Fatherhood and Diabetes: Meet Joe
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes the month of my 16th birthday . While I adjusted to my diagnosis, it was my father’s job to give me daily injections. (My mother, too skittish, often jabbed hardly on the backs of my arm.) It was also my dad who spent nearly $1000 on a volume of plant-based books, hoping that dietary changes would diminish sporadic blood sugar swings (he was scammed!). My father, Joe, along with my mother, shuttled me to and from endo/educator and nutritionist visits.
Throughout my journey with diabetes and most often, during visits home my dad also inquired about my numbers and latest A1Cs. To be honest, it felt overbearing and even incriminating–I never wanted to concern my father with these kinds of progress reports. And while it bothered me that this was his most often asked question as it related to my diabetes, I also understood that it was his way of providing support. In fact, within my family, he initiated most conversations around my disease, a reality that I’ve now come to appreciate.
Throughout my diabetes journey, my dad’s support has grown. What was once mainly logistical support– injections, insurance navigation, inquiries about numbers and some foundational knowledge, has now evolved into something more. Before finding the diabetes online community, I unleashed the heavy weight of diabetes on my dad (my mother, like me is an emotional sponge and I worried about burdening her with my fears.) Wrought with grief from visiting my type 2 diabetic grandmother in hospice, I initially cried to my father, who calmly reassured me that our conditions were different.
After my first few years of diagnosis, I became self-sufficient in my management journey and relied on my parents increasingly less. And once I stumbled upon Instagram, I met other friends with diabetes, who became dear sounding boards and confidants. As my father and I reflect on this journey with diabetes, of course we’ve identified areas of growth, things we could have done differently. Still, throughout the years, his support has been more than enough.
Here’s what he had to say about life as a diabetes dad.
Ariel : What was your first reaction when you heard I had type 1 diabetes? How did you feel and why?
Dad: My first reaction when I found out, was one of panic to try to get you to the hospital as quickly as possible because remember that was the advice Dr. Smalls gave me, to go get you from school and take you to the hospital. I mean it answered the suspicions that your mother had about why you were losing weight. I didn’t really know the specifics of type 1 diabetes or how it was different from type 2 or any of the other types of diabetes. I just knew it was urgent, and Dr. Smalls’ call was the confirmation I needed to get you to the hospital. I wouldn’t say I felt a sense of relief, just a sense of panic, I knew I needed to get you to the medical professionals so that they could take over from there.
Ariel: How do you/have you supported me in my journey with diabetes?
Dad: I tried to learn as much as I possibly could about the disease, so that I could do something about it as far as helping you out. I mean, I believe I was very helpful. I’m the one who used to give you all your shots. I also used to take you to all your doctor’s appointments, and this training and that training. And made sure you stayed on top of it and that you took your medication when you were supposed to take it, I’m the one who used to bother you all the time about what your blood sugar was, I had to understand what basal and bolus was, so that I could understand the language and different terms. I also had to understand what the complications were, and what ketoacidosis was, and what they were and how they could affect you. You know my concern has always been for you and that you could manage the disease properly so that you don’t have any complications down the road. So the times you would think I was harassing you, I was just basically staying on top of you to ensure that you were doing what you were supposed to be doing, as annoying as it may have been. I know you’re a pretty responsible person and that was to give you the extra push or extra support or however you want to look at it, so that you could stay focused on things.
Ariel: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in supporting me with diabetes?
Dad: When your child has an illness for which there is currently no cure, it’s something as a parent you’re always thinking about. My hands were tied because there was only so much as a parent I could do, other than harass you to stay on top of your illness. I tried to provide support, as much as possible and to not sound ignorant as I appeared to sound at times, like you know, when you got upset at me one time or the other.
Ariel: What is your greatest hope for your child with diabetes?
Dad: My hope is that further developments and advancements in science will allow for a cure in the near future, so that all of this will be an afterthought.
Ariel: What is one thing you wish more people knew or understood about living with/raising a child with Type 1?
Dad: I want parents to be aware of the symptoms a Type 1 diabetic may display, so that they can act upon it earlier. I figured that we caught yours at an early stage, so thankfully, there wasn’t any permanent damage. But yes, I just want parents to know the warning sign.
Photo by Alfred Sarpeh of Royal Light Photography.