Published by permission:
Recently there have been a few discussions about our husbands and their perceptions of ED.
I know they, just like all of us, are so different in thoughts and feelings about ED.
I have posted in the Around the Dinner Table forum that my husband did not get it at the beginning and I have always thought it was fear of the unknown and that he felt powerless to do anything, so he withdrew a lot. He was very helpful in distracting our daughter so that I could make her food the way I needed to. He is not a talker when it comes to emotions. He played with her and cuddled her while she hated me. They both needed that, and we did need to act as a team for our daughter. She needed to see us aligned in getting her back to health and that did not mean that we did not disagree about the process.
I asked him a few questions, and these are his answers (the brackets and bold type are my words)
This is just our story, and everyone’s is different. There is no right or wrong. These are just his thoughts/answers and not meant at all to reflect anyone else’s perspective. I just thought it might be helpful to see a dad answer a few things. He was willing and I cornered him at breakfast.
Q: When she was diagnosed what did that mean for you?
I knew she could not eat. I felt it was her choice not to eat. I thought she would just “come out of it” and she will get hungry and would eat.
Q: When did that change for you, to understand she was really ill and could not do it on her own?
When she was admitted to the hospital, I saw her change and it was like it was not her anymore. She would stand all the time and not sit, and she wanted to join all the sports teams. And her anger and throwing and hitting, it was not her at that time.
I thought that the hospitalization would “fix” her and that when discharged she would be OK. (He says he did not know that was not the fix.) I wanted to get back to normal life when she got home. (He thought “pills” would work and make it all go away.)
I thought that what they did at hospital, i.e. getting her to eat, that she would understand and eat at home. That was not the case.
I thought it was easy and it was not.
It is work and if you can’t put the work in, it makes it that much more difficult
Q: What do you feel helped her?
I had to love her. I played with her and distracted her. I did not know how to help. I stayed with her at the hospital and hoped that would work but she was still mad at home. I kept trying to be loving and playful with her. (This really helped me- that they were close during that difficult time. I knew her loving self was still there but not apparent so much to me.)
Q: Were you angry?
Yes, I felt that all my time was given up to make her better. I wanted to do my things too and all of that had to go on hold. But I was not upset with her just the situation.
I was angry that other peoples’ kids (neighbours) did not have this problem. Why did I have this in my home? I am a good dad. The normal way I interacted with her did not work. It did not make sense and I could not talk it out with her. I hate conflict, so that was really hard.
Q: How do you think she got better?
The routine with the food. She learned to eat. The routine is the key and not letting her eat less.
I was frightened that the treatment would fail. I did have to trust you.
Q: When did you feel she was better?
When she was happier and more like herself. You have to make sure she eats.
The feeding worked. She laughed and cuddled with me more, like before.
Q: Did you feel badly that she could not do sports at the time?
Yes, I felt badly that she could not do things that made her happy. You want to make your kid happy. Making her happy was not the right thing at that time.
He feels that he had to take care of illness first and that went against what the child “wanted” to do at the time. For example: Even though she would want to go for walks and try to run fast, he realized she could not do those things at all. It was not safe. And her safety came first. Even if that meant she was mad and sad that she could not run (She wanted to be the fastest runner at school). It made him sad too, for her not to be able to do those normal things.
Q: Were you overwhelmed at the beginning?
Yes, I felt that nothing I could do would help.
Q: Then what changed?
It took time and what you fed her started to work. Then I understood.
It was painful for him not to go along with what she wanted as it felt like he was truly hurting her feelings and damaging their relationship, irreparably. It felt that in the moment, that he could not save her from the torment. Now he says he understands that she had to feel that way to get to her healthy self. He had to stand up to her tears and pretty little face begging him to let her eat less or exercise more. It goes against how he wanted her to view him, as her saviour no matter what. He felt he was denying her the safety of her father’s love.
Q: What would you tell other dads at the beginning of this journey?
I had to come to terms with it by myself.
The protocol works, give it time. I did not think just feeding her would make her better, but it did.
I was scared. I felt that no matter what we did it would not work out. But it did.
There is hope. It does get better, you don’t think it will, but it does.
He says he just saw her get better with what I was doing (i.e. feeding) and then it clicked. He did not read anything. It was his fear of “bad things happening” if he read all the stats, so he did not. I did read things to him, hopeful stories as I desperately needed them. Until he saw the proof in his own daughter, he really could not come to grips with it. He let me lead, I did the reading and the food preparation and posted on the Around the Dinner Table forum. He let it happen and just loved her along the way.