique; just ask any mom experiencing the terrible twos.  Sometimes it feels as if a small army is required to attend to a child’s needs, and for help, many women turn to other moms.  On the other hand, men are responsible for providing security and a source of nourishment.  A group of men discussing their latest cave improvement techniques while hunting only tended to scare off the large animals they were hoping to bring home for dinner that night.  As a result, we men tend to internalize more often. 

This tendency of women to “tend and befriend” and men to “provide and protect” has resulted in variations in brain development of both men and woman.  These variations can be coupled with the fact that women carry and then deliver a baby nine months later, while the male’s “job” could be a mere couple of minutes.  In addition, males and females are socialized differently.  Women are taught from a young age to be caring and compassionate and males are taught to be tough and emotionless.  On the surface, we, the tougher species, appear to be devoid of emotions. However, this is hardly the case.  We just deal with our emotions differently.  Recent studies have shown that a Congenital Heart Disease diagnosis may hit the mom harder initially, but the stress tends to linger longer with dad.  Because of their ability to socialize and bond, moms come to terms with the diagnosis faster and then shift their attention to how to care for a fragile infant.  Dads unfortunately, do not typically reach out for help in the same way and often internalize the stress. As a result, the stress generally does not dissipate on it is own and may manifest itself in different forms for heart dads.

Another reason for the invisible nature of dad, is a result of one of the greatest powers in the universe.  We all are exposed to it from birth, but we cannot fully appreciate it until we have children of our own.  This super power is “maternal instinct” and it turns a regular, ordinary woman into SUPERMOM.  We knew it as a child from our own mothers, but it isn’t until our wives or girlfriends step out of their hospital shaped phone booths with a baby that we truly begin appreciate this power.  Seemingly regular women are rapidly transformed into an unstoppable force that has supersonic hearing, can soothe a crying infant, and change diapers with a single hand; all while sleep deprived.  Regrettably, this metamorphosis can turn a new dad into a bubbling idiot only capable of putting baby formula into the coffee maker.  This dynamic shift is rapid and extreme, frequently leaving dad in the back seat of the car that he is accustomed to driving. 

As fathers of children with a complex heart defect, who still may not have appropriately dealt with the stress of the diagnosis, we are still scared and insecure about how to react.  We too are thrust into this new situation and we want to do everything we can to help.  However, it appears to come more naturally to mom. This is threatening to our masculinity, so we often do not exercise our ability to reach out for help.  The last thing we want to do is make a mistake, because in this game, mistakes can be tragic.  So we retreat to what we know - providing and protecting.  When considering the idea of one parent choosing  to stay home to care for a child, it is often mom.  Dad continues to work in an attempt to make a larger financial contribution to the family. We feel this is our way to provide a sense of security for our family and to make up for all the shortcomings we perceive when compared to SUPERMOM.

So we ask again, where are all the dads?  Well, in three of the social media groups that exist specific to dads, there are a grand total of less than 100 of us involved. This would make it appear that we all ran for the hills.  Some do, but most go about winning their father-of-the-year award quietly.  We take the kids to the doctor “because our wives told us to,” hoping to retain and deliver the correct information so we don’t have to tuck our tails.  We go day to day holding onto similar stress and anxiety that moms do, but we don’t have the same social bonding ability to help cope with those feelings.  The good news though is that the brain can change. Many dads are becoming more involved in the day-to-day care of their children. Although moms still hold onto a larger percentage of the primary care giver role, dads are beginning to do their share.  Dads can also respond positively to bonding through social groups. Moms can help by encouraging their middle aged, balding child to reach out to other dads through social groups.  This will help to reassure us that we aren’t the helpless creatures we feel like, knowing that we aren’t alone.  Dads, join in the conversations, express emotions and ask questions. It may not be easy, but it will help.  Maybe it will improve family dynamics or it might even get us out of the doghouse. Who knows, perhaps we’ll develop some of our own super powers…But we won’t know until we try.   



Previous Blog Posts

Tuesday April 21st, 2017: Parent Scholarships NPC-QIC 2017

Monday, August 8, 2016: On Finding His Tribe

Thursday, November 19, 2015: You're the General Manager

Monday, July 20, 2015: Fontan Care Package Launch

Monday, June 8, 2015: SBH Supports Full Transparency in Outcomes Data

Wednesday, May 6, 2015: New Care Package Items

Wednesday, April 29, 2015: A Tea Just for You: Heart Mom Comfort Tea!

