By Jason Rothstein, MPH
I have a confession to make: When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I didn’t get carrier screening. In fact, my wife only received a minimal amount of carrier screening, and not until she was already pregnant.
In my defense, we were already expecting when I took on the role of Director of the Sarnoff Center in January 2015. My background wasn’t genetics, but public health. And I was just beginning to understand this new-to-me subject area, and how it might apply to my own life. As I learned more, I worried – just a little – and then when our son was born in July (a little early, but no less perfect for it), I became a father.
Being a new dad with a new job threw my priorities into sharp relief: Excel at home, excel at work, meet all my responsibilities, and shed any remaining selfish instincts. It wasn’t about me anymore. (Maybe it never was, and I was just too dumb to realize it.)
Of course the second time around, we got full screening through the Sarnoff Center, and last January I became a father for the second time. Our daughter also came early, much earlier than our son, and spent 22 days in the NICU. But she’s home, and healthy, and (usually) happy.
Getting screened was an easy choice, not just because of my job, but because it was so obviously important to the health of our future children. But making other good health choices has not been so easy.
Men are notoriously bad at taking care of themselves. We visit the doctor too infrequently. We ignore health issues until they become unignorable. We try to be selfless by putting the priorities of work and family above those of our own health.
But that selflessness is selfishness in disguise. It’s an excuse for not making that appointment, for not listening to our bodies when they tell us something is wrong, for not showing weakness by asking for help when we need it.
When you’re a father, you want to put your children and your spouse first. Your children and your spouse need you healthy, and they need you alive. Putting them first means taking half a day off work to get that checkup. It means not just hoping that pain will go away, but getting it checked out. It means knowing your family health history and your health risks so you can put just as much energy into staying healthy as you do into killing it at home and at work.
(And unfortunately for some of us, it may also mean finishing less of the uneaten ice cream left by our children.)
This Father’s Day, commit to your family’s health by investing time in your health. It’s the most selfless selfish thing you can do for the people you love.