Thomas Ellis, MD

Dr. Ellis is the father of four children, ages 17, 16, 16, and 13. He is an assistant clinical professor at Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and medical director of the Firetower Medical Office, ECU Physicians, in Greenville, NC.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while your wife was pregnant, and how did you overcome it? When we were having our first child, I was a second-year family medicine resident. I was, of course, supposed to know everything about pregnancy and soon would have a practice where I was the one giving advice. So during my wife’s pregnancy, every question that arose seemed like a test for me to assess how prepared I actually was for the “real world.” I studied hard to feel comfortable with every aspect of her pregnancy.

What’s the most surprising lesson that being a dad has taught you? The most surprising lesson I’ve learned is, as a dad, I can’t take credit for everything my children do right, and I can’t blame myself for everything they do wrong. A patient relayed this to me. It somehow makes me feel better.

What’s the one bit of advice about fatherhood you wish someone had given you much earlier? Learn how to manage money early. As overwhelming as it seems when you are buying diapers, baby food and formula, as children get older, the costs of car insurance, sports participation and college far exceed what you expect.

What’s the one thing about being a new dad that shouldn’t be missed? The peaceful sleep of a baby in your arms.

What’s the most overrated thing about fatherhood? Absolutely nothing!

What’s the most underrated thing about fatherhood? Everything! Fatherhood is so much more overwhelming—and so much more rewarding—than anyone can prepare you for.

Why are fathers important? All it takes to gauge the importance of fathers is to observe the child who has grown up without one. Children with present, active fathers have definite advantages in life over those who don’t. Hopefully, they benefit from having a positive role model always in front of them. Boys need fathers to show them how to be responsible employees and citizens, how to maintain healthy relationships, and how to be caring, effective leaders in their families, workplaces and elsewhere. Girls need fathers to affirm their worth, to believe in their capabilities, to encourage their pursuits and to demonstrate what qualities are important to look for in a mate.

Career, marriage, kids … how does a guy stay sane? Early on in my career, I chose to practice in an environment where my income is not based solely on my productivity. This situation allows me to regularly enjoy spending time with family and doing volunteer work without the nagging guilt that I should be working. My wife has agreed to let me know when I’m getting off-balance, as long as I agree not to get defensive when she does it. Above all else, my faith helps me keep my priorities straight.

Dr. Ellis’s Q&A

How do I get my teenager to open up and tell me anything?

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