“When you publish your book, you should dedicate it to me,” my 15-year old son, Ben, announced.
I was halfway through the first draft of Reaching For A New Potential. It wasn’t his boldness that surprised me, since he’s never hesitated to ask for what he wants. I just couldn’t imagine his reason for asking. “I was actually thinking about doing that, but am curious why you asked.”
“Because, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t know anything about ADHD.”
This was largely true. Ben was the first person in our family to be diagnosed with ADHD. Before he came along, dozens of relatives and I thought being scattered was normal. On my side of the family, executive function capabilities are the exception, not the rule.
Ben was the first in our extended family to have the very, very hyperactive form of ADHD called Teacher Nuisance Disorder (around my office, that is). Younger brother, Paul, has it, too. School janitors can diagnose this type of ADHD, since they reassemble and repair the mangled school property that trails behind these kids like a tornado’s path.
When Ben was diagnosed with ADHD, I knew what the average family doctor knows about ADHD, but certainly not enough to parent a child with it. My wife, Chris and I, read many books on ADHD to get up to speed. Technically, she read them and summarized them for me. As we learned about ADHD, it became apparent that I had it, too.
This is a common scenario where ADHD is diagnosed. A child is suspected of ADHD by teachers, is referred for diagnosis, and while undergoing diagnosis, one parent realizes how many similar characteristics parent and child both share.
So, Ben was right. If he hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD, I wouldn’t have learned about it or been diagnosed. I would never have started reading about it, which – incidentally – has gone much better since I started treatment. And I would never have developed a medical specialty focused on ADHD.
For the last fourteen years, Ben and I have worked to become better versions of our selves. Sharing the journey has been a blessing. My encouragements to him about medications, counseling and coaching has some standing and integrity in his eyes, because I use those supports myself. His struggles with self-esteem and temptations don’t alarm me, because I’ve struggled with them, too.
Children with ADHD can be very taxing to parent just as parents with ADHD can be troublesome to their children. There are times I’ve had to apologize for my parenting. I’ve punished first and asked questions later. I’ve yelled at him for presumed infractions, then discovered my facts were wrong and he wasn’t. “Small mistake, Dad,” he said on one such occasion. “I’d have assumed the worst, if I were you, too.”
My boys pushed me to be a far better parent than I was prepared to be. Kids with ADHD exhaust their caretakers. On the surface, they can’t stop pushing for what they think they want. Deep inside, they are begging you to maintain the boundaries they cannot.
Father’s Day is first about showing gratitude to our own fathers, but for fathers themselves, it’s also a day for counting blessings. Parenting my ADHD sons and seeing my reflection in them has changed my life. All my writing, my entire medical practice, my advice to other parents has taken the direction it took because of what Ben first brought to light.
Not every son gets to share the ADHD journey with his father nor vice versa. Traveling this road together changed my life. If there were inscription pages for careers, I’d dedicate mine to Ben.