Most parents have any number of things they want to instill in their children. Caroline and I are no exception. And one thing we hope to instill in our 9-year-old girl is a positive self image. The last thing we want for her to do is to strive for a nonexistent brand of perfection by conforming to an unrealistic notion of beauty espoused by a society which regularly becomes enamored with clowns like “The Situation.” We want her to know that the most beautiful thing she could ever be is herself.
So, to that end, we try hard to keep even the most innocent of superficial comments to a minimum. We’re not naive enough to think that she won’t reach her fair share of superficial conclusions with the help of the outside world. But we try to show by example that we’re not overly concerned by the way things look. We want her to know that what’s far more important to us is the way things feel.
Caroline and I are both pretty big on exercise. Particularly Caroline. At 41, she’s as fit as anyone I know. She eats well, and she also enjoys a healthy diet of activities that keep her in tip top shape. Even at 21 weeks pregnant, Caroline still gets her heart rate up several times a week via regular workouts.
Though I’m big on staying fit, too, I’ll be the first to admit that my commitment has slipped a bit through the years. In my 20s, I worked out constantly, in part by training for marathons and going on frequent hikes, including the time I climbed Mt. Rainier. Though I wasn’t as obsessive in my 30s, I still managed to get plenty of exercise. But as I inched closer to the big 4-0, my commitment began to slide. Between work and the demands of a large family, I found it harder and harder to stay in shape. Besides, I rationalized, I no longer had as much time to dedicate to my physique as I once did.
And in some ways, I was right. But that was still no excuse for me to mail it in.
Fortunately, I have one major physical activity I engage in on an annual basis: backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail. And there’s no way to carry a 40 pound pack up and down the series of hills that carve their way through the mountains for up to 20 miles in a day without being fit from a cardiovascular standpoint. So every year, I’m forced to bone up for it.
Sadly, however, each year, I fall off the bandwagon shortly after these exhausting tests of endurance — but never more so than last year. And by the end of December, I was heavier than I had ever been.
So this January, I decided to recommitted to exercise. And I’m happy to say that well into March, I’m still on track. It’s been quite sometime (if ever) that I’ve done a better job with my diet. And I’ve also managed to work out at least four times each and every week (barring one, that is, due to illness).
But I had let myself go so far, that even with my newfound (or re-found) commitment to fitness, I’m still a bit off from where I’d like to be. As of this post, I’m clocking in at just under 170, down over 12 pounds from my peak in December. But I still have 8 to 10 more to go before I reach what I would consider to be an ideal weight for someone my height and build.
The other day, my daughter caught me examining myself in the mirror after a run.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Oh nothing,” I answered as I reached for my shirt.
“I know what you’re doing,” she answered with a smile. “You’re checking yourself out to see if your belly is getting smaller.”
Neurotically, I was tempted to ask her what she thought. But instead, I took it a different approach.
“You know what? You’re right,” I said. “But I shouldn’t be doing that.” I explained that I had gained a bunch of weight over the holidays and that I’ve been working hard to lose that weight. “But not so that I look better,” I answered, fully aware that I was fudging a bit. “But so that I can be more healthy. And one way I know I’m more healthy is if I continue to lose this,” I concluded as I pointed to my, um, Homer Simpson.
She’d noticed that I had stepped up my commitment to fitness. And after our little chat, I think she better understands why, despite having caught me in a vain moment. It really is driven by a desire to be more healthy. But I’m also a 41-year-old man who, in some ways, is trying to hang on to his last shred of youth — one who wants to ditch the 34s and get back into the 32s that have been hanging undisturbed in my closet for far too long.
The good news is that I’m getting close. The bad news is that sometimes I forget that feeling good is way more important than looking good. And if I keep forgetting that, I’d be doing myself a disservice. But worse, still, I might just be doing my daughter a disservice, too.
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