Christopher Johnson, MD

Dr. Johnson is the father of two children. He has practiced pediatric critical care medicine for nearly 30 years and was for many years the director of the Pediatric Critical Care Service at the Mayo Clinic, a professor of Pediatrics at Mayo Medical School, as well as Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital. He now devotes his time to practicing pediatric critical care as President of Pediatric Intensive Care Associates, P.C., and as Medical Director of the PICU for CentraCare Health Systems. He is the author of three books for parents: How Your Child Heals: An Inside Look at Common Childhood Ailments, How To Talk To Your Child’s Doctor, and Your Critically Ill Child.

What’s your specialty? Pediatric Critical Care (Intensive Care)

How many children do you have, and what are their ages? My daughter is 29, and my son is 9.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a dad, and how did you overcome it? My biggest challenge was that my first child was born extremely early. She weighed less than a pound and was three months premature. In 1983, she was on the frontier of even surviving, although things are better now for children born at her size.

As a pediatrician, it was unbelievably difficult for me not to think as a physician, but rather to stand back and be a parent, letting the doctors do their jobs. I’m not sure that I really succeeded completely at that. In fact, it’s probably good that I didn’t entirely succeed in pulling back, because I think my contributions to my daughter’s care as both a doctor and a dad were very helpful to her. The stress of trying to function in both those roles, though, was pretty high.

What’s the most surprising lesson that being a dad has taught you? It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. If you didn’t have one when you were young, you get another chance now.

What’s the one bit of advice about fatherhood you wish someone had given you much earlier? Don’t let the sorrows of your own childhood — and we all have some of those — determine how you act toward your own child. This is a very difficult thing to do, and many fail at accomplishing it. But if you succeed in putting your own demons — large and small — behind you, then you can continue to grow as a person as you watch your child grow.

Career, marriage, kids … how does a guy stay sane? Pace yourself. Try to decide, in an organized, methodical way, what’s important and what’s not. Write that down and review how you’re doing from time to time. There will always be more demands on your time than you can give. But don’t sacrifice everything about what you want for your child, and don’t give up all your dreams. If you do, you will wind up bitter and resentful toward your children.

Dr. Johnson’s Q&A

Can my child live a normal life with a disability?

Profile by Wyatt Myers