Joel Schlessinger, MD

Dr. Schlessinger is a father of two children. He’s a board-certified dermatologist, a board-certified pediatrician, and a board-certified dermatologic cosmetic surgeon in private practice in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the president of LovelySkin, Inc.

What’s your specialty? Dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon

How many children do you have and what are their ages? Claire (age 20) and Daniel (age 17)

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a dad, and how did you overcome it? When our kids first entered school, we had a major decision to make as to whether they entered public or private schools. My wife, Nancy, and I had the inclination to send them to a private school, but my parents, who are both retired educators, felt strongly that a public education was the best way to go in Omaha as the school systems were excellent. We talked long and hard about it, and eventually my wife and parents evaluated several schools. I was working and couldn’t go during the day but saw them after work.

My thoughts were that spending more money was going to give my kids a better education, but we decided upon public schools as the public schools seemed to be less restrictive and offered more freedom than the private schools. Additionally, they seemed to offer a broader section of the population for my kids to meet and “understand.” You never know if you make the right decision along the way if your ultimate goal is acceptance into a highly competitive college, but in the end our daughter ended up at Brown, while our son is a freshman in the seven-year medical program at Northwestern University. Along the way, we had incredible teachers and a relationship with our schools/school district that can only be described as a “love affair.” While public versus private education varies greatly in this country depending on city and school district, our choice worked out great for us, but it is ultimately a personal and location-oriented decision that each parent must agonize over at length.

What’s the most surprising lesson that being a dad has taught you? There is no right or wrong, and less is more sometimes. By this, I mean that no one pathway is right for each child, and it is best to adapt to the particular personality of your children. My daughter was very exacting in how she wanted to do things, even as a young child, while my son was a bit more easy-going. This led to a different approach as each child grew up. While Claire wanted to do things “just so,” Daniel came to a more circuitous journey. They both got to the same place, but the process was fascinating to watch and had we taken the lessons we learned when Claire was growing up and applied them to Daniel, that wouldn’t have allowed him the freedom to experiment with success (and failure) along the way.

What’s the one bit of advice about fatherhood you wish someone had given you much earlier? Each child is so different that a cookbook approach isn’t ever the right way to start or finish. If I was insistent upon some issue with my daughter, this generally led to pushback from her, but if I let her find her own way, she usually came to the same conclusion but with much less drama along the way.

What’s the one thing about being a new dad that shouldn’t be missed? Enjoy it! Being a new dad is a wonderful time, but there is so much anxiety that it detracts from the whole experience. Think of it as a roller coaster. You know you are going to end up all right at the end if you play it safe, but if you enjoy the experience along the way instead of fearing it, you will be so much happier and the rest of the people surrounding you will also!

What’s the most overrated thing about fatherhood? In my opinion, it is the first two months. There is precious little that happens at that time and interactions with your child are challenging. This leads to concerns about parenting abilities and self-doubts. It is a tough time for everyone, but it is also a time that very little can be done to influence the outcome of parenting, so it is best to take a fairly hands-on approach but not expect too much in the way of major bonding.

What’s the most underrated thing about fatherhood? The most underrated experience of fatherhood is when your kids want to see you when you leave the house each morning. If you are so lucky to have kids who wake up early and watch you as you leave for work, cherish it. They won’t do it for long and eventually they will be too involved with getting ready for school themselves. Take a picture and always know that each day they greet you when you wake up or return home is a gift.

Why are fathers important? They aren’t inherently important, but have to make a difference in their family to make themselves important. That may mean helping with homework or chores or just being a sounding board. Being an absent father is a total waste of the opportunity, though.

Career, marriage, kids…How does a guy stay sane? By balancing all of these while making sure that none of them gain too much of an advantage over the other. It’s generally a tripod in a traditional family, and all have to assume a level of importance in order to thrive.

Dr. Schlessinger’s Q&As

When is the best time to take care of the scarring from acne?

If my child has a birthmark, when is the best time to take it off?

Profile by Wyatt Myers