The Difficult Politics of the Daddy Diet

How does a dad preach the virtues of good eating without sounding...preachy? 

I have no desire to get Type-35 diabetes, though I’ve spent the last few years eating as though I did. Between late nights at the theater and a penchant for being a passive-aggressive emotional eater who takes out frustrations of the daily grind on greasy fast food as though it was manna sent from above, my diet could be classified as “not especially healthy.” I wish this was the part where I told you that the birth of my daughter changed my dietary outlook, but that’s fudging the truth a bit. Upon becoming a parent who still spent late nights at a theater, the challenges of child-rearing merely allowed for more French fry eating at 1:30 in the morning.

The struggle, of course, is that bad food tastes delicious and does terrible things to your insides. There have certainly been times I actually felt physically distressed at shoveling junior bacon cheeseburgers down my gullet. Why am I doing this? Then I remembered that sitting there in the car, listening to the radio and devouring delicious horror was my little bit of sanctuary.

‘98 Jeep: conveyance, confessional, fortress of solitude.

Then my wife shipped off to basic training.

To keep us linked, I took up sacrifices that would actively keep her on my mind. One was not shaving (my beard looks awful, thank you for asking.) The other was cutting out alcohol--if she can’t kiss the book, why should I? Unbeknownst to me--because I was still eating poorly--I was losing weight. Wanting to be responsible husband/parent dude, I decided to use this momentum to get back in the gym. And failed. Five Guys was more appealing than five sets. Still as I’ve written and spoken to my wife over the last few months and seen the positive changes being effected in her and myself in this time apart, I’ve decided to give my health another shot. But this time I started with focusing on changing my diet.

The change, in short: way more water, way less sugar, way more food that won’t kill you and can actually spoil after being prepared.

The new diet has been an enjoyable challenge. It hasn’t been a struggle every day, but it has certainly required focus. The thinking and unwinding I used to do while slamming down fast food behind a steering wheel is done above a cutting board with to fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, I totally feel like Eric Bana in Munich. This lifestyle change has given me a chance slow down and take care. While I never let my daughter eat as badly I was eating, this improvement has also given me more time to focus on her and hopefully prevent her from getting Type-36 diabetes. This challenge has been somewhat less enjoyable.

The thinking and unwinding I used to do while slamming down fast food behind a steering wheel is done above a cutting board with to fresh fruits and vegetables.

While my wife has been away, I have been abundantly fortunate to have the support system that I do. My daughter is still at the age where people want to be around her, so there are plenty of people--my parents, my wife’s dad, my sister-in-law, friends at the theater--who are willing to lend a helping hand. As these are people that I trust with my offspring, I have a good sense of their eating habits, which are delicious and often unhealthy. It’s not a mountain of fast food wrappers or anything like that, but the offerings are decidedly (African) American in preparation--a little too much grease; a little too much salt; vegetables that have had the nutrients cooked out of them. I want to say something, but I haven’t found the words.

Food is political, cultural and even spiritual in some cases. If you don’t couch dietary concerns into direct medical conditions like allergies, voiced restrictions are often read as ' bougie' and an indictment of that person’s entire life and how they carry themselves in the world. So it is with great unease that I hazard broaching the subject with regard to what my daughter eats, especially with people who have given so much of their time and heart to being there for my family. How do I address this?

Am I being a wimp as a father? I’m disinclined to beat the drum of diet reform. I discuss my changes, but I don’t feel the need to infringe on others. I simply did what I felt I needed to do for myself.

How do I inform without indicting; improve without infringing?

Geez, I can’t wait ‘til my wife gets back.

Based out of Rhode Island, Jonathan is a writer and is the artistic director of Mixed Magic Theatre.