What We Really Live For: A father learns the true secret of life

At age 48, I came to the realization that the greatest gift I could give my family was to live longer. And that meant getting my health act together.

Part of the reason this dawned on me at this ripe age is simple math.

I first became a father at 40. A short 20 months later, we were a family of four. I knew intellectually that Americans are having fewer children, and having them later. Still, I thought, this is problematic.

My father and mother were in their 20s when they had us kids. Partially because of this, they’re still around. I’m incredibly lucky. They have guided me, they have watched me stumble, as I have watched them stumble. It has not been easy, but unlike my wife and many friends, both of my parents live at the end of a phone. I cannot even theoretically imagine a world without them in it. I’m not that strong.

But with that in mind, in 2013, after eight wonderful, bruising, exhausting years of parenthood, husbandhood, and life, my doctor hit me with the kind of sucker punch that only a great doctor can deliver with compassion. She told me very clearly that I was killing myself.

I was pre-diabetic, my BMI put me squarely in the obese category, and my bad cholesterol was off the charts. Doc told me that I was fat, and that if I wanted to grow old, I should stop being fat.

“No bacon!” she said. Wait, what?

“No sugar in your coffee.” Say again?

“Get off your butt and move! Every day! Preferably in 20 to 45 minute stretches.” Ummmm…

The killer: “Cut back on the bourbon.”

Then she threw down: “Come back in six months, and if you’re still fat I’m going to have to put you on a statin, and start testing your blood sugar.”

I wandered out of the office chastised, ashamed, and resolute. I called my wife immediately. I don’t remember what I said. I only remember what she said: “We can fix this. We can fix it together.”

But my overarching concern was the reality that I would be in my 60s when my kids turned 20. And the doc had just told me that I might not make it. Government statistics say that if I live to be 65 on average, I’ll enjoy another 20 years (84.3 to be exact). And if I do better than average, I can expect to hang on into my 90s.

Still, I’ve got less time than I’ve put in, which is a bummer. I want to hang around my wife for a long time. I like her. And I want to provide the same comfort, and advice, and warmth to my children that my parents and siblings provide to me.

I may be 50, but in my brain I am 25. And if I am completely honest, in my heart, I’m about 8. I need them as much as I ever did as a child.

Knowing you’re on the downside does tend to put things in sharp perspective. From that moment on I decided that my life was no longer my own. My life belonged to my wife and to my children. And I owed it to them to treat myself better.

So I did. It was not pleasant, at first. I can report the following:

  1. Without sugar, coffee tastes differently depending on the kind of bean you put in the pot. It is not supposed to taste like hot cotton candy.
  2. Losing weight is about food. Fitness is about exercise.
  3. Working your core makes all parts of the body work better.
  4. A protein shake for breakfast, and a salad with protein, lasts until dinner.
  5. Though we love them, carbs are the devil.

Two years later, I’m 28 pounds lighter, my bad cholesterol is no longer a risk factor, and my blood sugar is fine. BOOM!

It’s comforting and empowering that I literally added years to my life. I succeeded by making it not all about me. My motivation was an odd combination of selfishness and altruism, as most things probably are.

The world is a scary, exciting place worth exploring.

Being afraid has never been a good enough reason to say no, but having a hand to hold onto as we move through the great life adventure makes everything better.

I want my kids and wife to have my hand to hold for a good long time.

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