Challenge of being married to emergency physician isn’t always easy, but rewarding.
Six years ago, my life changed forever. My daughter was born. I went from being a chef to a stay at home dad. Shortly after our family grew, my wife joined the Emergency Psychiatry team at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Now, she leads the Division of Emergency Psychiatry and I raise two beautiful children.
Life married to a doctor in emergency medicine is not easy. My wife works in an incredibly stressful environment where decisions are literally life or death. It has taken me some time to understand this. When my wife gets home, I make sure she gets some fun time with the kids to help her decompress.
I encourage the kids to draw pictures or make up stories just for their mom. Sometimes, she just needs to go to our room and take some time to herself. I try to send pictures of little moments to bring a smile in the middle of a shift. I am home so she doesn’t have to be.
If there is a sick kid, doctor’s appointment or a birthday party, I’m here to take care of it. Mostly, I try to make sure she doesn’t need to worry about home. This life is different than I expected. There is no set weekly schedule. There are no set hours. Many nights that are supposed to end at 6 p.m. turn into 7 p.m. or later.
Luckily, our kids are proud of their mom. They know if she is late, it is because someone out there needs her help. She can focus on the patients in need because she knows our children are being cared for. I am only able to do what I do with the help and support of others.
Going it “alone”
In the beginning I felt so isolated and alone. I had gone from a high energy job as a chef to spending weeks without a single adult conversation. This isolation began to grow and push me into depression. Every day began to blend into the next and I began to feel as if I didn’t matter. Here I was, married to a doctor who makes life changing decisions every day, and the most important decision in my life was peas or carrots for the child.
I tried reaching out to local parenting groups, but I found most to be very mom-focused and not very welcoming to a dad. Eventually, my wife found one group for dads married to doctors. It was my first ray of hope. It didn’t really fit with me. Most members were working fathers. I had little to nothing in common with most of them. However, any contact was better than no contact.
About two months after I joined this group, one member posted a link about a Stay at Home Dad Convention. At this point, I was approaching rock bottom. I was depressed and isolated. I thought no one understood what I was feeling. Worst of all, I felt guilty for feeling that way. I sent my wife a text (mid shift, I know, right, strictly forbidden except in emergency). I said, “I kind of want to do this. What do you think?” The convention was less than 30 miles from our driveway. She said to book it. This was the moment of change for me. It was at that convention I met over 100 fathers just like me. I realized that nothing I was feeling was unique to me.
Most importantly, I learned and I met my community of peers. Oddly enough, many of them lived in my area! Suddenly, I had a local dad’s group and peers. I registered for the next convention before I left my first convention. I had discovered The National at Home Dad Network (NAHDN). I had found my brotherhood. That weekend, for the first time, no one asked me, “So, what do you do?” I was no longer alone. I met fathers from every walk of life including several others married to physicians of all kinds including emergency medicine. The emotional support and camaraderie I get from this group has been indispensable to me.
The NAHDN is a group of dedicated fathers, all of whom are the primary caregivers for their children. The organization is a nonprofit focused on empowering fathers and championing a culture that recognizes them as competent and capable parents.
In 2003, three stay at-home fathers had a vision. Mike Stilwell, Peter Steinberg and Matt Vossler were involved in a great playgroup. They wondered why there wasn’t a resource for other at-home fathers to find local dad playgroups. By early 2006, they incorporated the first national non-profit organization for at-home dads, originally called Daddyshome, Inc.
Getting other at-home fathers interested in the idea was challenging at first. Most men don’t think they need the support of others. As time went on, more stay at home fathers joined them. In 2012, they changed the name to the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN). The name change was made to more clearly define what the organization does and explain its objective.
Robert Frank PhD, Professor of Psychology at Oakton Community College in Chicago, hosted a dissertation study of at-home dads in 1994 that became an annual gathering. As more fathers learned about the event, it grew into a way for stay-at-home fathers to connect and enhance their parenting skills. Eventually, several regular attendees from the NAHDN assumed the responsibility of organizing the Convention and took it “on the road” to different cities throughout the U.S.
Now in its 25th year, HomeDadCon is the second longest-running fatherhood event in the country and still proudly organized by volunteer fathers for fathers. Last year, I was elected to the Board of the NAHDN. I’m reaching out and helping fathers learn they are not alone.
Our mission focuses on four pillars: advocacy, community, education and support. At our yearly convention we offer professional development for professional fathers. We have had speakers on many topics: parenting techniques, men’s mental health, homeschooling, cooking and even making balloon animals. Most of these breakout sessions are led by volunteers.
In 2019, one of the highest attended sessions was for fathers with high commitment spouses. About half of the over 40 participants were married to medical professionals. I can’t imagine a higher commitment job than emergency medicine. This year HomeDadCon will be in Cincinnati from Oct. 8 to 10. We are also launching a series of monthly webinars, which will expand the educational offerings beyond the convention.
We will also continue to offer virtual convention attendance for those who can’t attend. We are growing our community on Facebook and other social media while advocating for fathers everywhere. If any fathers want to reach out to us, go to athomedad.org or search for us on social media.