I’ve been married for going on 17 years, and one of the best parts about being in a long-term loving relationship is that there are so many things that we NEVER say to each other. After being together for two decades, my wife and I instinctively know all of the little, uncomfortable details about each other that we’d rather not have mentioned aloud.
However, little did I know that when you become a parent, that hushed politeness goes right out the window. No, it’s not my beautiful wife breaking that silence — it’s being a DAD. The harsh realities of being a parent have made certain, previously-hushed-up topics leap to the forefront. Case in point …
I have a dad bod.
I have a miserable excuse of a dad bod.
I turn 40 next year and my body is falling apart.
Big gut, flat feet, pasty skin, patchy hair.
It’s not pretty. It’s not cute. It’s a horror show.
And it’s been going on for a while now.
When I bring this up to my wife, she demurs. She’s been protecting my heart for 20 years, so she knows a delicate topic when she sees one.
But there’s nothing delicate about being a parent. Being a parent is about facing blunt truths on a daily basis. Being a parent shines a light on every hidden corner of yourself, followed by your child pointing at those things that once lurked in the shadows and asking, “But WHY?”
I started to become aware of the public face of my crumbling exterior when my daughter was in kindergarten. I was volunteering in her class one morning, and one of her classmates looked up at me and said, “Mr. Burns, are you fat because you eat too much or is there something wrong with you?”
I paused, considering how to answer. “Probably a little bit of both,” I finally responded. She nodded, indicating that my answer made sense, and moved on with her day.
For starters — OW. Ow, ow, ow, ow.
Rarely had I ever been burned that badly by a child or an adult, but there wasn’t any malice behind her question. She legitimately wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED to me. Why did I look like that? Had there been some kind of accident — possibly at a hot fudge factory? Was I having an allergic reaction to something? Maybe to the giant quantities of food it looked like I ate every day?
That was my first indication of what was to come. I knew that being a dad meant giving up certain things — free time, expendable income, a full night’s sleep — but I wasn’t aware that those things included pride, vanity, or any illusions about my physical appearance.
I’m not in great shape. I’m not a particularly athletic guy, and I can’t fault my daughter (or anyone, really) for calling attention to it.
Now I’m not a total blob. My daughter and I walk and play and are active all the time. We go on trips, we hike. The situation could be a lot worse. But that doesn’t mean that, in my daughter’s eyes, I can dodge the really obvious facts.
I don’t run marathons like Fred’s dad. I’m not as good at basketball as Eve’s dad. I have a much, much, MUCH bigger belly than Sam’s dad. I wear XXL T-shirts. And, yes, sometimes I’ll struggle a little when I’m getting up from the floor after a long session of playing LEGOs.
But it’s not just all about my weight. I WISH that my dad vanity only had to do with my weight. But another scary thing about being a parent is that when you have a kid, people are taking pictures ALL THE TIME. Way more than when you’re childless. And those pictures reveal things that, sometimes, you wish they wouldn’t.
For example, I’m going bald.
Bald, bald, bald.
People always told me that I wouldn’t go bald because my mother’s father had a full head of hair, but those people were DIRTY STINKING LIARS, because the coverage on the back of my head is eroding faster than the polar ice caps.
I hate it. I HATE IT. But it does come up as a topic of conversation with my kid, because the constant stream of parent pictures have made my previously-out-of-sight hair shortage far more obvious than it used to be. A few months ago, my daughter overheard me asking my wife to not post a particular picture to Facebook.
“But why don’t you like that one?” she asked.
In that moment, I had to make a choice about how honest I was going to be. I finally said, “I don’t like how it shows off my big bald spot.” My daughter considered me for a moment, took my hand, and said, “I think you look great, Daddy.”
Which was HORRIBLE.
It was like not being able to find a prom date and having your mom tell you, “I think you’re the most handsome boy at school.” Yes, it came from a sweet place, but the compliment itself was born from such pity that it stung like a slap to the face.
And then, knowing that I was feeling self-conscious about the lack of hair on my head, my daughter decided to point out how I have SO MUCH hair in SO MANY other places. Like all the short black hairs on my nose. Or those patches of hair on my back. Or the insanely dense patches of thick white hair that have begun shooting out of my ears — wild, insane tangles that make it look like Albert Einstein lives in my right ear and Bernie Sanders in my left.
It all just hammered home that there’s no longer a gag order on my aging body. It’s on the table as a topic of conversation, because, when you’re a parent, EVERYTHING IS.
This is what happens when you age. Or, at least, when I age. And, when I became a parent, I gave up my right to hide from it any longer.
Because I’m a dad, I have abandoned my right to be privately vain. I can’t be protected from how I look anymore. By having a child, I have tacitly agreed to hear the harsh truths.
The reality of the situation is, even if I decided to lose 80 pounds, get a hair transplant, and consent to a considerable amount of plastic surgery — none of which I really want to do — as I age, there are always going to be things that I don’t like about my body. But, because I’m a parent, I don’t have the right to hide my body away from the world anymore.
I need to be out there in the world, standing next to my daughter, introducing her to the great, big scary universe in the most open and honest way possible. Even if that means dealing with the shame of occasionally taking my shirt off at the local pool or getting a sunburn on my ever-growing bald spot.
I am a giant, bald, blobby mess of a dad, and I need to own that now. I need to be okay with it, even if, yeah, sometimes, it still stings a bit.
Because what’s the alternative? Not being truthful with myself or with my daughter? As any parent will tell you, that simply isn’t an option. Which, you know, sucks, but it’s just one of those wonderfully ego-destroying things that happens when you decide to have kids.More On