Diabetes Dad on fatherhood and living with type 1 diabetes

With Father’s Day having just passed, we thought it fitting to speak to Tom Karlya, a worldwide lecturer and vice president of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (one of the most respected research institutions in the world searching for a cure of T1D) located in Florida, United States. Tom’s daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age two in 1992 and his son was diagnosed at age 13 in 2009.  He is known throughout the diabetes community as DiabetesDad. He can be reached through his website www.diabetesdad.org or via email at tkarlya@drif.org.


“Up there, Cazaly!


I know that may sound odd coming from a bloke in the States. Long before type 1 diabetes entered our home as ‘the new normal’, my career was in the acting world and I had actually appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in a play entitled, ‘Summer of the 17th Doll’ by Australia’s own actor, dramatist, and producer; Ray Lawler.


To this day it was a highlight of my life. I learned a little of Australia when we were invited to the Australian Consulate after one of our performances. Australia’s wonderful diplomatic team could not have been more cordial and hospitable; an evening to remember forever.


Over the years, since type 1 diabetes became the new normal, I have come to learn this indisputable fact: diabetes is the same no matter where we come from. The pit falls, the problems, the fears, the learning; with the exception of our ‘measuring units’; diabetes is pretty much the same.


As father to two children living with type 1 diabetes, I have learned a thing or two during our last 23 years about staying positive in today’s diabetes world. It’s not easy. The advice I give dads as I travel this world is to become as educated as you can about this condition. It’s the equalizer in this war. The more you know, the more you are armed with what is needed to do the best you can with diabetes in your household.


And do not leave it to your wife. I say that with a tad of humor and a lot of reality, because here in the States, and myself included at times, I just assume that my wife ‘has this’ diabetes thing. But I learned an important lesson a long, long time ago by doing something very simple. I asked my wife, “Is there something I can do to help?”


That changed my life. Not because her answer was long and entailed. But because she answered, “Yes”; and she cried. 


What had I missed? Learning one thing and another and another; and soon the diabetes responsibility became shared. If you’re like me, you are a dad who confidently stated, “I wish I could take this condition from my child!” What dad wouldn’t say that?


And yet, there is so much WE CAN DO, and should do, in the day-to-day handling of our child’s diabetes, but we don’t. Or, in many cases, we could surely do a little more than we do now. I immersed myself in the education of understanding what this condition is about. No, you cannot take it away but you can surely come to understand it; so you can help more.


Father’s Day is such a big day, isn’t it? Give YOURSELF a gift this year. Make the decision that you will learn just a little bit more about your child’s diabetes in the upcoming year to help ease the burden on the entire household. You will feel better and it will do wonders in your marriage, I promise, I’ve been there. I am a DiabetesDad.”