We’re born, we grow and mature, we deteriorate, and then we die. It’s the age-old cycle of life. When put into a personal perspective, as in my age in relation to my daughter’s, it’s a sobering thought: I am 36 years older than she is. This means that I have completed all compulsory education, undergraduate and graduate school, traveled extensively, had two careers, had my heart broken (and did the same to others), and been married for years before she was born. I have had a full life, already. But now, it feels as if I am seeing the world again—through a different set of eyes; grounded in a different set of priorities.
Back in the day, I could function off a few hours of sleep, get up and drink some coffee, eat a donut, all without slowing down. I could party all night, but I didn’t drink, so I was the designated driver for the crew. As I was getting them all home, I would grab pizza or a sub along the way, wash it down with whatever mutant-colored beverage available, and keep it moving. I had a cast-iron stomach, and the endurance of an Olympian.
The invincibility of youth is amazing, but it fades: the reality of my body’s limits now hit in my knees, the small of my back, my rotator cuff. All the soccer/martial arts/being a bouncer injuries that used to take me a mere week or two to spring back from? Recovery takes much longer now. Much longer.
Maybe they just don’t build men like they used to. My grandfather, loving as he was, was a hard man. He drank, he fought, and he lived to a ripe old age. He never appeared to be sick or injured until he was on his deathbed—most of us had no idea he was sick, until we were called to the hospital. I get out of bed, and I have to inventory all my aches and pains. I need to make sure I’m not going to injure or reinjure myself.
Without my daughter, I would’ve been content with the little gut, the pain from surgeries, and living a dialed-down version of my youth. But I have a child, and therefore a powerful need to be alive and healthy for her for as long as I can.
My trainer put it this way: “No time for exercise, but a whole lot of time for an early death? Handle that, bruh.” Dang.
In our increasingly busy world, it’s easy to deprioritize our health, especially for men. We spend so much time ensuring that our family has what they need, we tend to forget or skip over our own needs. Here are a few things that helped me get back to healthy.
No sugared drinks. Ever. Water, green tea, black coffee. That’s about it. I’m not as militant as I would like to be in this area—I’ve let my weakness for sweet tea take over a few times—but it has had the greatest impact. After two weeks, I noticed a result in how I looked and felt. Never knew how much sugar I drank, until I stopped.
Cook as much as you can. Most restaurants don’t care about your health. They care about using as much sugar and fat as they can to make their food taste good, and turn you into a repeat customer. When you cook, you know what’s going into the food. If your kid is old enough, have them help you. It’s a great way to bond. But steer away from traditional “soul food” and try to find healthier alternatives.
Go to the doctor. Yes Black man, I’m talking to you. Take yourself to the doctor annually for your physical. I hadn’t had a physical in years, and when I went recently, they caught something that could’ve been a significant health risk later in my life.
Exercise. I’d argue (if you can) spend half your time formally working out (the gym, playing ball) and the other half playing with your kid—if they are the playground age. While my daughter is playing, I’m doing pull-ups on the monkey bars, or dips on the bench. Also, playing chase is great cardio.
Being healthy is one of the most important assets in our parenting. Eating healthy food and engaging in regular exercise should be a family value. Many of us have religion, education, and/or the arts as the bedrock of our families. There’s no harm in throwing jumping jacks and some kale up in there! Move more, eat better, live longer.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.