Monday, March 2, 2015: Parent Travel Scholarships - NPC-QIC 2015 Spring Learning Session!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015: NPC-QIC/SBH Response to HLHS Statistics Shared by the CDC

Monday, February 2, 2015: Fundraising with Heart: Tink & Key

Thursday, January 29, 2015: January 2015 NPC-QIC Action Period Call Update

Wednesday, January 28, 2015: Fundraising with Heart: The Baby Blue Sound Collective

Thursday, December 18, 2014: Sharing HOPE: An exciting opportunity

Tuesday, September 30, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: September's Action Period Call

Tuesday, August 26, 2014: Parent Travel Scholarships - NPC-QIC 2014 Fall Learning Session!

Monday, August 18, 2014: CHD Kids and School Special Services

Monday, August 11, 2014: Using Crisis to Create: The Asher James Foundation

Wednesday, July 2, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: June's Action Period Call

Monday, June 23, 2014: Pink for Paul!

Friday, June 13, 2014: Why There are No "Brothers by Heart"

Tuesday, May 13, 2014: What If...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: March's Action Period Call

Wednesday, March 5, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: February's Action Period Call

Saturday, February 15, 2014: Shopping for a Cause

Thursday, February 6, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: January's Action Period Call

Friday, January 17, 2014: Research Opportunity: Prenatally Diagnosed Moms Need Apply!

Monday, January 6, 2014: HLHS Collaborative: December's Action Call

Friday, December 27, 2013: Dual Perspectives: Growing Up with HLHS

Wednesday, December 4, 2013: Take Action: Be Part of the Solution

Tuesday, December 3, 2013: Join Millions for #GivingTuesday

Monday, November 18, 2013: A Mother's Perspective: The Other Sibling

Wednesday, November 6, 2013: A Unique Opportunity with What to Expect

Tuesday, November 5, 2013: Time to Vote!

Friday, November 1, 2013: 2nd Annual Sisters by Heart Avon Fundraiser

Thursday, September 12, 2013: Possibilities: Cord Blood Banking

Tuesday, September 3, 2013: A Unique Partnership

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: Fontan Series: Kylan's Story

Monday, July 22, 2013: Fontan Series: Lily's Story

Monday, July 15, 2013: Fontan Series: Aly's Story

Monday, May 13, 2013: A Heartfelt Donation: Medical Masks in Anya's Memory

Monday, April 22, 2013: Parent's Perspective: What to Pack for the Hospital

Thursday, April 18, 2013: Getting a 2nd Opinion: An Inpatient Perspective

Monday, April 15, 2013: Getting a 2nd Opinion: An Outpatient Perspective

Saturday, February 9, 2013: It's February, Celebrate Black History Month!

Monday, February 4, 2013: A Heartfelt Donation: eBay Foundation

Friday, February 1, 2013: A Unique Collaboration: SBH and the NPC-QIC

Monday, January 28, 2013: NPC-QIC Winter Learning Session

Friday, December 21, 2012: A Mothers Perspective: Feeding issues

Wednesday, December 5, 2012: A Heartfelt Donation: Smart Mom Jewelry

Sunday, November 18, 2012: Heartfelt Donations: aden + anais and The Dorsett Family

Tuesday, November 13, 2012: Gifts from the Heart: Stella & Dot

Monday, November 5, 2012: Creative Donors: United Way Workplace Campaigns

Sunday, November 4, 2012: A Mother's Perspective: Healing a Hurting Marriage

Sunday, October 28, 2013: A Heartfelt Donation: Avon

Saturday, October 27, 2012: A Gift for Our Fighters

Monday, October 15, 2012: Stories of Hope: Tyler Sajdak

Monday, October 8, 2012: A Heartfelt Donation: The Mended Heart

Monday, September 24, 2012: Fun in the Sun: Year Two

Sunday, September 16, 2012: Creative Moms: Warrior Scrapbooking

September 11th, 2012: Remembering Our Heroes

June 6th, 2012: Top Ten Discharge List