John Owens, DO

Dr. Owens is the father of four children. He is Chief of Family Medicine, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Director of Medical Education at Indian Health Service – Claremore Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a dad and how did you overcome it? My first two children were born before I attended medical school and my last two were born during my training, so my experiences were entirely different with each. Being young parents, my wife and I were too naive to appreciate how smoothly our first two pregnancies had progressed! Although we had difficulty becoming pregnant with our second child, eventually using fertility drugs for success, the pregnancies themselves were very easy, so the only concerns I had were financial in nature and the same concerns all new dads experience: how will I pay for diapers? Will I be a good dad? How do I raise daughters when I don’t understand women?

The second two pregnancies were total surprises, as they weren’t planned at all since I was in residency training. My son, Gavin, surprised us after eight years of infertility, which included many attempts at pregnancy with multiple fertility specialists resulting in taxing therapies and a total of six miscarriages, and the eventual prognosis that we would never complete a pregnancy again. The emotional challenges that accompany miscarriages are exacting and take their toll on a marriage. We assumed this pregnancy, which occurred without fertility drugs, would be no different than the previous six miscarriages, but we nevertheless sought prenatal care and prayed for the best.

At the time, I was in a general surgery residency and kept a very demanding schedule, so being a husband and a father during this very emotional new pregnancy was very difficult while attempting to successfully perform as a general surgery resident. The pregnancy demanded weekly visits and much testing, along with many medications and prayer to accompany my wife’s difficult physical battles she endured due to the pregnancy. During this time, I switched residencies from general surgery to family medicine, for unrelated reasons, but was required to serve in both residency positions for about a month, taking call for both services, so I remember this as one of the most difficult phases of my training. The pregnancy eventually resulted in one of the most exciting moments of my life as I delivered my own, and only, son.

My wife and I were on an emotional high, excited to have finally received the gift of a child after all those heartbreaking miscarriages, when, 10 weeks into the life of my new son, my wife texted (yes, TEXTED) me, telling me she was once again pregnant. Words cannot describe the emotions I experienced when I received that text in the middle of a family medicine residency meeting! Fortunately, my residency director was extremely supportive, and we were able to survive yet another pregnancy during my residency years. This child was less trouble even early on with a relatively normal pregnancy, but we did have one scare on a Friday at 13 weeks when the obstetrician informed us we had experienced a fetal demise (not the first time we had heard those words), and scheduled a D&C the following Monday. After many tears and much prayer over the weekend, we returned on Monday and found our precious baby was alive and well, with no explanation as to what had occurred. We took this as a sign not to worry and progressed through the rest of the pregnancy without any complications or concerns. I again had the incredible experience of delivering my child, toward the end of my residency, and Jenna Rachele holds the distinction of being the last baby I ever delivered.

What’s the most surprising lesson that being a dad has taught you? The most surprising aspect of being a parent is the realization that teenagers know everything! The experience of practicing medicine all day where I’m being respected and honored by my patients who come to me for the answers to their biggest concerns and trust me with their lives, then returning home to be treated as if I don’t understand anything about life in general is a real treat, to say the least. Seriously, though, I have been humbled by the tremendous influence a father yields on his children. It amazes me regularly when I see or hear my children interact with others and see my own values and actions. I quickly learned the importance of modeling my values and integrity in every action, because those actions are being watched, whether I realize it or not.

What’s the one bit of advice about fatherhood you wish someone had given you much earlier? Your best investment into the future is raising your children effectively, so never sacrifice time with your kids to spend more time making money.

What’s the one thing about being a new dad that shouldn’t be missed? I will never forget the feeling of complete dependence when my children were infants and sleeping on my chest; that produces an emotion that cannot be experienced in any other circumstance.

What’s the most overrated thing about fatherhood? The most overrated part of fatherhood is the authority inherent in the position. When I was a teenager, I remember thinking, “I cannot wait until I am the father and can make the rules.” This authority can be an overbearing responsibility at times, especially when you realize that you are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of other human beings. This is easier to accept in the role of physician than it is as father.

What’s the most underrated thing about fatherhood? Easily, the most underrated part of fatherhood is playing dolls. As a new father, I was young and stupid so I thought real men didn’t play with dolls or play dress-up. I regret not spending more time in those activities with my oldest daughters, but am enjoying it more with my youngest. Spend time doing what your kids want to do, not making them be quiet while you watch the game on ESPN.

Why are fathers important? Children raised without fathers are known to have an increased risk of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, incarceration, poor performance in school, ADHD, and relationship issues/divorce. Not only does a child need a father but he or she needs a DAD; someone who will spend time with his children, teach them right from wrong, not be afraid to discipline when necessary, and not be afraid to kiss/hug/cry when it’s needed. A father telling his kids he loves them, through words and actions, and sitting at the head of the table every night at dinner would fix many of this country’s problems.

Career, marriage, kids…How does a guy stay sane? The most effective way to juggle a successful career and be a good father is to maintain a healthy marriage. Your wife’s needs must come before your own, and her support takes up the slack where you fail. Without my wife’s undying love and unwavering commitment to our marriage and family, there is absolutely no way I could be as successful as I am. We are one flesh, and that is the only way to survive this crazy journey.

Profile by Wyatt Myers

Dr. Owens’s Q&As

I feel like my child is hyperactive. Does he need to be on medication?

I’m nervous about talking to my kids about drugs, alcohol, and sex. Do you have any advice?