Rejecting the Dad-bod: A Comedy

There’s nothing funny to me about having a dad-bod. I reject the cultural cuteness we’ve given it over the past few years. I had a dad-bod before I had a son, but no one gave me a high-five for being so hip and ahead of the curve(s).

If you happened to read my posts from time to time I’ve mentioned that I thrive on proving people wrong. I get joy out of defying expectations. I like taking what someone assumes I should be or do and be the opposite. That has created a constantly-rotating wardrobe, different hairstyles every few months, new music explorations, new book-reading choices, and so on. Whether the drivers are healthy or not, the effects have given me a freedom to be and do whatever I want.

This is how I found myself at a gym, one week before my first son was due, signing up for a new membership — my third different membership since I moved to Wisconsin. When the manager asked what my goals were, “I want to look like a monster,” wasn’t a strong enough metric to monitor progress. He also couldn’t really take my testimony that I used to be in really good shape as a reliable gauge on what I should aim for. But that doubt gave me motivation.

My son was born on a Thursday; my first session with my trainer was the following Monday at 7 am. I hadn’t eaten before the appointment, I hadn’t slept much — as anyone with a newborn could understand. I nearly passed out. I couldn’t get through the 30 minute fit test. I spent the following 33 minutes crouched on or around the one men’s toilet. It was not my best day and not the impression I wanted to set with a guy I was financially and contractually obligated to see once a week for at least two years.

But it got easier over time, as things do. My wife was always home, and so I knew I could go to the gym before or after work, and she’d be with the boy. I started making visible progress. For the first time really in my life, I focused on the lower half of my body and started developing an ass, which I have never had in my entire time on planet earth. Eventually, my wife also got a personal training program with the same trainer, and she was able to go consistently between her part time schedule at work and either of us picking up our son from day care.

Culture makes it seem like the dad-bod is some sort of badge of honor, but here I was getting into the best shape of my life. I was telling people that this is my dad-bod. By Memorial Day, I was finally on the right side of physical strength and wellness. Then shit got complicated.

My wife went back to work full-time and our routines fell apart. One week I needed to be in San Diego, the next week she’s in Texas. Next week we’re both in town but I have band practice. She’s clawing her way back into full-time work mode, so she needs late nights at the office to get caught up from months of maternity leave and part-time work. Oh, now I’m in New Jersey. Now I’m in North Dakota. Now I’m in North Carolina. She’s in Texas. She’s in Palm Springs. Family is visiting. Family is visiting again. The rain finally stopped, we need to do yard work. Nope started raining again, this time causing floods in the basement. Oh, time to travel again.

It’s mid-August and in just 10 weeks, I feel like I’m slipping into that skinny-fat stereotype of bearing a father-body. I stepped up my volume of eating to account for all the gym time, but when my stops at the gym decreased, my caloric intake didn’t. I see love handles, I see a fuller belly, I see saggy man-boobs. Dammit.

After justifying my descent into mediocrity for weeks, I really got into my head about how I got here, and most importantly, how to get back. I don’t know if I have good answers really, but here’s the plan I’ve come up with. First, I need to do it as early in the day as possible so I ensure it gets done. Second, I can’t focus on the perfect opportunity. I have a plan each day to exercise and then I have things happen where my ideal scenario of exercise is compromised and before you know it I’m half-asleep in bed drifting off into tomorrow.

It must be a priority. It was a priority before and life was probably just as complicated (but in different ways) as it was a few months ago. But because it was so important, I found ways to do it consistently. My lesser vices went on the back burner (things like waking up and playing on your phone for 20 minutes can set off a sequence of laziness that derails a perfect amount of time to exercise). I ate better because I knew it was helping me each day. Once it’s a priority, it’s a way of life.

My son is getting bigger and heavier. I need to be able to haul him around, and set a good example. Today was the day I needed to remember how far I had come at one point, and how far I’ve slipped. But I am not discouraged, just delayed. I have a deadline to get to the shape I want to be in. 11/11: Family reunion for my wife’s side of the family. I was telling her that I need to be the most physically impressive man at this reunion so that her family knows the Shermans have strengthened the genetic makeup of our family tree. She laughed. But motivation comes in a bunch of silly forms. And that’s the motivation I need.

