Welcome back to our weekly diabetes advice column, written by longtime type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

With Father’s Day Weekend upon us, Wil is putting on his hat as a dad (he has a teenage son, who doesn’t have diabetes), and paying tribute to all those awesome guys out there who are D-Dads.

{Need help navigating life with diabetes? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Ted, type 1 from Arizona, writes: I guess you’re officially my diabetes Uncle, more than a father figure, but Happy Father’s Day anyway! Still, speaking of Father’s Day, what are your thoughts on D-dads?

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Thank you! And happy impending Father’s Day to all of you men out there with offspring! What are my thoughts about D-dads? Hmmmm…. 

OK. I think that when we talk about D-dads, we all tend to picture a highly engaged father of a type 1 kiddo. Sort of like the classic type-A D-mom, only with lots of testosterone. Oh, right. Lots of testosterone, but also nurturing. A rare combination, I grant you. We should salute these men, but—as a community—I think we’re overlooking two other important kinds of D-dads. My father was an example of one type, and I myself am an example of another.

So that’s what I want to talk about today.

For background, my father passed away… Oh, gosh, what’s it been now? It must have been 15 years ago, but he had a brief stint as a “D-dad” between my own adult diagnosis and his death, so he was… well, now, we don’t have a word in our community for the parents of T1’s diagnosed as adults, do we?

As a wordsmith, I need to work on that.

Anyway, here’s his story in a nutshell: Diabetes came late to the Dubois households.

I was 39 when I was diagnosed. So while my father wasn’t a traditional D-dad, all of the sudden his only son had a dangerous, chronic illness that he didn’t know much about. As far back as any one could remember there was no diabetes of any kind in any branches of the Dubois family tree. As such, that made us totally clueless about diabetes. This didn’t make us bad citizens. The simple fact of the matter is that most people—unless they are doctors—only know about diseases that their families have encountered first hand.

At the time, my father was a retired college professor. He had taught business statistics and economics all his life. Yeah, I know, it sounds boring, but his students adored him, so he must have brought some teaching magic to the subject. He and my mom spent winters in a small place in Tucson and summers in their post-kids downsized house in Colorado. My point in painting that picture is to show you that he had time to learn about my diabetes, but at the same time he was a crotchety 70-something-year-old man, pretty well set in his ways, and not a great lover of change in general.

But he rose to the challenge brilliantly.

First, very quietly, he learned about diabetes on his own. He talked to his doctors about diabetes. Somehow he read up on it. I have no idea how, as my father never owned a computer or used the internet. 

Next, he started asking me questions — intelligent, well thought-out questions. From the get-go he was supportive, interested, and engaged. The gear interested him, as did the various meds. Also, to his credit, he just instinctively never asked me if I should test my blood sugar, although I’m sure a time or two he wanted to. He also changed how he stocked the larder when me and mine came to visit (he was the sole grocery buying member of team Mom and Dad, they shared all else, but my mom can’t abide grocery shopping and my dad loved it).

So I think, especially given how old he was when this new role was forced upon him, he did awesomely as a dad of an adult diabetic (this was before we were all forced to become PWDs). Let’s see, dad of an adult diabetic spells out, Doad. Nope. That’s a dud.

I’ll keep working on a new label for the dads of the adult diagnosed.

Anyway, this morning, as I was thinking about my dad and D-dads, I let my mind take flight of fancy to wonder how he would have been as a traditional D-dad, if my diabetes had come into our lives when I was a child. And the answer is: I don’t think he would have done as well as he did as an old man. That’s no disrespect to him; it’s largely just because the times were different in the mid-1960s. In those days, at least in the part of our society I was raised in, the men worked and the women raised the family. (In truth, my mom was too much of rebel to be a proper housewife, so she more or less ran the household and managed a successful home-based career as a writer.)

Of course, I’m not a D-dad either, and I’m sure the real D-dads will forgive me for saying “thank goodness.”

That said, I’d like to think I have the right stuff, God forbid my genes take root in my son. What makes me think I’d be the modern hands-on nurturing testosterone-rich caregiver we picture when we say “D-dad”? Well, my wife Deb was really sick after our son was born, and then she got run over by the ten-ton truck known as postpartum depression. For a time she was present in body only, and the jobs of both father and mother fell to me. I remember when I took baby Rio in for one of his early check ups, the nurse asked me, “Where’s his mother?” To which I, exhausted beyond social niceties, replied, “I am his mother.” 

Back in those days, we ran a photo lab. It was in a building about a hundred yards from our home and my life was something like work for an hour, go home and change the baby. Work for an hour, go home and feed the baby. Work for an hour, go home…

Rinse and repeat.

Eventually I got smart and installed a complete nursery at the “shop” and Rio lived at work with me. I was tired, sure. Being a single parent is a lot of work. Well, being a single parent and caretaker for a sick mate. But I was never angry, and I think the early nurturing contact helped form an extraordinarily close bond between father and son that lasts to this day—which is all the more remarkable given that he’s now a teenager.

Anyway, my stint as a “mother” was before my diabetes. Rio was barely walking when suddenly I became a dad with diabetes, as apposed to a diabetes dad. And this is another kind of diabetes fatherhood that we don’t talk much about in our community. Being a dad is hard work. At least being a good one. I know there are deadbeat dads out there, and I know that many of my readers have deadbeat dads. Frankly, I don’t understand deadbeats. As a man, I can offer no apology for them. Abandoning your children? That’s a despicable act. But also a sad one on a level the abandoned may not see, due to the fully understandable cloud of anger that surrounds them. But from my perspective, not only has a deadbeat dad not lived up to his duty as a human being, he’s also missed out on the best experiences life has to offer. I thought I was a pretty decent and well-rounded person before becoming a father. I was wrong.

Fatherhood makes you complete as a man.

But I went off the rails there, sorry. What I was trying to get at is the fact that we’re missing out on a discussion about parenting with diabetes, as opposed to parenting a diabetes child. So I’m talking about sugar-normal kids raised by, well, us PWDs. 

And just like raising diabetic children is a unique challenge, and clearly at least twice as difficult as raising sugar-normal kids, so too, having diabetes yourself while raising children raises the stakes.

It’s challenging. As we all know, the damn blood sugar has a negative effect on energy and mood, as can the occasional challenging behaviors and actions of our loving offspring. To me, the biggest hurdle was/is not overreacting. Not letting blood sugar pissy-ness overflow inappropriately into good parenting. Plus we operate day-to-day with a never-ending background static of fear. Fear that our defective genes were passed on to those we love most. Fear that one day we might be more than dads with diabetes. We might also become conventional D-dads, too. It can be a heavy load. 

As all my fellow D-brothers with children know, it makes for quite a balancing act. (I’m not dissin’ you ladies with the same issue, but as it’s Father’s Day I’m taking the liberty of talking only to the boys today.)

So today I want to wrap up by wishing a happy Father’s Day to all you (non-deadbeat) dads. To those with your sleeves rolled up raising D-punks, I salute you. To those of you who silently suffer and struggle to figure out your new role when your grown children get sick, I thank you. And—most especially—those of you like me who manage the dual challenges of maintaining our own diabetes while trying to be good parents, I applaud you.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.