One of the subtle but surprising things I’ve learned as a father is that our children are not little copies of us. Their personality differences shine through from the beginning but become more apparent as they grow up. My son looks like me; he likes dinosaurs and Kraft noodles, as I did; he refuses to learn anything from a teacher, as I did; but he doesn’t “get” Lego, he has no interest in music; he’s got his own opinions, likes, dislikes, and outlook on the world.
Also, he doesn’t have eczema, thank god.
My daughter does, but not as severely as I did. I can see myself in the way she deals with the itch and indignity. My own experience with eczema meant that I knew what it was from the get-go, and I knew what to do to treat it, in the limited way that medicine permits. When my wife doesn’t know what an inflamed patch of skin is, or whether something is infected badly enough that we have to worry about it, I have an answer.
This makes me feel that I am a little bit in control. But here’s the danger: my daughter is developing asthma, which I know nothing about. She hasn’t had a serious attack yet, but when she gets a cold, she wheezes and breathes quickly and shallowly, and the doctors have had us put her on an inhaler—with Albuterol, a bronchodilator, plus a vaporized steroid for more severe incidences.
Because I don’t have asthma (and possibly because I am a dad), I worry less than I should about my daughter’s breathing difficulties. I don’t know what it means. I just assume she’s a small version of me and she’s got a stuffy nose. But she’s not. She’s got a well-defined medical condition that I need to take seriously.
My own father thought of my eczema as something trivial, something I needed to grow up and leave behind. (If only that were possible!) When I was 20, he told me to stop scratching—that adults were able to control themselves. He should have known better, because his own father had had eczema, but he didn’t. He assumed that I was just a younger version of himself who could benefit from some advice.
My daughter is not a smaller, younger me. So I’d better get informed about asthma: how it develops, what causes an attack, what to have on hand. It could be a matter of life or death.