Friday, June 13, 2014
Why There are No "Brothers by Heart"
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)|
|(Travis and Cael)|
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.