How dads can support their family during their child’s cancer treatment
My experience is that once a man commits to taking time for self-care, self-reflection or personal development, he quickly realises the value of doing so – for himself and for others.
For this article, I was asked to write about how fathers can support their families during treatment and decided to reach out to a group of dads I know who have been through this experience. I thought it would be best to hear from people with personal experience, but I didn’t get any response.
Initially I was quite annoyed as I felt my request was reasonable and it wouldn’t take too long for them to send me a sentence or two. But as I started to reflect on this I realised that in my ten years of experience supporting men on a peer-to-peer basis, the biggest challenge I have faced (and continue to face) is getting men engaged in sharing about themselves. However, my experience is also that once a man commits to taking time for self-care, self-reflection or personal development, he quickly realises the value of doing so – for himself and for others.
So why is it so difficult to get a man to take the first step?
Often the initial problem is a lack of time. He has a full-time job, work is very demanding, household chores need to be done, the kids need lifts to school and activities, his partner needs a break… the list goes on and on. And this lack of time is accentuated when one of the children is unwell. The demands on his time become higher and higher. He can’t possibly take time for himself as he feels he doesn’t have any time to take.
In the last couple of weeks I have been supporting my family more than normal – my partner put her back out, my stepdaughter broke her leg and my son needed surgery. So I stepped up – I visited my stepdaughter daily, I took time off work to support my son and I started doing more of the household chores. But I also started skipping meals as I was too busy to stop for lunch and I started drinking more in the evenings to help me relax.
When asked how I was doing I responded with, “I am doing okay – it is my family who are having the tough time.” After a couple of weeks, my partner asked me why I was so grumpy. I was tired and feeling the weight of supporting others, but who was supporting me?
Often the problem that sits behind the lack of time is not knowing that it’s okay not to always ‘man up’, ‘harden up’ and ‘soldier on’, that it’s okay to feel the weight of what we’re going through and that it’s okay to ask for help. So I reached out to a friend of mine and spent a couple of hours talking over a cup of coffee – not about sport or COVID-19, but about what was going on for each of us. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I get to write these articles because I’m part of Essentially Men, a men’s network that has a longstanding connection with Child Cancer Foundation – in particular, to provide support to dads with children who have cancer. Many of these dads carry a lot and don’t necessarily know that it’s okay to ask for help or even just to talk to someone who is willing to listen.
If what I’ve written resonates with you, my invitation is that you connect with another dad in the Child Cancer Foundation network – maybe through your local Whānau Connect Group or with someone you met on the ward. Or, if you wish, I can connect you with the men in the Essentially Men network who have personally experienced the benefit of sharing about themselves with other men and are willing to support others.
I’d also encourage every dad going through childhood cancer to attend a Men Being Real weekend offered by Essentially Men. Child Cancer Foundation is kind enough to meet the full cost of travel and attendance. You can find out more here – I hope to see some of you there.
Go well. Arohanui.
About the author
Warren Philip is a volunteer facilitator with Essentially Men, a charitable organisation whose vision is for men to know themselves, connecting head and heart. For more information on how Child Cancer Foundation works with Essentially Men, please visit childcancer.org.nz/essentially-men.
Read more stories like this in our latest issue of Sharing magazine.
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