Each year in June, the Father’s Day Council, in partnership with the American Diabetes Association, honors men who have demonstrated the ability to balance their lives as fathers with professional success and a commitment to help fund diabetes research, education, and advocacy programs. Father of the Year Awards are presented at formal dinners held in over 30 cities across the country, and the recipients make a pledge to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association in the year of their award. Since joining forces with the Association in 1999, the Father’s Day Council has raised over $35 million for the cause.
Who are these award-winning dads? As might be expected, many are fathers of a child diagnosed with diabetes. Some are dads who have diabetes themselves. Other recipients are those who have been touched by diabetes because a member of their family or a close friend was diagnosed. All of them, whatever their connection, are fathers who are dedicated to bringing awareness and education to the issue of diabetes.
In advance of the 2015 honorees being named, we asked three previous Father of the Year winners to share why diabetes matters to them as dads.
Mark William Reed
A 2014 Father of the Year Award recipient from Los Angeles, Mark Reed is the father of NASCAR driver Ryan Reed. As a former NASCAR driver himself, Reed is no stranger to the race track, but he was a stranger to diabetes — until his son was diagnosed with type 1 at age 17. Today, the entire Reed family devotes considerable time and energy to diabetes awareness and education.
Q: How did your son’s diagnosis motivate you to become involved with diabetes awareness?
A: Anyone who has a child can relate to the devastation that a parent feels when something serious happens, but what took me back the most about Ryan’s diagnosis was how little we knew about the disease in general. As we worked as a family to mentally process Ryan being diagnosed, we realized that this was a common theme amongst other folks who had been diagnosed. We did a ton of research on the disease and then did our due diligence of connecting with well-known physicians and supportive organizations. Once we got Ryan settled with managing the disease, we understood the importance of devices, treatment, exercise, and endocrinologist guidance. I knew then that I had a responsibility to help others become more aware of diabetes.
Q: What is one of the biggest triumphs you’ve experienced as a parent of a child with diabetes?
A: It’s a triumph every time we meet a person whom Ryan’s story has inspired. When his story can motivate another to chase their dream, we know we have made another step toward success.
Q: What advice do you have for fathers of children with diabetes?
A: Education is key for everyone in the family. Also, get involved and support diabetes awareness when you can. It really does make a difference.
After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 16, Chris Dudley went on to play professional basketball for the Nets and the Knicks during a successful 16-year career in the NBA. Off the court, Dudley started a basketball camp for children with diabetes, which is now in its 20th year. The 2013 Father of the Year honoree is also a dad of three.
Q: How did your diabetes diagnosis as a teenager affect your dream of playing professional basketball?
A: I can still remember that after I was diagnosed, my first question was, “Am I going to live?” And my second question was, “What about basketball?” I was fortunate that when I was diagnosed [in 1981], the medical community was just coming around to encouraging people with diabetes to engage in physical activity and exercise. I was lucky in that regard, because my doctor said yes to getting back on the court.
My father really encouraged me, too. He and the doctor researched and found out about other athletes with type 1 diabetes. One was Bobby Clarke, an NHL player with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the other was Bill Carlson, a famous Ironman triathlete. If these people could go the distance in their sports, I decided so could I. Their stories motivated me to take care of my diabetes, which allowed me to keep playing basketball. This isn’t to say that it was easy or that everything was perfect. It wasn’t. I had plenty of low moments when I thought “why me?” and “why did I get this?” As I tell kids, these kinds of feelings are completely natural and understandable, even when you have a great support system.
Q: What inspired you to start a camp for kids with diabetes?
A: When I started playing in the NBA, I began to receive hundreds of letters from kids with type 1. They told me all about their own lives with diabetes and, for many of them, their love for playing basketball. These kids inspired me to start a camp where children with diabetes could focus on learning basketball skills in a fun and safe summer camp environment.
Q: Your father was a great source of support to you following your diagnosis; if you could give one piece of advice to a father of a child with type 1, what would it be?
A: Understand that diabetes is frustrating. When tests are high or low, it can be easy to get discouraged. It doesn’t mean that anyone is doing anything wrong. In those hard moments, think about how you can support your kid. Let them know there’s so much more to life than diabetes. If you can understand the things they like to do, encourage them to stick with it. Having something fun and enjoyable in their lives can really help kids get through the tough times.
John W. Paul
One of 2014’s Father of the Year honorees, John W. Paul is chief executive officer and president of Allegheny Health Network, a network of hospitals and clinicians serving western Pennsylvania. As the father of a child with type 1 diabetes, Paul dedicates his free time to diabetes awareness, including serving as the corporate chair of the Western Pennsylvania Walk to Cure Diabetes.
Q: Not only are you the father of a child with type 1, but you also work in the healthcare field. What role has each played in your passion for diabetes awareness?
A: As a father, I have experienced personally the significant challenges and health concerns that [people with diabetes] and their loved ones go through every day. As a longtime healthcare executive, however, I recognize the devastation of this disease on a much broader scale. Although we have made tremendous progress in diabetes management over the past three decades…we healthcare professionals need to do everything we can to help bring more awareness to this disease and to support efforts, like those of the American Diabetes Association, to drive innovation and population health strategies that will dramatically reduce the impact it has on our families and communities.
Q: You pledged to spend 2014 raising funds in support of the American Diabetes Association; what do you want other parents to know about the Association?
A: The American Diabetes Association is leading the fight against diabetes on many fronts—through advocacy, research, and education. These initiatives have helped millions of children and adults with diabetes live healthier lives and ultimately provide our best hope for a cure. It’s vitally important that we continue to support organizations like the Association, particularly as competition for medical research funding continues to tighten.
Q: As we near another Father’s Day, can you tell us about what being a dad means to you?
A: Of all the accomplishments or accolades any individual can claim in life, none comes even remotely close to the love and respect you earn from your family. It gives me great pride to see my children grow and learn as they become young adults.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.