Those who know me, know that I have an extremely close relationship with my Father, despite teenage years that can only be described as a frenzied cocktail of yelling, crying, and passive aggressive MySpace statuses. Fortunately, I grew up to realize that having a father who constantly strives to teach me the value and importance of love, understanding, respect, and hard work might seem like a bitch to a 14-year-old . . . but it makes for a pretty good man.
This Father’s Day, I’m going to look back on my relationship with the best guy I ever knew, and my latest challenge to make him less of a man . . . that is, with less pounds to go around.
If there’s one thing about a Gudernatch man, it’s that we are stubborn in our ways and think we know the best way to do everything. And since I was a kid, every Sunday was donuts and Sunny D; in middle school it was whole milk and 20-ounce Coke’s; and as I got into high school I drank less water than a desert camel and ate so many mozzarella sticks I was peeing marinara sauce. So getting my family to focus on health was, let’s say . . . an issue.
It started when my mother was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that causes the enlargement of your heart. She wasn’t overweight, as this illness can easily affect anyone in great health and be blamed on a traveling virus or bad luck in the gene pool. But it would cause some changes for my father that he wasn’t used to. Quickly, whole milk was changed out for skim, burgers were changed out for chicken breasts, and those bottles of Coke became the occasional cans. We were getting healthier as a family.
After my mother lost her battle during my freshman year of high school, we slowly drifted into some old patterns. My Dad and I could polish off a 22-ounce prime rib – marbleized fat and all – in one sitting. There was very little exercise that seemed appealing, and anything other than Easy Mac felt like too much effort when I would get home from school.
Health took a quick back seat to the grip we needed to have on our family.
In college, I played tennis, and got “real” about exercise and nutrition for the first time in my life. It sparked an interest that stayed with me until I was hired to write for Insider’s Health, when living healthy became more than just an idea; it became a passion. Around the same time, the big guy was showing signs of raised blood sugar and pre-diabetes, something that his doctor was quick point out could cause all sorts of problems. The doc’s advice? “The only way to turn it around is to change your lifestyle.” Luckily, he had a son that would email him every article he’d ever read and a daughter that had crossed off gluten, most meat, and dairy for a healthier life. We are also two of the most annoyingly persistent bloodhounds, which… of course… we got from him.
Soon, my Dad and I started trying fun dishes that we could either make together or give notes about over the phone. Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and quinoa were quickly becoming our go-to dishes, while opting for lean pork or chicken.
One thing about the Gudernatch men, giving up meat will just never be an option. But we tried small steps.
I instilled “Meatless Mondays” which worked wonders for both of us. Pretty soon I was realizing I could build fulfilling and delicious meals that could be based around fresh vegetables instead of salty pork products, and we were both ditching the ground round for a pyramid-inspired meal. It led to amazing things for all of us.
My Dad’s sugar got back to normal and the threat of diabetes is no more; I’m down to the lowest fighting weight I’ve been since my growth spurt at the unusually late age of 18; and my sister saves the planet in San Francisco. Now, my brother is making some strides as well, but since he lives to grill meat wrapped in other meat and then stuffed into larger meat, he focused more on exercise and found great ways to work off the extra pounds.
Will this plan work for every family? I don’t know. Ours is a story brought together by tragedy and the hope for more longevity with each other. Your story could be entirely different.
But what I do know is that if you have a support system like I do, anything is possible. The big guy who was always around when I needed him should be around for a whole lot longer. So on Father’s Day this year, it looks like I’m getting exactly what I wished for.
But don’t worry, he’ll get a new golf towel as well. As long as he’s on his best behavior.