On Being Fat

This is the most difficult post I have ever written, and it faced a lot of internal debate if it would ever see the light of day. Everyone has their own temperament.  Some wear their lives on their sleeves; others keep their personal feelings under a bushel basket.  I have no problem sharing my feelings, but I have issues sharing my vulnerabilities.  Others can exploit vulnerabilities, and I like to feel safe. In addition, being transparent can expose me to the judgment of others.  Frankly, I don’t like to be judged. So why am I writing this post?  Because it’s time.  If you can’t accept me for who I am, then it is best that we part ways.  If you can accept me for who I am, I will reciprocate.  I am not an Instagram kind of guy; I’m a real person. 

I have said less than flattering things about my dad and my relationship with him.  My dad was not an evil person; he was just flawed.  I’m sure he had hidden insecurities during a time when men were supposed to be invulnerable.  I’m sure that I disappointed him in many ways.  I was not a typical kid.  I always was different, odd. I was interested in how the universe was formed when I should have been interested in playing baseball. I was sensitive when I should have been tough.  I was fat when I should have been thin. I was not a 1960s poster son, the kind of kid a dad could brag on. Sorry dad.

My father met my oddness with anger.  He never hit me; his anger was expressed in harsh words and a lack of interest in me. As a child, I felt this was normal and deserved his judgment. There was truth in his statements; I was an embarrassment to him.  By the Grace of God, I was given an alternate view of myself from other adults who seemed to value me and celebrated my oddness. Their enthusiasm for me far exceeded anything that I deserved. From nuns to teachers, there was a consistent message.  I was different, but that was amazing.  I was special.  I thought outside of the box.  God had plans for me. These good people saved my life and made me realize I had value. I now know of an additional force that propelled me away from a negative concept of myself-and that was anger. It feels so odd to admit that, as I am a person who rarely feels angry.  However, certain situations can turn it on; I can move mountains when that happens.

I long ago accepted who I am.  In fact, I used my differences to my advantage.  These “negatives” became gifts that gave me a life I never could have imagined as a child.  

 However, one part of my life still gives me great shame.  So much, in fact, I sometimes have to force myself to be around people.  Long ago, I committed to never allowing my fears to control or determine my life’s trajectory, but it is work for me.

Everyone has differences, but those characteristics can be hidden in many cases. However, some differences are impossible to shield. If they are of the socially acceptable type, they are often ignored. But our society still has taboo characteristics that welcome mocking and judgment.  Unfortunately, I possess one of them.

I was average weight until about 5th grade, then something happened.  I started to gain weight.  I don’t recall any changes in my eating patterns, and I believe that, in part, it had something to do with puberty.  In short order, my weight had increased by almost 100 pounds.

You can only imagine the torrent of shaming comments that I got from my dad.  I won’t repeat them in this post because they still create hurt and sadness in me. I was disgusted with myself as I was now wearing my differences in direct view.  In grade school, I taught myself to temper excitement about my interests when interacting with others.  I could fake being “normal,” and people would accept me as such.  However, there was no deception for being fat.  It was out there for all to see.  I was wearing a giant billboard stating that I was a freak of nature.  

Beyond family, I don’t recall others criticizing me for my weight.  I have no memories of kids teasing me about it.  They seemed to accept me for who I was and even liked me.  I wasn’t one of the super popular kids.  However, I was part of the pack and even had a bit of status being the “kid who knew everything about science.”  However, in my heart, I felt like a fake who was about to be discovered.  My obesity made me a bigger target for my dad’s displeasure with me, and for once, I thought he was correct. I hated myself when I looked in the mirror. Why couldn’t I just be normal?  Why did I have to be different? I couldn’t act the part of a skinny person; my weight signaled to all that I was odd.

In 7th grade, I decided to do something about my weight, researched the topic, and started a weight loss program.  I’m not a person who does something by half measure, and I lost weight and became the family weight loss expert.  Aunts and uncles would take me aside to learn my secrets, and I enjoyed a celebrity moment. Unfortunately, over a few years, the weight came back. I tried my old techniques, but they didn’t work as well, and I had to adopt new, more stringent strategies.  I lost the weight again but regained it in a couple of years.