Cow Toots and Coffee Cups

With parenthood on the horizon, I wanted to establish a healthier relationship with the planet. My childhood was full of dinosaurs, ZooBooks, field trips through Utah’s mountains, camping, and owning dozens of pets. We owned everything from monitor lizards to cats to scorpions to hermit crabs. As children, we were terrible pet owners, killing more creatures than Ted Nugent on coke. Aside from that, I’ve always had a deep connection to animals, nature, and living within the world instead of above it. My wife found it hard to believe I liked the outdoors, considering that since we met I had basically done nothing physical or spent any time outdoors for the first five years of our relationship. (I’ve gotten my shit together more recently…more on that in a later post). Even if I was indoors though, I was reading about nature, paleontology, and cultural issues with humans and nature.

Over the years I’ve been better able to process how much of an impact I’m leaving on this little hunk of rock hurling through space. Expecting a little one made me want to play a more active role in reducing my carbon footprint than I had over the past 30 something years. If you’re anything like me, at a certain point doing things for yourself isn’t enough motivation. My motivation had to start externally before I could bring it in house. For me, that was my son.

My mission was clear: I want to teach my son how to be a good citizen of the planet by setting the right example. I know I’m not alone when I say that I make so many excuses to justify the way I live. Even with the best intentions, my excuses for not exercising, or drinking to excess, or stressing out about things began to be the standard of living I set for myself. It’s part of my upbringing to justify bad habits, and I want that trait to die with me.

I won’t bore you with all the things I thought about before changing. Instead I’ll bore you with the specific things I changed. The first big change I made surprised me. I stopped eating red meat cold turkey–err cold cow. For the past few years I’ve stuck to a mostly paleo-centric diet. In loose terms, that means mainly unprocessed foods, sticking to real ingredients. I mostly leave out dairy, sugar, and grains as much as I can. Unless I’m doing a reset with a Whole30 program or something, I don’t really obsess about keeping it up 24/7. But for years I’ve been saying that I’d be a vegetarian if I wasn’t so used to eating meat. I mean, meat tastes delicious. I won’t deny that. Even now, if it flies or swims, I’ll eat it. But when it comes to pork, beef, and other red meat, I simply didn’t want to eat it anymore.

Reasons not to be a carnivore: some logical, some emotional. First, it’s never been lost on me that I am eating another living thing. To lack any kind of empathy about the things you choose to kill and consume is to be too far detached from the earth. As ass-backwards as it may seem to me, I think many hunters feel that same way. I’ve never felt that the natural world should be humans, then everything else. We’re the most technologically advanced animal to inhabit earth, but we’re still animals. I’m still divided on whether we’re better classified as apex predators or the worst invasive species on earth, but I digress.

Secondly, and this is probably more emotional, (though I am sure there’s some evidence to support it), cows and pigs are not mindless creatures just waiting to be slaughtered. They aren’t pink slime or the fatty strips sizzlin’ on a griddle. They are intelligent, social creatures. Though I have no intent of owning them as pets, over time I’ve started to lump them into the same category as cats, dogs, or horses. Most folks in our society would never consider eating category A, yet we justify eating category B. I just couldn’t make that justification anymore. Deep Shallow down, I think one day I’ll stop eating chicken, turkey, and some fish as well.

Finally, the single biggest catalyst to dropping red meat is that eating so much meat is just not sustainable for the environment. I’m not going to shove statistics down your throat, because I don’t want to spend the time googling them and let’s face it…facts mean nothing anymore, right? They just get in the way of the argument you’re trying to make.  But here’s the conclusions I came to: cows generate a ton of methane (via toots and poops) and it takes a ton of water consumption to produce beef. Because it’s such a huge market, many farmers focus on growing corn and soybeans as their cash crops because it feeds cattle, pigs, chickens, and so on. Almost none of that corn and soy go to feeding humans directly. Add in runoff from animal waste and it really wasn’t terribly difficult for me to reduce meat consumption. When I do eat meat I try to eat things that didn’t have to travel half-way across the world to get here.

Before you get offended or defensive about anything, relax. I don’t care if you eat meat. You make your own decisions and you raise your own children. Also, I don’t think farmers raising all this meat and cash crops are unjustified in their business. They grow and harvest the things that people will buy. Farmers aren’t these idyllic representations of pure Americana. They are people who need to provide for their families and keep a roof over their head. But until we as consumers give them the profitable opportunity to grow more diverse and sustainable crops, what else are they supposed to do?

