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Friday, June 10, 2016

Benjamin King: Acting, Fatherhood, & IBD

Here is Actor Benjamin King sharing his story about IBD. Fathers play a critical role in the growth of their children. Fathers are role models, playmates, teachers, and so much more. But when you are a father with a debilitating digestive disease, balancing your illness with taking care of your children can be difficult. Actor Benjamin King is known for his role as Pete Rooney, the father on Disney Channel’s show "Liv and Maddie." He’s also an IBD patient and a dad in real life to two beautiful daughters. King was diagnosed with proctitis when he was 15 years old. In 1996, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. After having an ileostomy for six months, in 2009 King’s diagnosis was changed to Crohn’s disease. In observance of Fathers’ Day, we had the opportunity to speak with King about his disease journey, his children, and how having Crohn’s disease has affected him as a father. How did having Crohn’s impact you and your wife’s decision to have children? Having IBD did not affect my decision [to have children] at all. I always wanted to be a dad. My wife and I knew from very early on that we would start a family together. How has having a chronic illness affected you as a father? There are days where my energy is below what I’d want it to be. I lucked out marrying my wife, for many reasons, but also in that she lets me get the rest that I crave. I try to give her breaks when I can, but there’s just no comparison - she bears a much heavier load because my stores of energy are often very sacked. As far as my kids are concerned, they know that I have this condition, they know that sometimes I hurt or I need to rest or I can’t eat what they eat. That said, my relationship with each of my girls feels very full, and active. Could I be more active? Of course. Even at their young ages, 10 and 9, they are really understanding and sympathetic kids. We find ways to have fun, even if it’s in the quiet of our home. What is the hardest part of having Crohn’s and being a father? Though I’m in remission and have been on the right program for several years now, there is that lingering possibility that things can go south and I could end up in the hospital, taken away from my family. For me, that’s the worst part of this deal. I know what it’s like to see the fear in my kids’ faces, and no parent wants to feel responsible for that. But it also teaches them that life is delicate and not to take for granted the really good days. Our girls have an understanding of how fortunate we are to get to enjoy so many amazing life experiences together - set visits, vacations, holidays with friends and family, and Disneyland. We do what we can to provide as many happy, long lasting memories for them and all of us as a family. But some days are just tough - and there’s no telling when those days are going to come. Do your daughters understand what your disease is? How did you explain it to them? They know that I have a disease that affects me in lots of different ways. I don’t know that I fully understand what this disease is, so I am sure they can’t possibly grasp what it is. They do know that a piece of me needed to be taken out, a piece that was very sick, and that I’m healthier because of it. They don’t understand all the details yet, but I’m comfortable sharing my full story with them when the time is right. What advice do you have for other dads with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or other chronic illnesses? Keep it as real as you can, starting with yourself. Pretending you’re fine when you’re not fine can lead to stress and things spiral from there. I’ve learned that lesson. If you’re married, or are raising your kids with a partner, it’s important to communicate when you’re feeling unwell, which obviously also applies if you have a cold or flu. My wife took the “in sickness and in health” part of our vows to heart, as did I, but she’s unfortunately had to deal with that from early on in our marriage. If you’re fortunate enough to have that type of commitment with someone, I suggest leaning on them during the tough times. You’ll find ways to make it up to them on the good days.

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