Parenting is one of the most difficult (yet rewarding) roles I have had in life. Navigating parenthood while managing rheumatoid arthritis adds yet another layer to the onion of raising kids.
Being a great dad has been a goal for as long as I can remember. (Yes, even as a kid, it was one of my life goals.) I have an amazing dad, and as I grew up with other kids whose dads were not in the picture, I was aware that having a dad like mine was a huge blessing. My dad has been the most influential force in my life, so I hoped to carry that mantle of responsibility eventually.
When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 23, I was devastated at the thought that I might lose the ability to be the kind of dad I wanted to be one day. There were some dark days for me back then.
If you are in a place in life where you feel a similar kind of darkness, please continue reading.
The first thing that helped me find my way through the darkness was thinking about my mom. My mom has struggled with severe RA since she was 23 also. I do remember times when I was young that Mom would be in bed with the door shut in immense pain from a flare-up. I remember her not being able to open the pickle jar sometimes, or just needing to sit down and rest for 30 minutes because of pain. Although she wasn’t always able to do everything she wanted, my mom’s fight through pain taught me toughness NOT weakness.
The second thing that helped me is my supportive wife. Spouses don’t always know the right things to say or do when they see their partner dealing with an invisible illness like RA. One of the most difficult things for those of us with RA -- and also the people around us -- is the unpredictable nature of the disease. I’ve learned that being patient with your spouse as they try to understand and support you is important not only for your relationship but also as you co-parent.
The last thing is that now that I’m 10 years down the road from my diagnosis and 4 years into fatherhood, I can say that if my disease became excruciatingly active again right now, I could still be an awesome dad. Fatherhood is so much less about being Superman physically, and it is so much more about things like listening, being patient, sharing meals, and bedtime stories. I was naive to think that I had to be able to hike mountains with my kids to be an awesome dad. My two boys want to be with their daddy and tell me about their day. We’ll have many adventures together, whether they are on top of a mountain or in a fort in the living room. RA flare-ups are just one more thing that provides me with an opportunity to teach my boys how to be men of courage, patience, and resilience.
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