So I cut out some meat and never looked back. It’s been surprisingly easy to do. I prioritize vegetables more now than I ever have. I feel that I am exercising my influential power as a consumer. It’s not foolproof. It’s not as obnoxious as demonizing factory farming or as militant as joining PETA, but it’s one way I can do my part to change the world around me. And most importantly, I think it’s a way to raise my son to appreciate and respect the world he lives in. By the end of this year my wife and I will have our own garden and start growing our own food. It’ll save money I assume, but also save the resources needed to ship vegetables across the state or country, and get me one step closer to living in harmony with our blue dot.

As I mentioned, I still eat chicken and turkey. And I really have grown to love seafood. They all meet the same criteria I listed above for reasons to quit red meat. They are living creatures with a sense of pain and suffering. Birds eat cornmeal and soy. Aquaculture has it’s challenges. Admittedly, some days it feels like there’s no way to be a socially responsible meat-eater, but my goal is not to be perfect. My goal is to be a bit better every day.

Room for cream: The second change I made was carrying reusable cups everywhere for my coffee and water. I travel a lot. I drink a lot of coffee. As I shuffled through a single-serve world of airports and hotel lobbies, I really started noticing how much we all consume. Next time you’re in Starbucks, think of everyone in there at that moment, and then everyone that will be in there that day. Then think of how many misspelled names are written on paper and plastic cups, topped with plastic lids and sheathed in paper sleeves. Now multiple that by thousands of Starbucks around the country. Expand that to the other local and infinitely cooler coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks, but still generate the same volume of trash. Think of the many millions of disposable cups used that day. Add in the water bottles. Try to mentally process the volume of trash we created for a cup of delicious damn coffee. I tried, and it just struck me as absurd. It’s so much garbage it’s overwhelming.

I drink coffee every day. I love everything about coffee. I respond emotionally knowingf I’m drinking responsibly sourced single origin coffee from a northern Nicaragua cooperative. I drink that shit up. I spend 20 minutes brewing two cups of coffee in my Chemex because I think it tastes better (it does taste better, objectively). From the ritual of starting my day with coffee, to dealing with the unfortunate yellowing teeth stains I suffer for my habits, I love it. Cold brew, nitro, bulletproof, I love it. Just no fucking sugar and no fucking cream.

I had to accept that I was generating too much garbage. And just because I can recycle the cups, that doesn’t make it okay to just go through them. Just this morning I listened to an NPR story that discusses how we think we’re doing such a good thing by recycling that we actually generate more garbage because we feel like we’ve earned a trash credit by recycling. Recycle 12 coffee cups and get the 13th cup to throw into a landfill!

So I bought a reusable water bottle, a cold brew cup, and a normal coffee canteen. I tried measuring how many cups of coffee and bottles of water I saved by using my own cups. I gave up tracking it after a while, but it’s been significant. Two or three cups of coffee and three bottles worth of water a day add up to a bunch of plastic.  I’ve had to break my own rule a time or two, but it’s so infrequent that when it does happen I actually feel guilty and it just propels me to be more strict moving forward. I’ve noticed that I also pay way more attention to the amount of sparkling water cans and beer bottles our household consumes too. Yes, we recycle all of it, but if we use less than hopefully there will be less on the planet overall.

These are just a couple changes I’ve made mostly due to my son coming into this world and me not wanting to be a hypocrite to him. While I’d like everyone to consume less, I don’t really care what you do. The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past 6 months is that no one can make me the person I want to be other than me. At my age, no one is going to change my behavior but me. But I can still dictate the hell out of my son’s life for the next few years. That’s why we have kids, right?

 

Vonnegut & the Tadpole

You’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. I know this because I have an app that tells me you’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. Your cells, masters of division that they are, are splitting at a furious rate. While you do that, I’ll share a bit of what’s happening out here. You know, I used to ask my parents what they were like before I was born. I’ve never known Norma and Phil: young irresponsible lovers. Their responses were spotty, and it’s understandable. If I had to think back twenty years ago, I’d be able to say I was in 6th grade and that I liked basketball. That’s about all I could give you. So for posterity’s sake, I figured I’d document what life is like for me right now while you’re still a tadpole.
I’m sitting in a Delta airplane in seat 1A. The worst of the first class seats. My luggage is several rows behind me, along with my brief case (it’s a back pack…who am I kidding?). It’s inconvenient. When the pilot finally rings his bell and lets us move about the cabin, I’ll have to stand up and walk to the overhead luggage cabinet to get my computer, while juggling my phone, my headphones, and my free gin & tonic. Where am I supposed to put that free booze for safe-keeping? Next to my single-serve friend in 1B? No. He’s a mouth-breather and brought a hot sandwich on board. 1B sucks.

