I remember sitting in my therapist’s office after I learned I was going to be a father. I had overwhelming feelings of fear, wonder, powerlessness, joy, fearfulness, gratitude and defensiveness.
As I discussed these emotions with my therapist, I couldn’t help but think about the struggles the men in my life have had being fathers. Alcoholism. Sex addiction. Unfaithfulness. Abuse. Anger. Divorce. Brokenness. The examples I had around me as fathers were men who said things but didn’t follow through. They meant well but their actions showed something different.
My therapist then shared something very important with me: the things I saw these men struggle with could be turned into my greatest gift as a father.
So, I chose to be very intentional as I entered into fatherhood. Beyond just breaking the cycles, I wanted to find ways to apply what I knew about living with these challenges in an even deeper way.
Still, I couldn’t help but be fearful when my first daughter, Journey, was born. One time, when she couldn’t have been more than three days old, she began fussing, just being a baby, at two o’clock in the morning. My wife and I, being new to parenting, were trying to figure out what she was trying to communicate. We felt lost. You know, like all first-time parents do at some time. It’s normal.
After we had finally consoled her and returned to bed, I immediately looked at my wife lying there and asked, “Do you think Journey is dyslexic? Do you think she has ADHD?”
My disorders, their gifts
I had been diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in college and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder almost a decade later. My daughter was only three days old and here I was already worried about possibly laying some genetic burden on her that would make her life more difficult than I’d ever wanted it to be.
Only recently, after I finished writing a book about my own struggles with these conditions, did I truly understand in my heart the value of having dyslexia and ADHD. They are not disorders. They are absolute gifts. Knowing how they affect me and how to deal with them allows me to show up in the world more connected and more as me. Still, these gifts come with a lot of pain, a lot of worries, a lot of sadness and brokenness.
If Journey has one of those gifts, who better than me — her father — to guide and shepherd her and teach her how to hone in and use them so they can make them even more valuable to her?
For example, one key ADHD strategy I use for parenting is to always be present. Journey and her sister, Justice, are both under age 4, so as a stay-at-home dad I’m constantly multi-tasking. But now I understand how to recognize when I’m overwhelmed with doing too much. When I do, I slow down and carefully manage my time, emotions and feelings. I prioritize my time to get things done, but I also use this energy and free spirit my gifts have given me to my advantage so I can still be in the moment with them.
Children yearn for and live their lives in the moment far way better than adults do. Those emotions and worries I struggled most with as a man before I became a father seemed at first very disheartening but, as with learning that I was dyslexic and had ADHD, they became gifts. They allow me to show up and be more present and engaged, as a husband and as a father.
I’m thankful for these “disorders” and the struggles they brought. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to go through them because they allow me to share these lessons, these gifts, with my family. I’m grateful to have had the chance to write a book about them that could impact and help heal other families and children. More importantly, I’m grateful for the gift I have every day to watch my two daughters flourish.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan “J.O.” Oliver is a personal development coach, motivational speaker, author and a stay-at-home dad. He is happily married to Dr. Saran Oliver and together they have two daughters, Journey and Justice. Being diagnosed with the gift of dyslexia and ADHD has allowed him to see what is possible rather than feel limited by his condition. He has authored two books, Joy In The Journey: 1st Year Chronicles From A Stay At Home Dad, and Impersonations. His new book is To The Little Boy In Me: Learning with Dyslexia & ADHD.