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June 5, 2020

Fatherhood: Heroic Acts of Love

By By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

If you’re a dad, chances are at least one person thinks you’re a hero. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers have been increasingly recognized as heroes. From law enforcement officials to physicians, from firefighters to nurses, many men fulfilling these professional roles also proudly play the role of dad.

Two Tampa Bay area hero dads, one a physician and the other a firefighter, share how they navigate fatherhood in this era of uncertainty—without even wearing capes.


Fear’s Antidote: A Father’s Love

Alex Furman, an interventional pulmonologist and critical care doctor at various Tampa Bay area hospitals, is father of four: his 20-year-old is in college, studying how music affects the brain, and his younger three (ages 9, 7 and 4) are being guided through distance learning by Furman’s wife, Dora. 

Given the nature of Furman’s work, the couple quickly established at-home-protocols, like giving certain items direct sunlight as a form of added decontamination. “Now, I only wear scrubs at work and leave my clothes in the garage. There’s a lot of hand washing and decreased touching. I have a special robe and it cues the kids that it’s not okay for us to hug, yet.”

At work, Furman also sits on a committee that counts PPE. “It took a few weeks to understand the best approaches and make decisions about transitioning things to the virtual environment,” he says. “Rationing of personal protective equipment is a top priority. Though numbers show we’re ahead of the curve, we haven’t seen it all.” 

Constant thoughts about COVID-19, for both family and work, affect Furman’s ability to sleep. However, in true dad fashion, he is intentional in his efforts to minimize pressure at home. “I don’t spend a ton of time talking about it with the kids.” He acknowledges there’s a virus and explains how it spreads, but most conversations center on school and Zoom. Interested in doctoring, the kids previously bandaged their own injuries with toilet paper and paper towels. “Since we’re now rationing paper products, that’s become a no-go.” The family now prioritizes activities done as a unit. “Changes in schedules mean there’s no guarantee we’ll all be together at some point in the day. So, we make time for bike rides, swimming and cooking. We’re growing a garden, and I teach the kids about the science behind everything.” 

While Furman is on the front lines, he’s cognizant of what his wife faces. “Given forced togetherness, I’m beyond lucky. I don’t just love my wife; I actually like her.  She’s no longer travelling for work, which she’s used to in her position in econometrics. She’s essential, now, not only to helping restaurants survive but our family as well.” As Dora is an avid runner with a goal to run in all 50 states before turning 50, the couple came up with a safe route she can run but still be somewhat alone. Real heroes recognize that all human beings need some sense of normalcy.  

Despite taking calls at all hours of the night, Furman is counting his blessings. “This isn’t going away, and we’re using this time with our kids to do good. This is no detriment to our family life.” 

Learn more about Dr. Furman’s practice: https://bit.ly/2Z3w8ZA


Fear’s Extinguisher: A Father’s Compassion 

Mike Schaer has been with the fire department for 17 years and currently serves as a Captain. Hero is a word he doesn’t buy into: “I believe this is my calling and I love it.” Surely his wife, Allison, and two daughters, Kennedy (10) and Rylee (8), view him as a superhero. Schaer is strong in his conviction that he’s blessed with two families. “Bonds made running the calls we run in the department, and spending 24 hours at a time together, makes us family. Coming home to be a husband and father, and doing our best to raise our girls right, being their biggest, forever fans, is an awesome thing.” 

 The Schaers have realized family fun days don’t require trips and lots of money. “We’ve spent hours in the yard—enjoying talking and the slower pace.” The past few months have also underscored risks associated with the fire department. “Leading a crew, this is also about the 15 members on my shift who have families and worries of their own.” Firefighters have an ability to flip a switch when they walk into the firehouse.“COVID-19 changed that. Now, we bring risks home. Now, we could be the reason family gets infected.”

Times like these, when Schaer wants to be with his wife and girls the most, protecting them, is when he sees them least. “I’m blessed with a strong wife. She puts her own fears and worries aside and serves as a strong, reassuring voice for our girls.” As they grow up, the girls grasp more about their dad’s line of work: “They were born into it, and I hope I can help them understand the dynamics of it all.” The Schaers broached the COVID-19 topic with the girls early on. “We wanted to be the ones to discuss it with them—drama free. It reminds them of our imperfect world and the importance of helping others.” 

Within both the fire and Schaer houses, Mike has relayed similar messages: “Focus on the positive and enjoy the small moments that were overlooked four months ago. Along the way, the voices and actions of helpers gained traction and we need to need to support the many inspiring things taking place.”

A hero is forward thinking. A hero focuses on assets. A hero loves genuinely. A hero is a humble leader. A hero is a hard-working dad. He’s your dad. He’s their dad. He’s the person straddling two worlds—with compassion, strength and grace. Happy Father’s Day.     

Learn more about Captain Schaer: https://bit.ly/2zwOJTr

Originally published in Tampa Bay Parenting’s June Issue.

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