This is an all-too-real example of the affluent me-first bullshit that you’ll hear me complain about from time to time. I see versions of this when I travel. People in American culture today call those first-world problems. Even as they rest their wide asses in the best seats in the house, some people feel like they were slighted by someone or something.

Your dad (still weird for me to say) flew in first class a lot before you were born because of my job, which boiled down to telling people how to talk to each other and making sure they do the things they were put in charge of doing. I pay for all of this fancy travel on my American Express credit card, which is then paid off by my employer. You may never use or understand credit cards. Who knows? Maybe they will go the way of the checkbook. I’ll have to show you a checkbook sometime. We may need to look online for examples. That is, if “online” is a concept by the time we have this actual conversation. Jesus, how the hell are things going to work by the time you read this?

Where was I? Ah…all these charges and reimbursements on the ol’ AmEx mean I accrue loyalty points. Like XP in video games. Shit, will I have to explain what a video game was to you? Focus, old man. These all add up to certain benefits. I’m rewarded for minimal effort. The lesson here is, don’t be fooled by false entitlement. And don’t assume you can predict how things will work in the future.

I’m headed to San Diego, California. San Diego: the city my mother romanticized when I was a child and the same city where I asked your mother to marry me. Mom was right, it’s a romantic city. I am here for five days to help a hospital change their electronic medical record. The company I work for takes all the different areas of healthcare and makes them work together by using the same software. The company itself is directly responsible for almost everything good in my life, including moving to Wisconsin, meeting and marrying your beautiful mother. This week’s main objective is to discuss the exotic world of medication inventory, or how to keep track of all your shit.

But let’s talk about you. According to my app, you’re a tiny little creature who just this week started developing lungs. Good job, sweetheart. I’m so proud of you. Only your mom and I know about the hard work you’re doing inside her belly. Staying tight-lipped is tough, but we’re supposed to wait a few more weeks before we share you with the world. Right now you’re more reptilian than human. But, just a couple weeks ago you were more fish than reptile, so you’re making your trek along the evolutionary highway. If you grow feathers you took a wrong turn.

Oh, and as for me? Well, I’m just sort of hanging out right now. Up to this point, my main contribution to your existence has been relatively brief. Over the past few weeks I’ve basically taken on your mother’s liquor quota and eaten whatever I shouldn’t. I have an all-access “get disgusting” pass. My young buff body has gone the way of the dodo.* I’m sure I’ll snap into shape soon enough though (I didn’t). I hope you’re working your tail off, literally, to become a healthy human. You’re an adorable little tadpole, but human lungs will serve you better above water.

Keep growing, little nugget.

-Love, Dad


*Little did I know, that my boy’s birth would be the one thing that encouraged me to finally exercise in nearly 8 years.

I. In the beginning, we knew nothing.

October 29, 2015
The sun is high and bright in the South African sky. The clocks say 7 a.m., but I don’t believe it. It’s got to be noon already. It’s our last morning in Cape Town and my wife doesn’t feel well. Struggling to sleep through the all-night house party a floor above us, she’s felt nauseous all morning. This must be it. She’s pregnant. We been trying since our August anniversary and two months has felt like forever. While she hugs the toilet, I’m standing on our small balcony taking in the views one last time. Our street leads up to Signal Hill; a hill much bigger than any mountain in Wisconsin. In the other direction the street descends into a maze of residential roads. Past the neighborhood’s trees sits a vacant Cape Town Stadium.

Black socks, black shirts, and denim shorts lay on the balcony’s built-in drying racks. Stiff and crisp underwear are spread across the patio table. As I fold our clothes to pack for our next stop, my wife is now peeing on a stick. A brilliant idea pops in my head. I start recording a video diary on the balcony. When she walks out of the bathroom, I’ll turn to her and we’ll have documented the moment our family math added up to three. After about twenty seconds I run out of things to say and sights to film, so I stop the video and wait for her to come out. She stays in there for about ten more minutes. Wow, morning sickness must be really getting her.

When she finally comes out, I’m onto new things. “It was negative,” she says, defeated. Damn. “Maybe the hormones just aren’t elevated enough this early in the morning. We’ll try again later today.* Let’s pack up and get coffee and head to the botanical gardens.”

