I’m Paying Attention

What Raising a Son with ADHD Has Taught Me

By Andy Miller as part of To All Dads, a compilation of open letters from real men spotlighting #RealStrength stories and advice for modern fatherhood

How did we get here?

I mean, I know this isn’t a big deal, but it feels like a really big deal. As we wait to be called back to the examination room we’ve been to so many times, I think about our first visit to the pediatrician. He was three days old and we were so nervous. We always knew we wanted to be dads, but now that we were, we were full of questions. All of our preparations, instructions from the hospital, classes at the adoption agency, conversations with friends and advice from our own parents, it all seemed so inadequate. But as our mothers and pediatrician told us, “Pay attention; listen to the baby and he will let you know what he needs.” It has been advice I have held fast to and freely passed to other first-time fathers.

Yet here we were. We had come to accept that our beautiful, sweet, headstrong little boy wasn’t like other kids. He stood a little too close, touched things a little too much and found it hard to sit still, pay attention, and keep up in school. For seven years, we paid attention to our son, trying to understand what he was telling us. What did he need?

When he was having difficulty speaking, we tried speech therapy. When he needed help strengthening his hand to write, we signed up for “grasp camp.” When he wasn’t reading by the end of kindergarten, we decided he would repeat it to give him a chance to develop before first grade. And when a friend told us she thought he might be “sensory-seeking,” we enrolled him in occupational therapy. Our son took it all in stride. He seemed to love the camps and classes and extra attention. And it all helped — for a time.

By the middle of first grade, our son was falling behind again. At our doctor’s recommendation we had him tested for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). The neuro-psych evaluation came back consistent with ADHD, and after going over the report with us, the evaluator thought medication was something we might want to discuss with our pediatrician. That brings us to today. Sitting here and waiting to talk about medicating our son.

How did we get here? I knew fatherhood would have its challenges. I was prepared to stand up to discrimination and bullies who would tease my son for having gay dads. We were prepared to help our son embrace his Latino heritage, even though we are Caucasian. We were prepared to aggressively save for his college education, move to a family-friendly neighborhood, and travel all over the state so that our son could develop close relationships with his grandparents. We were prepared to have open and honest conversations about his adoption and make sure he never felt he was “given away.” We would help him understand how desperately we loved and wanted him and how his birthmother made the selfless decision to put his needs over her desire to keep him. But ADHD? For the first time, my son was telling me something I wasn’t prepared to hear.

I’ve spoken with other parents and know we are not alone. The decision to medicate your child is gut-wrenching for all parents. Why was it my son who needed medication to do what other kids did so easily? Did I just need to work harder to help him read? Maybe we just needed to be more calm and patient during his fits of frustration or anger when transitioning between activities. Could all of those people who say two men shouldn’t be raising a child be right? Was our son is suffering because he doesn’t have a mother living with him? The questions never end, but if I follow that early piece of advice to pay attention; listen to the baby and he will let you know what he needs, I know that’s not what he’s telling me. After we talk with the doctor, it’s clear. He needs medication. And he needs me to get over it.

After a little experimenting with dosages, we are seeing improvement. Our beautiful, sweet and headstrong little boy is still here. There have been no personality changes but he can now sit still for longer periods, pay attention in class, and his grades and social interactions are on par with his peers. He is doing well — but I am not getting comfortable. It’s still my job to pay attention. My son will tell me what he needs even when I may not like it. It may scare me and challenge my expectations of what fatherhood would be like. But I’m paying attention. The most unexpected part is that the more I do this, it not only teaches me about my son, it teaches me about myself.

If you enjoyed this piece, please click the green “Recommend”
button below to help all dads grow stronger.