Defending Dads

You're doing your jobs. You and your kids deserve better.

Category: Wellness and Self-Care

Weighty Subjects

If it’s all about the kids, then there’s no getting away from this: Too many American dads skip regular exercise and eat carelessly. Obviously, this is not healthy for the dads and sets poor examples for the kids.

Relax. I’m not the Fitness Police and you’re not sitting on a lawnchair in a four-square-foot, windowless box with sound proofing tiles for wall paper facetiously referred to as an “interview room”. Diet and obesity are very sensitive topics, but like the stacks of mail I have tucked away in a kitchen cabinet, sooner or later, they must be addressed.

There is any number of diet and/or exercise regimens a man can adopt, all accessible via internet, TV or the local FYE. Most of these are well researched, slickly produced ways to pick your pocket. If you can work through those routines without going into cardiac arrest, congratulations, but most of us just can’t buy good health and physical conditioning in a kit for three “low” payments of $49.99. Good health and physical conditioning are about long-term commitment, discipline, hard work and maintaining good eating habits.

I have always enjoyed lifting weights, but I got more involved with cardiovascular fitness and improved eating habits in my 30s. These critical factors influenced the changes:

  1. I was in love and I wanted to be attractive to my wife.
  2. Once I started making my living at a desk, I knew I was likely to live longer.
  3. I had observed the few surviving examples of older black men in my world, most of whom were dealing with high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and related complications.
  4. I had the nerve to have kids at 38 and 39 years old! They were the real game changers.

As conscious as I was of all the above, by age 43, I managed to swell up to 205 lbs. The stress of family life led me to swap my dumbells for a fork and a shot glass. At 5’9″, I was looking more like Kevin James than Ray Rice.

One day, I got a notion to go out on my deck to skip rope. I positioned my phone to get it on video. In no time, I was winded. Curious, I picked up my phone to review the clip. I was mortified. There, on digital video even, was my gut bouncing in direct opposition to the rest of my body! Wake up call? It was more like a defibrillator shock. Obviously, I returned to the gym.

Ironically, the same stress that led to my weight gain triggered a rapid weight loss. By my 46th birthday, I weighed 165 lbs. That wasn’t a healthy look either. My cheeks were so hollow, I didn’t have to open my mouth for a dental exam. Once again, I had to get myself together.

At 48, I remain trim, but the challenges of child care and aftermath of divorce cause my appetite to fluctuate. I do feel that things are leveling out, though. I’m confident that in a few short months, I’ll be ready to produce my own glitzy, wiz-bang fitness program designed especially for single fathers. I think I’ll call it “Buff Daddies” or “Pumped Papas”. Act now and get a bonus copper-laced sweatband, a $49.99 value, absolutely free!

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

I have to live in one of the most fitness conscious communities anywhere. It seems that, per capita, there are more runners, swimmers, walkers, cyclists, wrestlers, yogis, black belts, tennis, baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse players here than even Los Angeles. As soon as the temperature cracks 60°, the municipal park teems with people. Of particular interest to me is the number of parents and even grandparents who engage kids in play. It’s like watching a live enactment of the axiom “the family that plays together stays together”.

I don’t yet know my neighbors well enough to guage how much truth is behind that, but I gotta say they look pretty doggone happy. Even better, I’ve been out there with my own kids to experience this. The flip side to all of this healthy activity is that a guy has to train like an olympian to keep pace.

I have always been health conscious, though not an extremist. I took a break from regular exercise over the winter. One unseasonably warm day in February, I was determined to finish training the kids to ride their bikes. Once outside, I alternated running after each kid to coach and help with balance. Thank God they finally got the hang of it and don’t yet have the leg strength for sustained riding! When they said they’d had enough for the day, I didn’t have enough wind in my lungs to breathe a sigh of relief! I dragged myself to my car, flung open the door and slumped into the driver’s seat. I rested my head on the padded steering wheel and sucked in air like a Shop-Vac. The kids were oblivious to my distress, but I was horrified that my conditioning had fallen off to that degree.

I’ve resumed working out. I’m not yet ready for the cover of Men’s Fitness, but I’m ambitious. Not only do I appreciate my good health and the benefits of regular exercise, it’s a question of that dreaded “D” word again (discipline).

Then, of course, I promised my kids I would be in great shape for summer. No way I’ll deprive us of those sunny days chasing each other around that park with the rest of the happy healthfreaks.

Women

Who? Aren’t they how you got into this mess in the first place? But your issues have nothing to do with women on the whole. You may have legitimate issues with one woman, but that’s where it ends. If you try hard enough, you can develop new issues with any other woman you choose! But before you take that huge step, you need to work on you. You are no good to any other woman — or your child(ren) — before you are good to you.

Now that you don’t have an unhappy marriage or relationship to worry about, you have more time to focus on you.

There have to be things you have wanted to do for yourself, projects you have wanted to work on. Get after them. It will take time to get your head into what you want to be doing, but you have to keep at it. Sooner or later, things will click. When they do, you will be buoyed by your progress. The person you were before things went haywire will slowly re-emerge.

The progression will not be linear. You will have your ups and downs, but never lose sight of who you are and what you mean to your child(ren). Before you love them, you must love yourself, and a man who loves himself and his child(ren) doesn’t have to look for women…they will look for him.

 

Therapy

The break up of a family is absolutely traumatic. No Ivy League school needs to conduct a study to support this. While I don’t compare the emotional fallout in these situations to that experienced by battle-tested soldiers or gangsters, I do believe that a parent suddenly stripped of the right to see their child(ren) whenever they please can possibly suffer trauma on a parallel level.

Suffering in silence is not a true measure of masculinity. Willingness to seek help from a therapist or some other form of support seperates serious dads from those preoccupied with archaic macho stereotypes that just don’t play in today’s world. Suppressing powerful emotions is like plugging a worn tire — sooner or later, air will simply find another escape route, possibly via blowout while you’re doing 75 on the interstate.

Talk the feelings through. Think them through. Roll with them. Work them out. Following these steps not only allows you to move forward with your growth as a person, but it contributes to you being a better, more focused father. What could be more important?

Working with a therapist or seeking support during a time of crisis is not a sign of frailty. Indeed, it signifies a deeper understanding of human nature than men have allowed themselves throughout documented history.

No father is an island.

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