Mr. Dr. Fortner
By Jonathan Fortner
In the summer of 2001, my wife and I had just settled into a new city as she began her OB/GYN residency. As we stood nervously at the welcome dinner for the new interns, the chairman’s wife turned to me and said, “So you must be Dr. Fortner, it’s nice to meet you.” I pointed to my wife and politely replied “No, this is Dr. Fortner…I’m Mr. Dr. Fortner.” And so began my life as Mr. Dr. Fortner.
After residency, my wife joined an academic practice and I worked in the same hospital in administration. It was great working in the same place, especially when we were able to see each other throughout the day. Yes, for the most part, I was still known as Mr. Dr. Fortner (“oh, you’re Dr. Fortner’s husband” was common and could have been added to my name badge). Then in March of 2007, we were blessed with our first child. In the months leading up to her birth, we did what most working professional parents-to-be do…discussed childcare options that would allow us both to continue our careers. The more we talked about it, we started considering the idea of me becoming a stay-at-home dad. To be honest, I don’t recall who thought of it first or even the first time we talked about it, it just seemed to be a very natural progression during the process. So on June 1, 2007, I officially “retired” to become a full-time stay-at-home dad. And so began my life as Mr. Mom.
Then it happened. It was June 25…just 24 short days on the job for me. We were in the car on our way to the pool when my wife turned to me and dropped the F-bomb…she simply said “I want to do a fellowship.” Although not a complete surprise, I thought we had dodged that bullet after residency. And we are not talking about one of those quick, down and dirty one-year fellowships…we are talking about a three-year stint that included sub-specialty board exams. So we set off on the interview trail with our four-month old and my wife’s Medela pump in tow. We were very happy and fortunate to match at our top-ranked program…and our top-ranked city.
Soon after, we packed up our little happy family and moved eight hours away to Durham, North Carolina. I was excited about the move and more importantly, happy for my wife. At the same time, I was pretty darn nervous. I had just really gotten into a groove. I had adjusted to leaving my career, adjusted to being a new dad, made inroads with other new parents (mostly moms). I was really comfortable in my new role. Moving to a new city meant that I had to start that process all over again.
We all know what July 1 means…the new academic year begins. My wife had started her fellowship – met her faculty, her co-fellows, the residents, the L&D staff. That’s one of the beautiful things about medical training; you instantly walk into a social circle of people who are like you. You can show up not knowing a single person in the city, but after your first day, you meet groups of people that will likely become your friends. That’s great for her, but the only person I had met was the cable guy. Then on July 4th, I met the pregnancy test she left on the bathroom counter. That’s right, we had been in town for all of one week and found out that our family of three would soon be a family of four. I did apologize to her division director for delivering his new fellow knocked up.
To recap, I had left a promising career (by choice), became a stay-at-home dad, moved eight hours away from friends and family, and found out baby number two was on the way…all in a matter of just over a year. I was making friends slowly, but it was a struggle. To say the least, I was a bit stressed and a tad bit depressed. I was in a funk. My wife knew that I was struggling and gave me the kick in the butt I needed. She said that I had wanted to stay at home, reminded me that I was doing it well before we moved, and basically said to suck it up and snap out of it. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Soon after that at a local park, I met a mom who seemed to speak my language when I told her what brought us to Durham. I didn’t have to explain why we were there for only three years or what a fellow was. Her husband was also a fellow. She then told me about this magical place where she met with other moms whose spouses were also doing their medical training. Who knew such a place existed?
I got an invitation to join one of their play dates at another mom’s house the following week. Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to give it a shot. If you think it’s easy for a dad to show up at a house full of moms and their babies, then you’ve never done it. I was less nervous talking in front of an auditorium full of people than I was walking in the door of that house. But I am so glad I did. I walked into a house full of people (all women) who were just like me – we were all in town for the same reason, we all spoke the same language, we all knew the ups and downs of medical training, and we all had small children. That play date turned into another, then another, then doing things as couples, and soon I was back in my groove. In fact, I was in a new, much better groove. The best part was seeing my daughter surrounded by so many wonderful friends. When our son arrived, I/we had such an amazing support group of friends around us.
That group of amazing women was the Triangle Medical Spouse Alliance. I am eternally grateful to those ladies that made an effort to welcome a dad into their group (you know who you are). Most of them are still my very close friends. They not only helped shape my experience during fellowship, but they also helped shape me as a parent. I was fortunate to get involved with our group and gladly served on the board for two years. It was such an amazing experience working on programs and activities for our members and for the community – welcome events for new physician families, play dates for families with small children, fundraisers for the community, holiday parties, social events, learning opportunities for our members.
We left Durham and fellowship more than three years ago. I’m still very happy to be Mr. Dr. Fortner and Mr. Mom. I started fresh again, worked hard, and found my groove here in Nashville. We’ve added another kiddo to the family, I bought a mini-van, and I’ve turned 40. Not exactly what I had planned 20 years ago, but I wouldn’t change a thing!
Jonathan and his wife, Kim live in Nashville, Tennessee where Kim is an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University in the department of OB/GYN – Maternal Fetal Medicine and Jonathan is currently holding down the fort at home with their three young children and zipping around Music City, USA in his minivan.
(Editor’s Note: This blog originally ran in August, 2014.)
What a great story. You always were the sweetest boy. Love Jane malone
Isolation is a very severe problem for stay-at-home dads. Some men might feel uncomfortable joining a group of women. Other men don’t even know about support groups. Congratulations to the Triangle group for making the author feel at home. Please make an effort to find and befriend the husbands of physicians. They need your friendship and support over the long haul. As many of us know, the practice of medicine has become ever more challenging and stressful and is leading to depression among physicians. Like stay-at-home moms, men become the primary caregivers, investment advisors, chauffeurs, tutors, bankers, and cooks. Together, medical couples are extremely stressed and in need of support, which we must provide to each other to have happy marriages and healthy families.
Thank you for this thoughtful, caring comment. Physician husbands, a growing group, need support and resources and Physician Family and the AMA Alliance are working hard to meet that need.
Thanks for your thoughts and comments. I’m creeping up on my 10th year as a SAHD!
I loved your story, and I commend you for all you’ve done for your family. And also for other men and their families in the future. You’ve done the courageous and sometimes lonely work of blazing a trail, making it easier for others to follow. Because of what you’ve done, and because you’ve been open in writing and talking about it, I predict that in the future, others will be able to be SAHDs without so much hassle and stigma and loneliness.