I really don’t quite know where to start this post as it’s about a pretty tough time in my marriage. I married young and wasn’t much of a husband when my wife and I got our start. This, ultimately, led to a long time of her having to deal with a boy trying to learn to be a man “on the job.” A few years of resentment built up as my wife felt at times like she was raising more than one child. But this post isn’t about that. I just needed you to have a little back-story before we get into the meat. We had other issues, but you get the general idea. Then, she fell ill.
This wasn’t a cold, or flu but what doctors like to label as “chronic illness” which means “we have no clue what’s wrong with you.” At first, it began with internal pain she was having. We eventually saw a doctor who would take a look inside her abdominal cavity and see that there were some side effects from the 3 C-Sections she’d had. He said she had a specific kind of hernia and something called “adhesions.” This left her in quite a bit of pain from time to time and specifically once a month it seemed worse. After a laparoscopic surgery, and recovery, she felt better for a while…then it began again but this time worse. She would eat, then later have these fits of uncontrollable regurgitation. We’d eventually find out the adhesions were back with a vengeance and this time were wreaking havoc with her intestines, causing a blockage after meals. All the while we would go to doctors and they told her everything from “it’s in your head, we can’t find anything wrong with you” to “it’s stress related.” We both knew this was wrong but we weren’t PhD’s so we didn’t know what to do except keep seeking out specialists to help us find answers. Problem was that they all kept giving us the same dismissive answers. Surgeons would even tell her, “Let’s put this tube down your throat to clear the blockage because we don’t want to have to operate on you.” You see, screwing up a cut on the intestine could prove fatal and they were attempting to avoid my wife like Typhoid Mary because of that and the severity of her adhesions. Now, there’s much more to this story as I could fill a whole novel on the trials we’ve gone through dealing with the medical establishment and “women’s issues” but this post is about being a dad and dealing with being supportive.
I FEEL Powerless!
Never having lived in the 50’s, I can’t speak first hand, but there was something my father picked up and I saw in him, which I think we and our homes can benefit from now; with a little modification. Men also do this in times of war and, well, we definitely felt like we were in the midst of a grave battle. Psychologists call it “compartmentalizing.” My Marine buddies call it, “Get a straw and suck it up!” In other words, quit yer bitchin’ and get it (whatever “it” is) done! Now, what I’m suggesting isn’t shutting down emotionally, but rather tempering yourself so that you can “soldier on” for the moment and then take time to yourself, as you’re able, and deal with the emotions then. “Why?” You might ask. In this era where we’re trying to redefine roles and almost praising men just for emoting, it may seem counterintuitive and a step back, but if you’re the husband of a chronically ill wife and you have children, that woman and those children need you to be resilient and be the rock. For your wife, she may feel alone in her pain and you may feel lost, even powerless and it’s ok to express that together, but the majority of the time, soldier on dad. If you find yourself “chin in chest” and melancholy, she’ll pick up on it and so will the children. She will need your strength and your children still need to feel some sense of consistency in their own lives as your family deals with it’s struggle. If you’re reading this and you’re in the eye of the storm right now, saying to yourself, “I don’t know what to do!” I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned from my own experience.
The Children’s Rock
As you compartmentalize, be there for the children. Try to keep their schedules as normal and consistent as possible. They’re going to have questions about mom, especially if her illness requires hospital stays of any length, and you should answer those questions honestly with appropriate candor. “Mommy’s doesn’t feel well and needs to rest,” may be appropriate for the younger children, but the older ones are going to need a little more. It’s up to you to determine how much info is enough, but honesty will help them deal as best as they’re able at their age. Take them to the park, swimming, do fun things with them. I know it’s difficult and “playing” is the last thing you may want to do, but most moms I know (certainly my own wife) want those children to do what children do uninterrupted. Many moms don’t like feeling like they’re “ruining” it for everyone. Mom is used to being the family physician, not slowing up the family because she needs one. Soldiering on actually helps mom and the children.
The Wife’s Rock
She needs you. You already know this. But, you don’t know what to do. I didn’t either at first, until it struck me. Do what you know and what you’re good at! “Play to your strengths,” I thought. I had three things going for me in my situation. One was my ability to remain very calm and collected under great pressure. I’m a VERY laid back guy and this drives my wife nuts sometimes, but in this case it was actually a strength. When my wife would go in for surgeries, I’d joke with her, I’d talk to her, I’d do whatever it took to take her mind off of what she was going through in that moment. There were even times when she really acted like she didn’t want me there (she wasn’t acting by the way…remember the climate of our relationship I touched on earlier) but I was always there. Period. She could bet her life on that. And later on she would confess that even the times when she would actually tell me I didn’t need to be there, she was ultimately glad that I was. Second, I’m a nerd. A huge, hulking, no common sense having Poindexter who should’ve gone into medicine when I was younger, but ended up in Television instead. So, I played to that strength. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my wife, but I was there. In the home. I saw firsthand her symptoms and knew what she was experiencing so I took it upon myself to begin researching what I saw and actually helped her by finding some things which would bring her temporary relief and even in a couple cases, lessen her discomfort. We’d eventually find out that my wife had Endometriosis. Prior to having a name for what she was experiencing, I found that Evening Primrose Oil and an herb called Horsetail actually decreased some of her symptoms. I know there was still a sense of loneliness on her part because so many doctors make women with these issues feel like it’s in their heads so they ultimately feel alone, like no one else must be going through it but in some small way, I believe I helped her to feel like at least she wasn’t fighting this alone. Her and I were actively involved in fighting this thing together.
One thing you’ll definitely need to get through this tough time is a great group of dad friends. Having other men around you who are active fathers and committed husbands can make all the difference in the world. They are your sounding board and your emotional sponge when you need to vent. I’ve found it a great idea to even preface a meeting or conversation with that. “Hey Mike, it’s been a rough week. Can I have a few minutes of your time? I just really need to vent.” And with that, you’ve created a safe place to not have to be the rock, which should ultimately help you stay energized to stay the rock in your home.
I know this may have been a long read for some dads (and those of us with ADD/ADHD) so let’s summarize:
1. Be the rock!
2. Get a straw and suck it up. Your wife and children need you to be strong for them.
3. It’s ok to be emotional. Other than the occasional moment with your wife, that’s what the fellas are for. Vent to them. Your wife already has more than you can know, on her mind.
4. Be the rock!
5. Draw on your strengths to help your family make it through. Try to keep the kids schedules as close to what they were as you are able. Do what you know, what you can, to help your wife deal with what she’s going through. Be there, be present, be the rock!