One of my favorite pictures of my daughter was captured by luck. It was a pleasant accident. We were at her grandparent’s home, in rural Indiana on a warm July evening two summers ago. The air was filled with the rich smells of late summer blossoms and the early evening yard darkened, filled with the blinking of fireflies. My daughter, armed with butterfly net in hand, ran into the swarming darkness of the hill near the pond out back, from one flash to the next, in an attempt to catch them, sometimes lucky and sometimes not. The picture was taken in total darkness with a flash that at the moment the photo was captured lit up the backyard. For a moment after every photo was taken, I briefly had to stop until the white flashes in my eyes disappeared. Afterward, I reestablished my daughter’s ever changing position, and ran off toward her. I imagine it is a lot like being a bird in a swarm, shifting right, shifting left, but all in unison. I did my best to adjust my position to whatever angle, seemingly at random but with greater purpose, she was taking to stay in unison with her. I caught brief glimpses of her as she ran out of the darkness, close to me, past me, and into the darkness behind me. Orienting her position by the sound of her glee and laughter was more effective than attempting to see her. The photo I captured was of her, net in hand, smile lighting up the night brighter than the camera flash, and her hair streaking behind her as she sprinted toward the next firefly. It is a good representation of my daughter’s grace and energy. It is difficult to keep up with her on the best of days and downright impossible on the worst of them for me.
Recently, I have been looking in the mirror and considering my expanding waist line. I’ve always been “big-boned” or perhaps you prefer “husky”. Let us just cut right to the chase, I’m overweight. For the past few years, since my daughter’s birth, I have slowly gotten heavier. Every year it’s a bit more on the waste line. A few more belt notches or maybe, like this last year, buying a bigger belt all together, which was, I must admit, a low point. Recently I’ve been riddled by a question with which I am really struggling, and I presume that more men, particularly father’s, are struggling with or have struggled with. Does my increasing weight decrease my ability to engage with my child? Am I a bad dad because I am allowing myself to get fatter? Can I, and will I, still be able to keep up?
There are, of course, many factors to consider regarding being overweight: physical, mental, and spiritual health; body image; shame; disability; discrimination and reduction in quality of life. This does not even mention the struggles that larger people realize and normal weight or underweight people do not. Normal weight people do not worry about taking a plane or finding a chair that will carry their weight. Until this past December when my spouse and I took our daughter to WinterFest at Navy Pier for her birthday, I had never considered my weight when contemplating riding a carnival ride. I was hesitant in getting on the Ferris Wheel. I have had to make a comfortable investment over this past fall in updating my professional wardrobe by purchasing some new suits and shirts because my old attire does not fit comfortably. It’s difficult walking into a store and wondering, will they have a dress shirt in my size, while knowing full well that if I was three sizes smaller, I’d have thirty potential options for purchase immediately at my disposal. I know I am not alone in this struggle and yet I also know, we often feel that way. Accepting that I am overweight, accepting that it is getting in the way of my quality of life, is a practice in ego reduction and shame.
For me, your weight is a question of comfort. Am I comfortable being this size? If you are comfortable with your size, I applaud you, whether you are bigger or smaller. Of course you can consider your body weight index, but there is research out there suggesting the unrealistic nature of that for some of us, with our size. I have; however, throughout my life, been larger than what my BMI recommends. There are pictures of me from college, my sophomore year, when I weighed my least, and I look gaunt, tiny, and according to the BMI chart, I was still ten pounds overweight.
What I have focused on lately is all related to being a father. Is there a health risk to getting larger that affect my ability to be a good father and is my size getting in the way of my ability to be physically engaged with my daughter? I am sorry to say, to both of these questions, that the answer is indeed “yes”. I suspect that I am not the only father that answers these difficult questions with a “yes” and that is a scary thing for us, or it is for me.
According to the CDC, the top two leading causes of death in men is heart disease and cancer. This statistic goes across all racial boundaries for men, as either number 1, or number 2. Both of these diseases, though not solely caused by, are shown to have increased likelihood among overweight men. As I delved deeper into the statistics, the urgency of making changes increased. Beginning at the age of 45 and continuing, these two diseases are the top killers of men across all levels. I briefly consider dying at the age of 45 years, that’s ten years from now, and I weep. My daughter will not even be out of high school, most likely not even in her senior year. I begin to consider all the milestones in her life for which I would not be present, and I weep.
Over the next year I intend to explore the intersection between fatherhood and wellness in my posts. Wellness is not simply limited to physical measures, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. It encompasses not simply personal, but also professional, family, and community issues, and is worth considering because it affects the time we spend with our family, with our children. Making the most of the time we have with our kids means making the most of ourselves as fathers.
Resolutions be damned. All the motivation I need to keep in front of me is that I can improve my health, potentially increase my lifetime with my daughter, and when it calls for it, get down on the ground and crawl without pain, sprint after her without getting winded, and get on the Ferris Wheel with her without fear of catastrophe or structural collapse. I need to keep up to assure I can capture those unexpected moments in her life. For me it’s about comfort and there is nothing more comforting to me, as I enter the New Year ahead, than knowing that I will be increasing the likelihood of a long life with my daughter and spouse.
Photo Credit: Quinn.Anya via Flicker