This cycle has repeated itself numerous times—I had to adapt and try new techniques each cycle.  I have been on multiple diets.  I have joined every major food plan, I have purchased prepared meals, I have taken over-the-counter supplements, I have used prescription meds and had medical interventions, I retained a personal trainer, and I have worked with a dietician.  

I am dedicated and reliable, and those characteristics have been utilized in my weight loss efforts.  However, my cyclic pattern continues as it is impossible for me to sustain a starvation-eating pattern infinitum. Eventually, I weaken and slowly regain.  

I thought I had finally reached a point where it was impossible to lose weight, but around 5 years ago, circumstances allowed me to lose a considerable amount of weight.  But, once again, I regained. Now, I have to deal with shame one more time.  “What will people think of me who saw me thinner and now see me fat?”  It makes me want to avoid people.  I can’t let that happen.  

As in most of my writings, I scribe this for my kids.  Not only that they know me better, but to also help them deal with any differences that they may see in themselves. I also write it for any others who may be reading this. Can you accept me for who I am instead of what I look like?  If not, OK, but let’s not pretend we must be buddies. 

In this regard, I should accept myself.  I would like to, but pounds continue to creep up unless I actively work on losing weight.  I do not know its endpoint as I have never allowed my weight to stabilize. I like to be active, and I want to be healthy, and these facts motivate me to control my poundage-however, unsuccessful I may be. 

Strangely, there are some positives to my dilemma.  I know what it is like to be judged for something that has little to do with who a person is.  Some people will see me from afar and instantly form a negative opinion of me. Their preconceived notions will become solidified to a level that I will never be able to break.  To be judged in such a superficial way is cruel and unfair, but it is a fact of life.

Those who know me know I’m committed to not judging others based on any superficial identifier or single characteristic.  Race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identification, so many people instantly reject individuals based on these criteria.  Such superficiality seems insane and unnecessary to me. Why do we need to do that?  I say this as a person who was judged for being different.  Yet, a person who has contributed to society.  A person who has never intentionally hurt another human.  A person who has value.  I am not alone.

If you have gotten this far in this post, I thank you.  I wear my differences directly on my body. I can not hide.  Accept me for who I am. If you can’t, let’s be honest and talk about it.  Get to know me. Love me, and I’ll love you right back.  I will celebrate your differences.

I didn’t have a weight problem as a young child.
After losing weight my first time around.
I met Julie after another diet.
Early grade school. Then I started to gain weight.

On Being A Father

I have a confession to make; I never wanted to have children.  This statement is accurate, and I had my reasons.  Growing up, I was told that children were burdens, specifically that I was a burden. My personality was also inconsistent with parenting as I knew it.  I’m not a person who dictates by shame and insult; my personality is the exact opposite of that.  I felt that I didn’t have what it takes to parent.  No benefit and no skillset; not having kids was the logical choice.

The logic of teenage Mike does not reflect the feelings of adult Mike, so what happened?  One word, Anne, my oldest child.  Ann was a surprise in a troubled first marriage, and I was terrified.  However, something happened when I held her in my arms for the first time, my fears melted away, and I knew that I was up to the task.  I could not parent how I was parented; like so many things, I would have to figure it out for myself.  

I saw my parenting goal as singular.  It was to raise my children to become successful adults.  I love my kids absolutely and would do anything for them.  However, parenting is the job of raising children, which is much more work than being their pal.

You may be confused about what my identifier “successful” means, as the term has a specific connotation for many.  Let me define this further.

Does successful mean reaching monetary wealth?  No, wealth is fine, but money alone does not correlate with a satisfying life.  Success in this regard means having enough money to live comfortably.  In other words, to live a normal life without the constant worry of debt. 