After a walk to Shift Espresso I take us on an anxiety-inducing car ride to Kirstenbosch Gardens. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of a car is about as intuitive as wiping my ass with my foot.^ The gardens are breathtaking and I feel like I’m prancing through Jurassic Park. It’s way more amazing than I expected, yet my ghost-of-a-wife is barely keeping up. I’m taking it personally. “You’re not pregnant yet, and we’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Can’t you just suck it up?”

That I am this disconnected from my wife’s needs reveals a much deeper imbalance with my stress and self-happiness. I am ready to quit a job that just a year ago had been very meaningful to me. This sabbatical is my company’s way of thanking me for five years of work, but it’s my way of escaping and spending their money to do it, with two emphatic middle fingers pointed towards Wisconsin. I deserve this, dammit. Now we’re at the edge of the world, and my wife isn’t feeling well. It’s not fair. (Later that day she’ll spend six hours sweating off a really nasty sickness, and I get the honor of staring out at the ocean alone and reflecting on how much of an asshole I have been.)

We sputter to Kalk Bay for a three night stay at a Nordic-inspired guesthouse. My wife goes up to our room — the Impala room, to pass out. I’m still pissy about the gardens. Self-rationalizing that I can’t help her anyway, I make my way down Norman Road to the Main Road shops. I practically sprint into a bookstore, appropriately named Kalk Bay Books, and imagine owning a book store similar to this one. From the bar of the newly reopened Kalk Bay Café I stare out at the ocean, drink white wine and Savannah cider, and write (the drafts of which you’re reading right now) in my travel journal. I chat with the owners about showing the rugby world cup finals tonight on their newly installed flat screen. Springboks vs. All Blacks. They’ll keep the café open if people will come, they say. I never found out if they showed the match or not.

With a little drunken strut in my step I stagger up Norman Road back to the Impala room. The ten-foot-high linen drapes breathe in and out with the ocean breeze. The crisp cool bedding holds me like a cloud coffin. My wife’s fever breaks like a levy while I’m watching the rugby final from bed. She wakes up in a small ocean of sweat. It finally clicks in my big dumb brain that she’s actually just flat out sick.

I mistook the symptoms for something grander.


*We confirmed again when she took another pregnancy test at London’s Heathrow airport during our layover to Dublin. We were incredibly naive about a lot of things, from symptoms to realistic timelines to get pregnant. Also, why did we keep peeing on sticks? Like it was going to magically change the results from two hours ago? The only thing I thought I was sure of was how to make the babies. But even that took a while to get right. More on that next time.
^I have been writing a lot about ass-wiping, and I think it’s directly correlated to what I have going on in my life right now. It shouldn’t be an ongoing theme. But it may.

Allow myself to introduce…myself.

I’m seven weeks late for the birth of my first blog post. I planned to post this eight days after the birth of my first son. Eight days turned into nineteen. Nineteen days turned into eight weeks. But it’s going to happen today.

You see, I’m really nervous that if these words don’t captivate you now, then you’ll never look at this page again. Your general indifference to me explaining parenthood is really just a microcosm of the world’s inevitable judgement of my value as an artist. If I can’t keep your attention through a few sputtering paragraphs, then I may as well throw all subsequent writing aspirations out with the bathwater.

That paralyzing anxiety and the fear of failing is a motherfucker. That’s why I have to post something.

A lot of shit has happened over the past year as my wife and I decided to have children. I needed a way to write down all of the thoughts and experiences I’ve been having, and what safer space to expose my hopes, flaws, and fears than the internet?

Preparing for fatherhood over the past 15 months has forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in 2017. We’re living in an ever-shrinking world, with one half of humanity hating the other half at any given time, depending on the topic of discussion. Society feels more chaotic and closer to the brink of collapse with each passing day. And we’re choosing to bring someone into it. It’s our responsibility to raise him to be a happy and decent human being. But first, I have to learn how to wipe his ass without getting peed on and make sure he doesn’t suffocate in his sleep.

I want this to be something you enjoy whether or not you have kids or even want to have kids. I don’t plan on referencing statistics, sharing best practices, or parenting methods. What the hell do I know? I’ve been a father for like two months. You can find a bunch of facts and alternative facts and random bullshit all over this wonderful web of information. You don’t need me to add to that mess.

Finally, I have no idea what I am actually doing with this site. So as I grow as a parent and as a writer, so too shall this site. Join the ride. Thanks for giving Something Grander a chance.