Fatherhood: Stay healthy and enjoy the journey
By Dr. JOHN PELLEGRINO
My daughter Kaitlyn was born on Father’s Day, when I was in the final stages of my internship and had just worked 72 hours straight. I was so tired, I almost slept through her birth. All I wanted to do was sleep, but my wife said her water broke, and I either didn’t or couldn’t believe her.
I was a new father in my 20s, trying to establish myself professionally and financially. Though sleep-deprived, I knew I needed to be there for my child’s milestones. It was a good reminder, too, to take care of myself in order to take care of my family.
As a father, each decade of my life has required different things from me. Now, at 57, I can share with other fathers some of the most important lessons I’ve learned not just as a father, but also as a doctor.
In your 20s, make time for your yearly physicals and baseline lab screens, including for cholesterol, anemia and diabetes. It means getting 20 minutes of exercise daily and proper sleep. Most importantly, avoid taking shortcuts or risks to help keep accidents from happening to you or your kids.
In your 30s, you’re busier with work, but the kids are growing fast. They’re more active and are into school and projects. Here, work-life balance becomes harder to maintain. There are times where my wife took one child and I took the other, and we’d meet Wednesday or Thursday because of different activities. You have to be there for those activities, which means in your 30s you should have a yearly physical and lab screens, exercise at least 20 minutes a day, and take time to make sure each child feels special.
In your 40s, you start to question how you got here. The kids are older, but there’s more demand for our time between school, recitals and swim meets. God bless all parents who can sit through swim meets. “Dad, I’m in event 1, event 5, 1555 heat.” You just smile and watch them have fun. My wife is a saint who had the brunt of the candy sales and volunteering so I could work and make it to the main events. In your 40s you need to start taking better care of yourself. Get those annual physicals and lab screens, but also watch for problems that have started to appear. Yearly eye exams, good sleep habits and daily exercise are important.
In your 50s, the kids are older and more established, done with school, perhaps married and having kids of their own. In addition to the 20 minutes of exercise, good diet and routine bloodwork, now comes the screening colonoscopy and taking care of the nagging problems that have crept in. We all want to be there as we walk our daughters down the aisle and to hold our first grandchild. The 50s also mean changes in our married relationship. In our 20s to 40s it was having kids and taking care of their needs. Now it’s time to reconnect with your partner who has also been along for the ride. Becoming empty-nesters is a good time to reconnect and make the marriage stronger by sharing hobbies and going on date nights.
In your 60s and 70s, brace for more transition — this time to retirement. Are you going to be able to live through it? Besides the screenings, take care of chronic and new health problems. Keep up with doctor visits, labs, exercising, a healthy diet and good sleep, as they are critical. Downsizing begins, and you may want to travel, so immunizations become a must. If you become a snowbird, find a physician you’re comfortable with in that town.
The last thing we can do as fathers is to make sure our families are protected for the future. Make a will, including a living will, and make provisions if there should be a need for a recovery stay in a care facility.
Being a father is a blessing and a wonderful trip, but you need to take care of yourself through exercise, physical examinations, immunizations and lab screens. And don’t forget about your partner, who has been with you throughout this journey.
Happy Father’s Day!