Fatherhood

In life we are in constant pursuit of happiness. Everything we do, whether it be working to earn money, or even watching a scary movie, is done so we can attempt to achieve happiness.[1] Philosopher John Stuart Mill attempted to quantify happiness by calling it ‘utility’.[2] Even with this in mind, the sheer joy and happiness that my sons have brought me is unquantifiable. There are two parts of my day that I always look forward to: 1. When my older son, Christian, returns from school, and 2. When I pick up my younger son, Cormac, from daycare. My experience raising each has been completely different.

——— Christian ———–

On Christmas night of 2006, my first son, Christian William Chiou[3], was born. From that night on, Christian barely ever left the side of my wife. There is a slang term: “mama’s boy”; while this is usually in reference to an older boy, because Christian did not leave the side of my wife for the first three years of his life, I would have labeled him a mama’s boy then. In fact I do not remember most of the first few years of his life. He breast-fed until he was 2, thus most nights I did not wake up until morning.[4] I paid lip service to other new fathers who complained of their loss of sleep. Before my tumor I would call the relationship with my son ‘playful’. My stepfather, from whom Christian received his middle name, observed our relationship and told me it was a ‘best friend’ type of relationship. At first, I scoffed at this, recounting the many times I disciplined him. But the more I thought about it, never having a brother growing up probably made me treat him more like a younger brother than a son.

Christian showing off his soccer accolades
Christian showing off his soccer accolades

I mentioned in an earlier post that I feared his reaction to my condition. During my initial recovery I asked my wife not to bring him to the hospital as I did not want him to see me in such a state. I was scared that he wouldn’t understand, or worse, think that this was somehow his fault.[5] Mostly, I did not want to lose my friend. Luckily, it was as if nothing had changed. From the beginning he treated me as he always had. I can count the instances on one hand where he even acknowledged my disability. He is extremely athletic and intelligent and has made many friends at school. I’m not sure if it’s their age, or maybe their innocent outlook on life, but none of his friends have ever said anything about my condition. I have yet to experience an episode of titubation in front of them, but have no doubt that after their initial reaction of “what is wrong with your dad’s head?” they would carry on as if nothing was happening.

Sure, there are a bevy of logistical issues (traversing his school, explaining my condition to his teachers, managing both him and my younger son at soccer practice) but seeing him return from school every afternoon makes it all worth it.

——– Cormac ————

Cormac with our dog Zoe
Cormac with our dog Zoe

On April 19th, 2014 I became a father for the second time. The conditions surrounding his birth were a bit different than for Christian: For Christian we were just getting ready for medical school, now we were both about to enter the last year of our residency. Most notably, for Christian’s birth, I was not a patient in the same hospital two floors up, recovering from brain surgery. Unfortunately, for Cormac’s birth, this was the case.

I mentioned above that I don’t remember most of Christian’s early years; this is not true for Cormac. Every word he has spoken, his first steps, and all the meals he threw on the floor, I remember. He is now in daycare[6], but there was a time that he was not in daycare and spent the days with me. This is in stark contrast from Christian, who barely left his mother’s side.

When I tell people of my condition and of the birth of Cormac, I inevitably get an ‘oh jeez’ or ‘oh brother’ reaction—“not only do you have to deal with a brain tumor but a newborn as well?”. Yes, I won’t deny that at times it is tough- the sleepless nights, crying fits, and poopy diapers are not the glamorous parts of child rearing, but I think I was extremely lucky to have Cormac when we did. Instead of bad luck, I see it as good fortune to be able to be home as much as I have. If I were to give you the choice between a. being able to be at home with your two sons or b. working so much you’d rarely ever see them—you’d pick ‘a’. Sure ‘a’ comes with the kicker that you’re at home because of a brain tumor, but even with this, the choice is clear.

—— My Two Boys ——

Being the age that I am (31) many of my friends are considering parenthood. “We’re just not ready” is the most common reason people give not to have children. My response and stance has always been the same, “no one is ever ready to become parents. You’re tricking yourself if you think there’s some point in your life where you feel ‘ready’ for children. It just happens, and you do everything possible for your child.” In this constant pursuit of happiness, the joy and ‘utility’ that my sons bring me has been ineffable.

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[1] In the case of the money earning, most are under the impression that more money equals more happiness—if I were to ask you “who do you think is happier? A homeless beggar, or the CEO of a major company?” Most answers would no doubt be the CEO—the real question is not who is happier, but why do we assume the CEO is happier? For the scary movie, someone who enjoys scary films sees them to fulfill their desires in an attempt to attain, yes, happiness.

[2] My college roommate used to joke and say he was “trying to get utiles” (his tangible transformation of utility).

[3] His middle name is in honor of my stepfather, Bill ‘William’ Nichols.

[4] We let him sleep in our bed, something we always advise patients against. So, when he would wake up in the middle of the night, my wife would feed him without waking up herself.

[5] As physicians we’re taught that children of parents with chronic, debilitating illnesses are at risk for a variety of conditions including, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. Thus it is important, we’re taught, from the onset that the parent is open about the condition with their child and reinforces that the condition is in no way their fault. This is does not prevent 100% of those conditions developing, but it can help.

[6] Besides providing me with time to complete therapy and respite we have also found that it has been fantastic for his socializing skills.

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