The following was written for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].
You just started a new job. Well, not just started. You have been there for a few months now. The gig has decent benefits, and your boss is a cool like-minded guy. Like you, he has kids and understands the hierarchy of a “family first” ethos. In fact, all of the guys you work with seem to have these common characteristics. You are starting to find your groove in the office; discovering who your allies are, and who to steer clear of. You have already passed the gauntlet of awkwardness that inevitably comes with assimilating one’s self in a new environment. That is to say, you have checked all of the boxes except one. You have still not broken news about your kid.
This is a unique situation for you. At your former office, everyone had known from your daughter’s birth that she was not a traditional child. Your new colleagues know that you have a kid. They just don’t know that she suffers from a congenital disability, and that she has lived in a children’s hospital since birth. It isn’t that you are embarrassed by this information that has caused you to not bring up this information yet. Quite the opposite, in fact. You are extremely proud of your daughter for the amount of adversity that she has overcome to even still be alive. Even more so that she continues to thrive and progress in ways not previously thought possible. Your instincts tell you that this isn’t the type of info that you can just blurt out during happy hour when everyone else is talking about coaching little league and attending dance recitals. Conversely, you worry that people are going to start think you are a weirdo because you rarely talk about your kid, and when you do, it is in vague generalities.
Strategically planning, you have been waiting for the right moment to share the information about your daughter. You envision being able to somehow mesh this news into a conversation in a manner that is (or at least seems) like it’s a natural segue from some other topic. You convince yourself that it would also be ideal to mentally prepare a separate topic to transition the conversation back away from your daughter’s condition for a quick detente if necessary. You don’t blame people for the natural discomfort you imagine they will feel upon learning this about your daughter’s condition. You wonder to yourself, what is the correct reaction to hearing something like that? Sympathy? Pity? It is impossible to know.
As it so happens, your daughter is slated for a doctor’s appointment in the coming weeks. It is with a specialist who works at a different hospital than the one she lives in, requiring a parent to accompany her. Isn’t for anything serious, thank goodness. More of just a routine examination. You are going to have to miss some work to attend this appointment with your daughter. This is totally normal. Everyone misses work sometimes to take their kid to the doctor. You think about casually breaking the news about your daughter’s condition as you are informing your boss that you are going to be out the morning of the appointment. Instead, you just let the convo close with “Sorry, man, her mom went to the last one. It’s my turn.”
This is totally normal. Everyone misses work sometimes to take their kid to the doctor.
The appointment goes perfectly as planned. Your daughter is in good spirits, and you have a nice time spending the rare weekday morning with her. As you make your way back to the office, a bunch of guys from your group are gathered in the lobby of your building, preparing to make an afternoon coffee run. One of the guys asks how the appointment went. You see an opening and go for it. “Thanks for asking, man. It went well. It was cool to spend some time with her. I usually only get to see her on the weekends since she lives in Westchester.” Your colleague inquires if your daughter lives there with your ex, handing you the lead-in you were waiting for.
A sense of relief washes over you as you explain that your daughter actually lives in a hospital because she is dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Some of the younger guys look at the floor, only to re-engage as you explain that she is actually doing very well these days. You briefly paint the stark contrast between the touch-and-go months after your daughter’s birth, and her current relatively healthy state. You tout the superb quality of the care that your daughter receives from the staff where she lives. You answer a couple of thoughtful questions about how she is physically and mentally affected by her condition. Then, the conversation turns back to the topic of selecting a coffee joint. You excuse yourself, exchanging knucks with some of the guys and head upstairs.
In the elevator it occurs to you that there was actually nothing to worry about. You had been dreading this conversation for no reason other than your own overt fear of making other people uncomfortable with the details of your personal life as a father. At that moment you realize that every dad must have their own unique set of parenting challenges. Yours just happens to be that your daughter lives in a hospital. NBD.
Jacob Breinholt is a father and a writer.