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Fat After 30

December 1, 2010

There was an essential disconnect between what I valued (being a physical force) and what I ate – the very fuel that I used to support the body I used and abused so dramatically. Rather that deal with it, I opted to treat it much like visits to the dentist – if I could function, there was no need to take drastic action like having someone actually look into my mouth or step on a scale.

So in adulthood, I never weighed myself but instead gauged my size by my clothing.  After my height stopped increasing and the clothing still kept getting tighter, I opted to move the goalposts continually by buying larger and larger clothing — until one day a couple of years ago, I realized that the jig was up.  I could no longer pretend that I was just “a big guy.”

My in-denial status should not be too surprising given its genetic precedence.  One of my oldest memories is waking up to the hard and hacking cough that would occur between 6:15 and 6:30 every morning as my father prepared for a new day and was compelled to clear the throat that had been caked in the byproducts of  his Kents from the day before.  He never connected the coughing to the cigarettes until about a year before his death (expedited by emphysema).  So within me was the same capacity for denial that allowed the physical reality of my fatness to be eclipsed by the psuedo-reality of my “healthy eating” and exercise.

Beyond my personal proclivities for wishing away stupid behavior, I’ve encountered others with the same dysfunctional perspective.  In the 70’s, I knew a girl who wanted to quit smoking cigarettes by substituting “6 or 8 joints a day” for her Marlboros.  In the early 80’s, a young woman noted to me that drinking milk would literally kill you, but that cocaine was “really great” (she snorted cocaine regularly – as opposed to milk which, to my knowledge, she never snorted).  Then there were those in the 90’s who believed Ross Perot was the only sane candidate for president and today, a great number of people think reality television shows are “reality.”

Even though I knew I was oversized, I also “knew” I wasn’t eating like a disgusting couch potato (I actually sat in a swivel chair with my feet up on my desk as I watched TV).  There was never a bowl of Cheetos in front of me and never meal-ending pie and ice cream.  I thought I was eating healthfully when in truth I was chronically avoiding the truth of my body.

Just like driving 100 miles an hour in a hybrid car, good intentions don’t overcome bad choices.  Because I’m not brain-dead, once this discontinuity between my values, actions, and results was revealed, it generated a resolve that had a fierce impact on the impasse.

I found out that food was not, in fact, the essential binding material of my day’s bits and pieces of activity, but merely the gloss that I washed over those commitments.  But this revelation couldn’t meaningfully happen as an abstract concept.  The disruption of a fully ingrained lifestyle had to come from an undeniable truth – that I was one fat bastard and I didn’t like it, and the only way to get rid of my accreted lard was to change what and how much I ate.

If I was so highly functional, how could I be so thoroughly irresponsible as to shove so much food into my mouth for so many years that I let my body become a caricature of midlife denial?  What was I not thinking?  At the risk of indulging in psychobabble, it occurs to me that males born more than 30 years ago have several consistent realities that allow for consequence-blind engorgement in our middle years:

Just like my own forbearers, many of our parents thought of children as part of an acknowledged program for social acceptability – not a conscious choice, but rather a requirement for respectability like wearing a hat and wingtips to work.  I remember the words of my mother, leaning over to several adult Boomer females gathered at some holiday fest, “You know, if I’d been in your generation, I would never have had children. . .”  Clearly, a significant number of us were merely the fulfillment of a cultural obligation, and therefore a lot of our upbringings were by rote and parental resignation.

As a result, some of us occasionally gather in sweat lodges, bang drums, and pass “talking sticks” to whine about how our fathers never told us they loved us, or even noticed much else going on amid the Scotch-and-sodas and golf games.  If you doubt this, just watch a few “thirtysomething” reruns.  The benign neglect of our parents forced many of us to overcompensate in a pathetic quest for affirmation and approval by spending the first thirty or forty years of our adult lives kicking ass in the career world.  Given the fact that marriage was no longer determined to be a necessity for social acceptability, many of us deferred getting hitched until our 30’s (or later). With our spousal units equally engaged in full career pursuit, children were late in coming.

But when the consensus to breed happened, it happened with a vengeance.  Like no other generation before us, we have treated our children as sacraments for a redemptive do-over of how our parents raised us.  Somehow our kids would transcendentally fill in the crater of our insufficiently attended childhoods.  Through our offspring, we’d get to use the skills we’d gained in social and careerist conquests to ensure that our offspring would “max out.”  We thus became the manipulators and prime boosters of our children’s proclivities and accomplishments.

So whether it’s spending endless hours picking out the perfect “educational toy” that will reveal our little Einstein’s 210 IQ prior to his third birthday, or making sure that our gifted spawn get on the Travel Team (versus the lame Rec. Squad), to the gaming of the preschool and/or college admissions process, we Boomer parents have expanded our ferocious Me Generation mindset to include the lives of our children.  Given Boomers’ generationally defining history of ego-fulfillment, it was easy to focus our lives on creating the perfect childhood for our perfect children.  And it made us feel virtuous, like ordinary heroes. But for many of us middling males, this meant a two- decade time dump that preempted many other aspects of our lives – like, say, our fatness.

Pulling back, it’s pretty obvious that narrowing my focus precluded perspective.  This is not rocket science, let alone string theory.  Overload creates too many places where ordinary reality takes a back seat to ambition.  Michael Jordan did a KFC ad where he declared that he was good at what he did because he only did one thing “right.”  And he declared that KFC was similarly great because they only did one thing “right” too – in this case a lard delivery system of heart attack trigger mechanisms wrapped in highly salted crispiness. Doing one thing “right” got Michael into the Hall of Fame, but beyond that, baseball and betting were obviously a bridge too far for him, and career, kids and body-consciousness were one too many for me.

In my own case, this all-out ambition for a micromanaged legacy through my children was exacerbated by the lack of any other “hobbies” – when I could no longer coach football, gardening remained and that’s pretty seasonal, especially since I don’t believe in weeding or cultivation. So there was no golf, fishing, NASCAR, sports junkets, alumni events (another ring of hell, especially as a fatty) — just work, kids, and an occasional passing acknowledgment that I had a life partner.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. A E Neyman permalink
    December 7, 2010 12:30 am

    Self realization rants on in Duo’s self effacing diatribe of self denial of self indulgence, now this is about indulgences of one’s self, the actual act, not the reality show…..but help the children out of this, to see you through their own self image……they need you to tell them they are not alone….confident and trusting that will survive folly and foibles….and hopefully escape the cruelty in mankind’s other nature.


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