“All the trials and difficulties are insignificant when compared to the great happiness being a father has provided me.”
What does it mean to be father, and a doctor? Compromise! I’m a General Surgical Registrar, at the midpoint of my training, with two beautiful daughters who are 1 and 3. At this point in time if I’m honest, the compromise weighs heavier on my family than on my work and training. Much of the essential, difficult, and exhausting day-to-day parenting falls to my completely amazing wife – I almost always leave home before the girls are awake and come home when they’re asleep. Last year I spent 6 months in Dubbo, starting only 2 months after the birth of my younger daughter. I would drive the 5 hours home to Sydney on a Friday night, and there were many weekends where I know I wasn’t recognised and she would cry when I held her. My elder daughter even once farewelled me by saying “thank you for visiting” when I left what I considered to be my home one Sunday afternoon. These things take their toll, and are hard experiences.
Being unable to achieve quantity of time, at this point in my life, I try for quality of time with the girls. I don’t always succeed at this! It can be difficult to “switch off” from work and refocus at home, and it’s something I have to consciously work at doing. This will be even more important as Fellowship exams come ever closer. I don’t kid myself that life as a consultant will be any easier, but I believe that the balance will get better, more predictable, and more under my control.
It’s a cliché, but I wouldn’t change anything. I am so fortunate and grateful to have the family that I have. Some people will talk about the “right” time to have a family in terms of timing in training. I don’t believe there is a right time to have children, I think the more important thing is to decide whether you want that, and then to work as hard as you can to make it work. All the trials and difficulties are insignificant when compared to the great happiness being a father has provided me.
Dr David Coker is a father of two daughters, and General Surgical Registrar, Sydney NSW
“My children have saved me from taking the days I have for granted.”
I often tell my children that they saved me. There are lots of examples that I give them – mostly riffs on too-long working hours and burnout – but what they’ve really saved me from are the worst excesses of my own ego.
In the early years, as my wife and I worked hard to find a compromise between our family and careers, I passed up work opportunities that my ego wanted desperately to take that would have wrecked the great compromise we now have.
In the latter years, the fact that no matter how hard I try I can never quite seem to get parenting exactly right keeps me from being too righteous (one of many symptoms of feeling infallible). There’s nothing like being a developmental paediatrician and spectacularly, publicly, losing control of parenting situations to remind you no one has it all together all the time and that kindness is always appreciated.
My children have also changed me. They have gently transplanted my heart from deep inside my body to somewhere very close to the outside, so that I’ve lost my appetite for violence in entertainment, horror movies and bleak police procedurals. I cry much more easily. I’ve been through the employee assistance program for two blocks of counselling to help me process grief over patients who remind me of my own children. I never wonder what I should be doing or what my purpose is – my days are filled to bursting with purpose, which is tiring and a sort of privilege too.
I always remember how lucky I am to have my children. Not in a sickly romanticised or sentimental way, but in a very practical, solid way made up of snotty noses, spilt cereal, costumes for school and elbows. Working in Medicine does nothing if not remind us of the fragility of health, life, companionship and family. My children have saved me from taking the days I have for granted, whether it is Father’s Day or not.
Dr Chris Elliot is a father of three, two boys and a young daughter, and Paediatrician, Sydney NSW
“Let’s get one thing straight: I love my boys. But I’m also a doctor, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be the father they need.”
Let’s get one thing straight: I love my boys. But I’m also a doctor, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be the father they need.
I too grew up with a physician father. He grew up fatherless, so I always wondered whether he consequently thought that simply being alive was enough. My own memories are predominantly of absence: late nights, early mornings, weekends on call, the endless stress of specialist exams. But not his role as a parent.
I wanted desperately to do better. So ostensibly I work part-time, in a specialty that is ostensibly lifestyle-friendly. With my first-born, I was a stay-at-home dad for almost eight months.
But in reality, being a doctor makes me a bad father, and being a father makes me a bad doctor.
Because how can you ever explain to a progressing patient that you need to cut the consultation to get to daycare? And how can you ever tell a toddler to be quiet so you can hear the Emergency Registrar on the phone?
Fatherhood is perpetually about balance, about finding a compromise. It is about trying your best to make all the people happy, all the time. The concept is innately impossible, so you have to choose, repeatedly, whether to disappoint your children or your work.
That’s not to say I regret being a father, nor an oncologist. But to be both requires honest acknowledgment that I can never be totally adequate at either.
Of course, life is full of rampant imperfection. To believe otherwise is probably delusional. And I really do love my boys: let’s just leave it at that.
Dr Adrian Pokorny, father of two sons and a Medical Oncologist, Darwin NT
“At the end of the day, I always try to remember that I am their father first, and doctor second.”
My girls (daughters) are teenagers at the moment, and I’m proud to say they are evolving into intelligent young women. Most parents of teenage daughters know they can be quite feisty, but that’s OK – they will always be our girls!
Fatherhood is quite challenging in itself but especially so with my illness. For instance, yesterday was meant to be a recovery day for me but as a parent you have to learn to cope with unpredictability and accept that circumstances can suddenly change. So, before I knew it, I find myself heading off to the GP for one daughter with a sore ear and infection and driving the other one to work.
Being a father and a doctor also comes with its unique set of challenges…
Sleep deprivation is well known to all new parents but it’s probably harder for doctors who also have the added on-call. The first few years were tough. Taking advantage of every opportunity to catch up on sleep was important – I used to dread the phone going off when we had finally managed to achieve sleep.
Another challenge is finding that time to spend with the kids and achieving a good balance between work and fatherhood. Although I’ve tried to choose fatherhood every time, it was very difficult to be there at every school sports or play. I often felt and (still feel) guilty about this even though I’ve realised that I shouldn’t.
In reconciling my roles as a father, doctor and patient I have found it helpful to ask – ‘Ultimately what do my girls want?’
I think they want a well father who is involved in their life.
Shared interests such as sport and music (I actually like their bands) help. It also helps to realise that it is OK to make time to work on myself so that I can truly be present in every moment with them. And at the end of the day, I always try to remember that I am their father first, and doctor second.
Have I perfected this? Probably not, but perfect is the enemy of good and my hope is that I have good.
Being a father is wonderful and has positively impacted upon my life and well being.
Dr Geoff Toogood is a father of two girls, and Cardiologist, Melbourne, VIC