n days gone by, I used to be able to wear a tux – and I mean *WEAR* a tux; not in the awkward way a prom-goer wears a tux when he has to put the plastic shoes on for the odd formal event. No, I could wear a tux with confidence and style. When other 20-somethings were figuring out the difference between a cummerbund and a boutonnière, I was bringing sexy back, channeling Connery and Bogart with the classic white jacket and red carnation.
So when the elementary school had a James Bond-themed fundraiser event, I knew exactly what direction I was going. UnDorkMommy went totally Bond-girl in a va-va-VOOM dress, showing off her endless legs with a slit all the way up to her ear, and I went to Men’s Warehouse to rent my trusty standby, the look that had done so well for me many times before.
Formal attire on, grandma babysitter firmly in place, my knockout, Bond-girl wife and I went out for a fantastic night of dinner, drinks, live-auctioning (won the party of 4, behind-the-scenes tour of Pixar Studios thankyouverymuch) and dancing until we dropped. We had a fabulous time laughing with other repressed moms and dads who obviously needed a night out as much as we did. There was a professional photographer on site and I looked forward to getting a great shot of me and UnDorkMommy all decked-out, doing our cheezy Bondesque poses against a cheezy Bondesque background.
I knew I was in trouble when I tried on the tux at Men’s Warehouse and I needed freakin’ suspenders. SUSPENDERS!!!
The pictures came up this weekend, and as expected UnDorkMommy looked *AMAZING*. But who was that guy she was standing next to? That tuxedo-clad, balding, portly dude with all the chins didn’t look anything like James Bond. He looked more like… Alfred Hitchcock (and no, I’m not going to post a picture).
Ultimately I could live with all the self-loathing that comes from the middle-aged metabolism shut-down, but I’ve got kids. I can make all the “King of Queens” and Alfred Hitchcock jokes I want. At some point I need to man-up and figure it out. It ain’t about me.
Specifically, I’ve got a son who worships the ground I walk on. He takes all his social cues from me. He sets his priorities to my priorities. He hangs on every word I say and adopts as many of my mannerisms as he can for his own. Clearly whatever patterns he falls into as he gets older will be influenced in no small way by the example that I set in his life. My wife pointed it out a few weeks ago. Look at the things Episode V’s aptitudes are swinging towards. These are the things he thinks are super cool:
Legos / Science / Comic Books / Video Games / Music / Movies
And where did he learn about these things? Who reinforces the cool-factor for those things? In every single instance, who opened Pandora’s box? Me. And none of those interests particularly involve cardio. For a kid who naturally skews towards the lazy direction, that’s a concern.
If my son’s childhood plays out the way mine did, he’ll be an active kid just by virtue of the realities of being a kid. His parents will sign him up for after-school sports and summer camps. He’ll spend plenty of time running around, doing normal kid stuff, learning life lessons from his father along the way, and he’ll enjoy the 0% body-fat that comes along with a supercharged metabolism that lasts through high school…
…when his patterns are set.
My job as his father is to use that incredibly potent power to influence his interests for good. My fear is that I will unwittingly steer them in the wrong direction. Growing up it never occurred to me that living a healthy lifestyle was something that took a lot of work. My own father was certainly too busy tending to our needs to pay attention to his own, a lesson I learned well from him and have apparently carried into my own parenthood.
And so I have made a choice. I have recommitted myself to being an example of an active, healthy lifestyle for my children. I have recommitted to the notion that no matter what, every single weekend will involve doing something outside, something physical with my children (OK, the golf clubs I got them didn’t encourage much cardio, but it was still outside and physical). But more than that, I looked into my soul and realized how important it is for my kids to see ME being active, eating right, exercising.
So last week I set up the goddamn treadmill in the garage. On both Saturday and Sunday I made a point of announcing to the kids “OK, Daddy’s going out to the garage to exercise” and heaved my fat ass up onto the goddamn machine for a solid 30 minutes of cardio, determined to be a good example for my kids.
And then something happened that I did not expect.
Suddenly I looked over my shoulder and realized that my son was there behind me, sitting quietly in a chair. He was just sitting there with his Jellycat. “Hey buddy,” I said, suddenly sucking it up so as not to let on to the 4 year old in the room how desperately out of shape I am. “You OK?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’m just watching you.” He was sitting there, watching me… watching me setting a good example purely for his benefit.
Who knows if my exercising will plant any seeds in his mind? Who knows if he’ll want to be like me past his 5th birthday? Who knows if I’m doing anything right at all as a parent? I’ve been bitching about being a fatass for years now, and I’ve never been able to find the motivation to do something about it. But in the past it was always about me.
If I can’t do it for me, I have to do it for them.