Dr. Danielson is part of the first nationally recognized academic children’s hospital in Tampa Bay, All Children’s Hospital. He is a pediatric surgeon, saving lives every day, and has also helped start a surgical research program which includes a research fellowship for surgeons. He serves as one of six All Children’s Specialty Physicians providing 24/7 state of the art pediatric surgical care at Florida Hospital Tampa. As if that wasn’t enough he also is the father of three amazing children, Matthew, Ethan, and Kate. He and his wife, Kristen Danielson, MD (who is also a pediatrician at All Children’s) have dedicated their lives to raising kids and saving kids lives, all at the same time.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a dad?
As part of my work as a surgeon, I am lucky to be able to interact with all sorts of children every day. It really is uplifting to see their curiosity, energy and idealism. They are our future. I think the same can be said about being a parent. My kids are constantly reminding me about what is important in life. It is rewarding to watch them grow: as they discover new things, as they overcome challenges and as they start to make their mark on the world.
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids?
Well, my boys like video games, so I enjoy trying to play along, although they always crush me. People worry that kids today have too much “screen time.” I have to agree, but the fact is this is how their generation learns and interacts. So, rather than fight them about it, I try to join in. Then, after some “quality console time,” we try to move on to something else like fishing, boating or ice cream –those timeless, fun things to do.
My daughter is a tougher one to figure out. At times she is incredibly “girlie” with dresses, shoes and hair styles. Then an hour later, she’ll be racing her little sailboat against a bunch of boys in the winds and chop of Tampa Bay. So I try to be a part of both of her worlds. One weekend it might be a daddy-daughter dance at school, then next it might be cheering her on in a race.
What is the most challenging part of fatherhood?
Letting your kids fail. No one ever wants to see a person suffer disappointment, especially if it is one’s child. However, I think children need to learn at an early age that success is not the ability to accomplish something that comes easy to them. Success in life will be determined by how they handle failure. Will they have the grit to keep going? That’s a hard thing to teach. It’s gut wrenching to see one’s kid be sad, but for kids, such emotional states are usually short-lived, and then they are back at it. I try to remind myself that overcoming adversity in childhood will help them in the long run.
What role model in your life influenced the kind of father you are?
I owe a lot to my father who suffered through numerous rainy Boy Scout outings during my childhood and worked tirelessly to provide a safe home and chance for me to go to some good schools and ultimately college. I think my mother complemented their parenting team very well and it was really the two of them who boxed my moral compass at a young age and pushed me along when I needed encouragement.
My wife and I share that same approach. We tend to balance each other and form a mutual support group during those trials of parenthood (from sleepless nights with infants to the rebellious moods of teenagers).
As a father, how do you view your responsibilities?
From a purely practical stand, I think a parent needs to provide a safe place to live, access to good education and a stable emotional environment in which children can grow. Men were traditionally the breadwinners, but these days it might differ from family to family. So, it may be better classified as the responsibilities of “parenthood.”
From a more philosophical standpoint, my biggest responsibility is to set a good example. Actions tend to speak louder than worlds. I think kids will model a parent’s behavior, so I’ve found that the pressure to act accordingly has made me a better person.
Lastly, and this is difficult, I think fathers (and mothers) need to remain non-judgmental. It’s the old adage that one might not approve of an action, but one must always love the child, even when they think they do something wrong. It’s tricky figuring that out.
What advice would you give other fathers?
Kids grow up too fast so you have to enjoy all the moments you can.
It is often difficult to balance a career with spending time with your family. How do you deal with this and make time for them?
My job brings me into the hospital days and nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays. I am not complaining. There are fathers around the world who work dawn to dusk who rarely see their children or are migrant workers who may not see their children for weeks or months at a time. I think that my wife and my kids understand this and the way I try to strike that balance is by focusing on them whenever I can. The stretch of time may not be long, but by putting aside the phone and just giving them undivided attention, playing a game, talking, etc., I try to let them know how important they are to me.
What is something people don’t know about you?
I am an Army Reservist and I’ve done three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those separations were the hardest. Earlier in the war, I had almost no contact with my family when I was overseas. More recently, we relied on email or Skype to keep connected. It was miserable, and it put a huge burden on my wife and family. The only silver lining is that it really taught me not to take for granted any moment with them.
What is your biggest fear?
I fear that one of my kids might get sick and not be able to have a full life. I see it all the time at work, and after a while, one wonders when the odds are going to catch up with someone very close to me.
What makes you happy?
I really enjoy saying good night to my kids. The bustle of the day has died down. There are often very few distractions. It is a little bit of shared private time between us. It is often in those moments that I feel closest to them. It’s also the time when they might open up a bit: Tell a funny story from school. Admit to what might be bothering them. Talk about their dreams for the next day, the next week or the next year.
Where are your favorite places to go in Tampa?
El Cap hamburger stand is one of our favorites, and we really need very little excuse to stop at any ice cream shop.