By an Around the Dinner Table Dad
On being a dad… and a husband…
I believe my core message and what I really want to get across is that I think men and women are fundamentally different when it comes to fighting eating disorders (ED). I think that men have been taught to be passive at times and to be more nurturing, and I think sometimes their warrior spirit is exactly what the situation calls for. On the other hand, men need to know that the enemy isn’t always clear, and it can’t be killed, and this isn’t just a Problem to solve. That is frustrating. You have to be ready to have your toes stepped on by the ED, your afflicted child, and the mom (who may be your wife) and know that you need to move your ego out of the way; very little of this is personal.
Every situation with married couples and ED is different. I don’t know the dynamics of your situation and your marriage, but I’ll share this dad and husband’s point of view and heart.
More of my story to share….From the heart.
I’m probably not a “good dad” much of the time; and yet, I am a great dad in certain moments too.
I wrote two blog posts on this FEAST blog in the early days of my daughter’s hospitalization. The first post will tell you that I went through about a year of NOT supporting my wife. She was on her own. She also was not getting good professional help or education…it was harmful in fact…our talk therapist was clueless, and my wife was rarely invited into therapy.
I wasn’t uninvolved out of neglect or disinterest, I just thought that like lots of doctor visits, my wife would go to the therapist and it would be handled, and I could keep working. I did not understand the seriousness or risks of anorexia (AN).
In the fall of 2018, just as AN was starting (in hindsight) I had done a pretty extreme diet that really taught me what calories were and about macro nutrients. I personally experienced, or rather put myself through, heavy food restriction.
I think that was a terrible thing to do at a time where my daughter’s anorexia was starting, but I was unaware, and it’s in the past. The good thing about that diet though is that I really GOT AT DEPTH how much energy was in food and what energy deficit looked like. That came in handy later.
In December 2018, both my wife and I really realized what was up and that our daughter had anorexia.
In 2007, I stopped drinking and went through a 12 Step program to find recovery from alcoholism. This was hard on our marriage, but we worked through it. We went to plenty of therapy together, and I did a lot on my own.
So, in December 2018, my wife and I had a strong basis to try to talk about things together. We know how to rewind the tape and talk about feelings and what the other one said and then set the record straight and keep going ahead. I read Brave Girl Eating and I went on a hunt for a therapist. I did that part…then my wife took over and started taking my daughter to appointments.
At this point, things got sort of ugly inside my head. My wife wanted to handle it because that’s what she does. She works to insulate me from a lot of family things so I can work outside the house and she is just an amazing mom and caretaker of animals and home etc. I wrongly thought everything was handled and started to believe my daughter just hated me and I couldn’t figure out why.
I didn’t help at mealtimes because I didn’t know I needed to help; and plus, the therapists we were seeing were not FBT and didn’t teach us that we could have control.
Fast forward to the end of 2019… I knew that things weren’t getting better; in fact, they were probably getting worse, but I didn’t know how to help. I asked my wife to go back to our old marriage therapist so we could try to learn how to work together on this.
I wasn’t being helpful, and I felt alienated, and I started to suspect that it was ED who hated me and not my daughter. Because of that 2018 diet, I knew what my daughter was eating and what her exercise levels were, and it scared the shit out of me; but the therapist we were seeing was saying really stupid stuff to my wife like maybe our daughter just had a high metabolism.
On February 9, I saw my oldest daughter (who has AN) next to my 2nd daughter. My #2 was just glowing and happy and full of life and bubbly, and my older daughter was gaunt and gray and devoid of life, and in that moment, I just knew–I knew that there was an enemy inside the gates…
Once I saw him I could not unsee him. My warrior and protector mode came out.
Somewhere deep inside, men are wired like that even if it doesn’t show. We are not meant to be the nurturers. We are really not meant to be nice guys all of the time–most of the time maybe, but not all the time. (Please note that these are my beliefs and not FEASTs, and I don’t think all dads are created in the same way, so excuse my blanket statements)
We need an enemy to fight and kill. When I saw ED I was scared and I was pissed and I was ready to die for my daughter and my wife.
If you read my second blog post on FEAST you’ll see that I was really angry (at ED). I found the FEAST Facebook group, I went into hyper protector mode, I read books like a mad man. I was sending my best passionate letters to Dr. Peebles at CHOP. I was ordering Dr. visits and sharing data, without consulting my wife. My wife was in denial and we fought a lot. I did a lot of damage to our relationship (marriage) in a short amount of time—the relationship that we are working on and have worked to heal.
When we got our daughter to CHOP and the ER doc told us we had a very sick girl, and that there was no way she was going home…that’s when things started to happen. I hardly slept for 3 days because of the adrenaline coursing through my body. I was totally on edge and physically ready to kill someone; I was just tuned up. But you see, that protector and fight mode had to come out.
There’s a book called “No More Mr. Nice Guy” that would probably be controversial in certain circles, but I believe it can help.
After the hospital and the rush to get my daughter there, things shifted. Then it was my wife’s strong nurturing presence that got our daughter better and to where she is at now. I did help, but my wife and I will need to unpack how…and we had strong professional help. I think that’s key. You need FBT professionals of some sort in your life . I was likely appropriately protective, and my attacking of ED was right; however, there were other times I needed to dial that back, because it wasn’t useful
It’s just too fresh and we are not out of the woods yet, so it is not time for my wife and I to reflect back and help describe our journey together…it’s been rough, but it’s worked. Yesterday was my daughter’s 17th birthday and she’s thriving (almost 7 months after I had my clarity moment). She definitely does NOT hate her dad. That was ED.
Dads, I think you need to find your warrior energy in this. I believe men need a battle to fight and a damsel to save. We are strange creatures. Men need to remember that deep inside, they were made physically and mentally different, and their role is at certain times to fight and to protect the clan.
Today, just 7 months later, my daughter is restored physically. She smiles and laughs again. She eats ice cream and doesn’t scream at my wife and I that we are “trying to f-ing kill her” (for trying to get her to eat a tablespoon of ice cream).
We have a long way to go because she still can’t feed herself, but we’ve come so far, and my wife and I have come so far together.
Have hope, brother. It’s all you’ve got in these dark days. Hope, and maybe God, and your family and friends, but many won’t get it and will say stupid things.
Reach out in the Facebook groups to other parents. You aren’t a failure. You haven’t screwed up on your mission to protect your son or daughter. Recovery can start today.
Lots of love and energy to you and yours.