I’m a Dad With OCD and Kids Are Gross As Hell. Here’s How I Make It Work

Tommy Mulvoy
6 min readMar 12, 2019

When I laid eyes on the string toy lyingon the weathered rug at the daycare, I knew it was going to be a long hour. I hesitated for a few moments before I put my then 6-month-old son, Aksel, in the caregiver’s arms and sat down cross-legged on the floor. Sitting like that on a hard surface was only part of the reason for my distress. The other was that Aksel was now closer to this clearly germ-infested toy than I was, and it was aggravating my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

After spending more than 20 years hiding my OCD from friends and family, I have spent the last 12-plus years engaged in a seemingly never-ending battle of exposing myself to my obsessions while subsequently resisting the urge to act compulsively in response to them. Professionals call this Exposure and Response Prevention. I call it hell. The practice involves mentally replaying my obsessions — include breaking various bones (most often my femur) or seeing my parents die in a car crash — over and over again, in all of their grotesqueness, until my brain becomes too tired to continue.A little white pill I take every evening also helps.

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As Aksel’s primary caregiver, I had attentively prepared for his initiation to daycare. I walked the route to the center and prepacked his diaper bag with one of just about everything he owns. My wife, Vicky, had impressed upon me the importance of remembering the teachers’ and other children’s names and keeping a low-key attitude. She also prepared a list of questions that I was to ask the head teacher. I was on script until I noticed Aksel squirming his way out of the teacher’s arms and onto the floor. Ifeigned attention as the teacher introduced me to Aksel’s new classmates, and I barely registered that they were singing Aksel a welcome song. My focus was on the closing gap between Aksel and the dirty toy.

Aksel’s first few months of life provided me with countless smiles, but his birth also added a level of stress that was, and still is, far more draining than I could have imagined. This stress led to an explosion of obsessive thoughts about my own body and my relationship with my wife, but its prime target was Aksel’s welfare.

Tommy Mulvoy