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Dads urged to play role in kids' health care

/ Source: The Associated Press

Picture a parent anxiously checking a sick child’s thermometer or hauling the kids to the doctor’s office and the image that usually comes to mind is of mom.

But with rising numbers of stay-at-home dads, father-only households, shared-custody arrangements and other cultural changes, men are increasingly getting involved in their children’s health care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging pediatricians to help increase fathers’ role in what once was considered mothers’ domain.

It’s part of a more holistic approach to medicine and a recognition that both parents have a tremendous influence on their children’s physical and emotional health, said Dr. William Coleman, a behavioral pediatrician in Chapel Hill, N.C., and co-author of an AAP report on the issue.

But it’s also driven by necessity because fathers are increasingly showing up alone with their children or accompanying mothers to youngsters’ checkups and other doctor visits, said Evanston pediatrician Dr. Craig Garfield, a co-author of the 2004 report.

“What happens a lot of times is that the father will accompany the mother,” he said, but “will stand off to the back or to the side and not be fully engaged.”

“What this report specifically addresses is to say, to acknowledge this important caregiver and to start to develop a relationship between him and the child’s doctor,” Garfield said.

Fathers encouraged to attend doctor visits

Pediatricians should encourage fathers to attend their children’s doctor visits and should actively engage fathers who already do, the academy’s report says. They also should offer evening and weekend office hours to accommodate the trend, it recommends.

Ira Dolin of Gurnee is part of the trend. The 43-year-old former financial adviser left his job after his wife gave birth to twin girls. Now he stays home with the 13 month-old babies while his wife works as a portfolio manager and stock analyst. He says he’s always been the one who takes them to the doctor.

It’s a role Dolin didn’t assume much with his sons from a previous marriage but one he feels increasingly comfortable with, especially since he has seen other dads in the waiting room.

On one weekday doctor’s visit, three out of five parents in the waiting room were fathers, Dolin said.

“I just think that in general people feel that mothers are always the more nurturing person and I don’t think it has to be that way,” Dolin said. “I can be just as nurturing as most moms can.”

Garfield said it’s an approach some pediatricians may not be used to.

“When I was a resident, I really wanted to get the information quickly so would fire questions to the mother” even if the father was also in the examining room, he said. “Over time, I realized that really to understand what’s going on, I need to get both parents.”

Both parents' perspectives helpful

Dr. Trevena Moore, a pediatrician, said she began studying the issue after noticing an absence of fathers at children’s checkups during her medical residency in Boston. In her recent study of 104 Boston-area fathers, she found nearly 90 percent had attended at least doctor visit with their children but few routinely did so, often because employers didn’t allow time off for the visits.

“It’s important not only for both parents to hear developmental information about their child ... and also to be aware of the child’s medical history,” especially for emergencies, when not knowing whether a child has allergies or is up to date on immunizations could lead to less than optimal care, Moore said.

“We care about what fathers think,” she said. “Each parent has a perspective on their child and it’s helpful to get both perspectives.”