Fatherhood and Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Part II
An exclusive interview with Dr. Rob Palkovitz
In honor of Father's Day, I continue my interview with Dr. Rob Palkovitz, author of Involved Fathering and Men's Adult Development: Provisional Balances:
Often times, fathers with IBD are not able to work the jobs they would like to, and find themselves in a compromised financial position. What advice would you give to the fathers who grew up with the understanding that their main responsibility was to be the "breadwinner" for their family, but now are living with a sense of disappointment in themselves as a result of their disease?
Though men frequently focus on the importance of the provider role, it is important to recognize that there are many ways for fathers to provide for their children that go far beyond being a breadwinner. Providing, broadly conceived, includes:
• provision of opportunities,
• teaching of skills,
• providing access to your emotions, thoughts, dreams and cares,
• making social connections with others who can mentor, employ, teach, train, coach, or otherwise enhance your child's capabilities.
When interviewing children of financially advantaged families, you often find that though material needs have been met, other important aspects of life and relationships have been lacking. In short, though material provision is one important way that fathers can contribute to their children's wellbeing, it may not be the most important way to provide. Meeting emotional, relational, educational and developmental needs of children brings great satisfaction to fathers and their children, and affords a much broader context of providing than wage earning. It is important for dads who are not able to contribute as much as they desire in the financial realm to focus on providing the things that they can and to understand the importance of building relationships and character that surpass monetary value.
I loved an article I read where you compared fatherhood to a long journey - like walking to Boston. In that article, you advised fathers to focus on things that are both "true and positive." However, the reality of IBD isn't always positive. Can you provide any advice to fathers who are interested in discussing their condition with their children?
Clearly, IBD can be a challenging context for fathering and for finding positive things to focus on. The idea of using the metaphor of walking to Boston was to help men to recognize that if they were promised a great reward (such as a million dollars) if they would complete a long journey (such as a walk to Boston- or a lifetime of involved fathering), no doubt, most would start the journey and would persevere through many detours, struggles, hardships, and setbacks if they believed that a substantial reward truly awaited them if they successfully completed their journey. If they realized that they were off course, they would find a way to regain their sense of direction and move ahead toward their goal. The point is that developing a strong, positive relationship with your child truly does offer a great reward. Understanding this and keeping it in mind even in the face of the many challenges of IBD, fathers may be encouraged if they look for and focus on positive aspects of their fathering relationships.
In Part III of the interview, Dr. Palkovitz provides specific ideas about how a father can demonstrate his love even on the days he does not feel well.