I had a set of those prehistoric early 80’s chain-link braces slammed across my buck teeth and this one zit that rebooted over and over again on my chin. And then, to top it all off, I was overweight. Not a hundred pounds overweight or anything like that, but I was big enough to know that I was big enough to be considered chubby.
“You’re big-boned, hon,” my mom told me. “Some people just have big thick skeletons.”
Ugh. What a crock of hot-buttered crap.
Who says that?
I knew darn well what she meant though — and I knew she was right. We shopped in the “husky” section of Kmart. The sign literally read: “Boys — Husky.”
God, how it all just sucked.
Growing up is hard enough without the extra added bonus of being heavy, but if you’ve never been there then you wouldn’t really know.
And therein lies the twist, because funny as it may seem, after all this time of living with the feeling that I’m not good enough/fit enough/sexy enough/handsome enough/desirable enough/or just plain cool enough, I have finally come to terms with the fact that I’m actually not all that gross, and that I’m probably not the worst catch in the whole damn sea.
It’s pretty wild, I guess, but lately, now that I’m a single dad about to turn 43, I’ve come to realize that growing up “big-boned” actually taught me a thing or two worth knowing.
The worst part of being a certain kind of kid, of being heavy or buck-toothed or super tall or whatever, is how hard you end up being on yourself. Kids shouldn’t have to think weird stuff about themselves. It’s tragically unfair but it happens more often than a lot of parents probably ever realize. Which is why understanding that is probably the coolest brick that ever hit me in my thick head.
When I was entering my teenage years, no one bullied me or taunted me for my weight. Heck, no one even really bothered with me much at all. Oh, I had a set of good friends and we did stuff together and had fun outside of school, but in my everyday school life, I still felt really different from everyone else. Perhaps it was some kind of deficiency in my personal mindset but the truth is that being a bit heavier than some kids made me feel A LOT heavier than everyone.
Over time, that feeling of alienation gradually took over all my thoughts, to the point where it began to gnaw viciously at my self-confidence. And even though I wasn’t morbidly obese or anything, I knew I was husky. And when you’re young and not sure of much, that can be more than enough.
What’s most important to note here, and for parents like myself to understand, is this particular uncomfortable reality: even though I wasn’t all that different from most of the kids in my grade, I came to feel like I truly was.
And no one knew a damn thing about it, so no one ever tried to stop me.
Gradually, year after year, grade after grade, I shied away from even thinking about things like dating. I convinced myself that I was ugly and odd. I was sure that no pretty girl would ever want to hold my hand at the ice skating rink or call me up on a Tuesday night.
I consider myself a pretty sharp dude, and even back in school I was somewhat certain that I was at least a little brighter than a bunch of the other kids. But somehow, any smarts I possessed at 15 or 16 were canceled out by this booming voice inside of me that never shut up.
“Dude, why are you laughing at that kid’s joke?! The whole lunchroom is watching you and you’re freaking them out! Stop flirting with joy, Fat Boy!’
Obviously, it was kind of a nightmare.
Looking back now, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I think I really did myself a world of lasting damage. I was a pretty cool, young kid whose slight weight problem grabbed him by the brain and never let go.
When you love someone like you do your own child, suddenly you are throat-punched by what love is supposed to be. No romance or wild sex can ever bring you there. No Parisian love affair can give you a taste, even though you might think it can. There are a trillion ways to feel love for another person, but there’s only one way that ranks at the indisputable top. That’s the love a parent has for their child. And so, raking all of that kid love in over the past five years, and especially over the last year, when exploding marriage guts got all up in my eyes and hurt occupied every corner of my being, I started thinking about myself. I started thinking about who I had become as a man, and about how I wish I could have maybe loved my own teenage self a long, long time ago.
That would have been cool. Love: Unabashed. Unfiltered. Love without consequence. Love without conditions. Kids are rarely that mindful though.
Moreover, I understand that things sometimes happen for vague reasons, even if they’re not exactly “meant to be” or whatever. It seems as if there is still some room for me to believe that certain trials we live through in this world really do make us better and stronger and more awesome down the line. I really do think that’s what happened to me. I think I went semi-crazy as a young buck because I wanted so badly to be so many things that I wasn’t instead of letting myself ever enjoy being who I was. That lasted a long time. Too long, to be honest.
And I can’t be that way anymore. I’ve hurt myself enough. I really have. What’s the point of punching yourself in the face, you know? Maybe I owe myself a better shot at just being a happy person for a little while.
These days, whenever I see an overweight kid passing me in WalMart or walking towards the buses outside my daughter’s school, I don’t think about how his mom should be watching what she feeds him or any of that useless crap. That’s none of my business. Instead, I grin a little bit and take a second to root like hell for the kid.
I mean, look, after so many years of self-inflicted blues, I’m coming out the other side. And that’s something to root for.
Image courtesy of Serge Bielanko
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