Does successful mean obtaining a high-level job or career?  No, it is wonderful to have a job that interests you; however, a title by itself does little.  In my psychiatric practice, I treated many individuals.  The group that was the most dissatisfied with their lives were lawyers.  Many of these individuals made a great deal of money but hated their jobs and the climate they worked in.  I’m sure some lawyers love their job, and I mention the above to illustrate that title and money are not enough by themselves. 

Does success mean having a high level of skill or education?  Anyone who knows me understands that I value knowledge.  However, knowledge alone does not equate with either success or happiness.

Longitudinal studies have all indicated that individual happiness depends on connections with others.  However, the happiest individual does not have the most Facebook friends.  Each person has their own discrete need for connectedness.  Person A may need one hundred connections, while person B may need two. Of course, some individuals are happiest completely alone, but that is the topic for another post.  Most of us need some sort of healthy connection with others.  Single people can have wonderful connections, while some married individuals have terrible connections. It is all about the quality of the connection, not the type of connection.

Healthy connections can only happen through bilateral cooperation.  How many individuals expect the other connection member to meet their needs, or how many co-dependents assume all responsibility in a relationship?  

A sense of self is critical.  Self-esteem doesn’t mean that you are some sort of narcissist.  It means that you believe in your abilities and understand your limitation.  It implies that you know that you have equal worth with every other human on this planet. It means you can say no to demands you deem inappropriate.

Realistic confidence parallels self-esteem. I’m not referring to“participation award” confidence. I’m talking about the confidence achieved not only by success but also by coping with failure. Another term for realistic confidence is resiliency.

The ability to empathize is critical.  Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is understanding someone from their perspective rather than only your experience.

Kindness is mandatory.  Kindness is not a weakness; it is a strength.  Kindness allows you to extend yourself when it doesn’t serve your needs.  Kindness is an active process and very different from co-dependency or martyrdom.  Kind people can say yes, but they can also say no.  

Cooperation is required.  The ability to cooperate with others is needed in all relationships.  Those who have to win at any cost are isolated and alone.

Basic skill sets are also necessary to function in the adult world.  There is no job beneath any person. If a toilet needs to be cleaned, the successful person knows how to do it.

An appreciation for our role in the greater universe is necessary.  We all have a voice, but there is something greater than ourselves.

Accepting that everyone must be a steward to each other and our greater world is necessary for balance. We are not islands but intimately connected to others and our world.

The above qualities place someone on a path to a successful life.  Naturally, many other factors intrinsic to the person and external to their lives also contribute to one’s overall well-being. Personal health comes to mind.

All of this brings me to thoughts of my children and what an incredible blessing they are.  I have tried to be a good parent but can’t take full credit for their identity. My tireless wife, other adults, and my children’s friends have contributed to who they are.  Importantly, their own genetic constitutions impact them.  This last fact is beyond a parent’s control but likely as important as any other factor.

My kids are now adults, and I have witnessed them as such during this crisis time of Julie’s illness. I could give many examples, but the most immediate are those from today.  Our family has a tradition of making special days special for the honored individual.  My kids participated, but Julie or I have always orchestrated the actual process.

Today is Father’s Day, and Julie remains in the hospital.  This has been very stressful for Julie, myself, and our kids. Despite that, my Father’s Day celebration is in full swing. My kids baked homemade cinnamon rolls for me this morning and brought me breakfast in bed (a family tradition).  They asked me what I wanted for dinner and are preparing it as I write this.  

We visited Julie this afternoon, and everyone pitched in so we could take her around the beautiful Marianjoy gardens.  They knew I liked hiking, so we drove to a forest preserve for a family hike. Each of their actions required planning and execution.  Each required empathy and kindness.  Each needed cooperation and compromise. Each required a variety of skills.

At the moment, I’m staying out of their way, but I can hear their excited conversation and laughter emanating from the kitchen.  

This best Father’s Day is a present to me well beyond cinnamon rolls and cornflake chicken. My children are successful adults. They have taught me how to love. My pride in them is colossal.  My love for them is beyond limits. What more could I want?

Happy Father’s Day

A breakfast fit for a king.
Breakfast in bed.
Visiting Julie.
A hike in the woods.
A world filled with life.