Fatherhood and MS
It is hard to imagine that the Everyday Matters program began only four months ago; I have learned so much in such a short time. I have discovered things about my character and myself that have changed who I am as a person, and how I view and experience the world around me. Unequivocally, I am now a better father, husband, friend, and person than I was when this program began. I am not only happier, I have a better, and healthier understanding of what it means to be happy; not simply how it feels to be happy.
There are a multitude of lessons I have learned; too many to list and give the proper attention to in this journal entry. It seems the momentum I have gathered with what I have done reveals new lessons and discoveries about myself everyday. Most of these discoveries were made in areas that I didn’t realize needed to be explored. When I began the Everyday Matters program, I knew there were things I needed to change about myself, and I set a simple goal of being a better father. This was not the first time I had thought about this goal. However, in the past I would tell myself that everyday life with MS was another impediment keeping me from accomplishing this goal. I needed to figure out how to work around this mindset. I also needed to define what "better" meant. I really wasn't sure, but I knew I wasn't living up to the standard of a great dad. I knew I needed help for both understanding, and execution.
What I discovered was that the seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Shawn Achor had laid out in his book, "The Happiness Advantage," were the tools necessary to achieve my goal. I was able to utilize every one of the seven principles, and they had a significant impact on my life. Sometimes I would even find myself practicing some of the principles unintentionally. Michelle Clos and Kristen Adams helped me figure out what it was I needed to change, and what I needed to do to change it. Sometimes just having someone to talk to, and sort though your thoughts can open up a world of self-discovery. I needed to be open, though, to making these discoveries, and understand why I had failed at making changes in the past.
Even before MS, I didn’t truly know how to be a father or what that meant. Instead of facing this unknown, I would retreat from my family to the things I knew how to do; the things I was good at. In the back of my mind I justified that it was okay, or at least understood... maybe even noble for me to put so many hours into my career, work in my shop, work on the house or in the yard; do all of the things that “MEN” were supposed to do for their family. These were things that would keep me from spending significant time with - and cultivating meaningful relationships with - my children. I knew that one day I would need to face the emotional and psychological responsibilities of being a father… a good father, or I would miss out on what that meant. My kids, too, would miss out on what that meant for them if I did not make some changes.
When I was diagnosed with MS, I unknowingly, almost instinctively, approached it in the same way I approached fatherhood; I chose to fight MS by retreating... by evading. I had unknowingly been training myself for this fight for years. I was blind to the fact that while I was doing all I thought I could do to “fight” MS, I was continuing to ignore my family. I was making it even more difficult to be a better father. To me, MS became another reason for not devoting the time and attention to my children I needed to. I was now faced with two significant challenges: fighting MS, and being a better father, and I used one as a reason for failing at the other. I thought that by fighting MS with the weapons of perseverance and stubbornness, I could defeat it. I thought that by simply being a good provider, I could get away with not building meaningful relationships with my kids. The reality was that I wasn’t addressing either; I was simply ignoring them both with passion.
I cannot change the fact that I have MS, no more than I can, or want to, change the fact that I am a father. What I can change is myself, and how I approach the challenges I am faced with. I have learned to approach spending time with my family without trepidation and fear. I have also learned that sometimes I need to work within the limitations of the fatigue and the physical attacks of MS. I need to rest and sometimes do less, or do things at a slower pace. This doesn't mean that I am giving in to MS, it means that I am controlling how it affects me. Before, I was spending all of my energy on the things that were stopping me from being successful at both fatherhood and living with MS. Now, I have learned that I need to conserve some of my energy for the actions necessary to be a better father with MS.
MS and fatherhood are both a part of my life... they are a part of who I am. I wouldn't have chosen to have MS, I also would not change what I have gained from having MS.