Geisinger’s Dr. Greg Burke doesn’t need statistics or stereotypes to know that too many fathers tend to ignore their own health issues until it is too late.
His father was an example of that trend.
“I watched my own dad succumb to lung cancer after waiting too long into the process to address the symptoms he was having,” Burke said. “The whole thing was so uncomfortable for him — having to depend on others and hand over a little control. There is a certain amount of masculine identity wrapped up in being independent, being the provider, being the protector.
“There is that tough persona — the machismo — that can interfere with accepting help and making the necessary changes to be healthy.”
However, Burke added, it is hard to be there for your family if you don’t take care of your own health first.
“If you want to perform at the top of your game as men — and as fathers — you need to make your health a priority,” he said. “Your kids want you around for their big milestones in life. It starts by taking care of yourself now.”
Steven Jablonski (PA-C), of UPMC Susquehanna, a father to six and grandfather to five, agreed.
“If your own health is suffering, you won’t be able to take care of others,” he said. “As we tend to get older, we have more things that should be checked regularly. Things like colonoscopies and proactively staying ahead of prostate issues becomes more and more important the older we get.”
Fathers at any age can make a difference by focusing on the main standards of healthy living.
“Avoid tobacco useage, limit alcohol intake and get regular sleep. Of course, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise,” Burke said. “You should also be wary of male ego things — like wearing seatbelts, and if you are hunter, follow all the rules of gun safety.”
Jablonski suggested all fathers stay on top of their cholesterol numbers.
“It can be checked anytime in adulthood,” he said. “If it is abnormally high, then take the appropriate steps for follow up, medications and other interventions.”
Colonoscopies are recommended starting at age 50 for those who don’t have a family history or other risk factors.
“Those with risk factors may need to be screened earlier. For example, if a direct relative had colon cancer at age 52, the recommendation is to start screenings 10 years earlier, so at 42,” said Jablonski. “Also, as you get into your 50s, it is good to start thinking about your prostate. It can usually be checked with a blood test, but there are some changes in thinking about that. In some cases, when the numbers went up a little bit, guys were having prostate biopsies that may not have been necessary. Definitely talk to your family doctor about the prostate and see what he/she recommends.”
Burke recommended regular self-checks for any changes that could indicate testicular issues.
“Like many women who do their own self-breast examinations, guys can do a self-check for testicular changes,” he said. “Report any new growths, and if you are at a higher risk for testicular cancer, be armed and ready.”
Sleep issues can also lead to significant health problems — or be the sign of something more severe.
“Do you snore at night? Families are a good resource for this and should chat with dad if he snores or has disrupted breathing during sleep,” Burke said. “If you wake up feeling tired, lack having vivid dreams, have headaches when you wake up or struggle to stay awake when driving or relaxing, those can be signs that you should have a sleep study.”
For men born between 1945 and 1965, there is a recommended hepatitis-C screening, according to Burke, who also urges every man to have a once-in-a-lifetime HIV screen. For those who have been heavy smokers, a screening CAT scan may be a good idea, he added.
“My dad was a smoker for 30-40 years, and for those who have followed a similar pattern, it may be a good idea to have a CAT scan of the lungs to stay ahead of any potential issues,” Burke said.
Depression is another condition many men struggle to address.
“So many guys don’t want to admit they are having issues, but depression is real and affects many,” Burke said. “If someone is having more down days than good ones, has lost interest in an activity they once enjoyed, has changes in sleeping and eating patterns or may be showing signs of being more irritable or anxious, those may be signs of depression.”
Both Burke and Jablonski also recommended that all dads reconnect with their priorities, and to use caution when it comes to work-life balance.
“It means more limit setting, eating more meals with the kids, getting enough sleep and enjoying hobbies that bring you emotional happiness. This can be critical,” Burke said. “It is important to develop bonds with other male friends and to do things with this group — use a shared interest to stay connected.
“I’ve heard of an increase in church men’s groups that may not have existed in the past. It is important to have other male friends and colleagues to interact with, to share life stressors and help each other through those circumstances.”
Jablonski reiterated the importance of quality family time.
“Enjoy your kids. Go to their events, watch them play soccer or baseball or softball. Try not to get too caught up in work stress to a point where you lose sight of your family,” he said. “Really keep your family a priority in your everyday living. It can be easy to get distracted, but don’t lose sight of your family.”