Samuel Sandowski, MD

Dr. Sandowski is a dad  of 21-, 19-, 13-, and 10-year-old daughters, the director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York, and co-editor of the textbook Primary Care.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a dad, and how did you overcome it? The greatest challenge about being a dad was a shift in the relationship. I was no longer the center of my wife’s attention. I was spoiled, and with every child there was now another person vying for my wife’s time. This other person didn’t seem to care if it was day or night, if my wife was tired or not. My kids were even more spoiled than me, desiring my wife’s attention – no, demanding my wife’s attention. This would make my wife tired, and cranky—obviously a stressor.

There was nothing I did to “overcome” the situation, except have different expectations. I realized that my wife still loved me, and that had not changed. She still wanted to spoil me, but that would not be possible. Physically, she had more demands; she was more tired. She was the one woken every three hours, every night. How could I expect her to be unchanged? As I matured, I started to understand the concept that there were new responsibilities, not just tasks. We started to put together a more team approach, and with that, we had a better understanding of each other and would be able to do things together—just different things.

What’s the most surprising lesson that being a dad has taught you? Kids are often right—more so than dads! We might have the wisdom of our years, but children have the innocence of truth and honesty. We need to listen to our children more. They are full of love, and they see the good in people. They are not skeptical or cynical. We need to recognize this attribute more and embrace it. They are also better at computers, smart phones, gadgets, etc., so don’t be afraid to ask them for advice.

What’s the one thing about being a new dad that shouldn’t be missed? EVERYTHING! There is no turning back time. Make time to be with your children as much as possible. Go to all the open school days possible. Volunteer to be the dad who talks to the class or takes them on a school trip. Be at their ball games. And mostly, make “special time” for each child. Some of the things I’ve done include taking one of my daughters to Washington, DC, for two days while she was learning about the U.S. government in social studies. My wife watched the other children. To this day, that was one of her favorite trips. My youngest child says the best thing about me as a dad is when just the two of us ride our bikes to the bagel place and have breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Career, marriage, kids … how does a guy stay sane? Put things in perspective. A career, marriage, children, and personal health are all priorities. Creating a team approach is critical. While I am not a fan of mixing business and home life, I do believe it is easier for others to understand why you make certain choices if they understand what is happening. For example, if there is an evening business meeting and your child has a checkup at the doctor’s office set up a month prior, let the boss know why you can’t make the meeting. Don’t just say, “I can’t make it.” If the meeting is critical, and the boss asks if the appointment can be switched, he’s saying “This meeting is a priority.” Yet if he says, “Don’t worry, good luck at the doctor’s office,” he’s letting you know that it’s okay. In short, communication among all of your “teammates” (wife, children, work partners, friends, etc.) is essential.

The other bit of advice is to take one hour a day for yourself. For me, it’s going to the gym. For other’s it might be walking, reading, model building, or whatever one’s hobby or recreation is. I find that by giving myself one hour per day, I can give everyone else the time they want. However, if I don’t get my hour, I feel I was cheated from my time and my personal enjoyment. I’m also much more calm and fulfilled after I have my “me” time. Note, however, my “me” time has to be flexible. If there is a family event on a Sunday morning, I might have to go to the gym on Sunday evening. It’s a matter of priorities and teamwork.

Dr. Sandowski’s Q&A

Did you have your children vaccinated?