Standing idly in the grocery store checkout line, my younger son Tanner is captivated by the things that can make people fat, and I’m captivated by the fat people. Tanner intently inspects the rows of mints and sweets, as if they were etched names on a war memorial. I stare at the tabloids featuring grainy images of heavy-set celebrities and newsmakers. Sensational stories of weight loss and post-baby hotness occupy front-page real estate as well.
Eighty-two percent of fathers believe there is a societal bias against dads, according to a Parenting survey. It’s certainly on display here next to the $2 DVDs and Sudoku books: There is not one man being critiqued for his physique. Why are women, and oftentimes moms, the only ones made to feel self-conscious about their bodies? Where is our body image complex?
I put on some serious pounds when we were pregnant with our older son, Jackson. They call it sympathy weight, and boy was I sympathetic. I ate sympathy pizza, drank sympathy milkshakes, and ordered sympathy Chinese takeout. When my wife Brandy went into labor, I was certain they would put the heart monitor on my stomach.
For the nine months leading up to Jackson’s birth, I didn’t hear a peep about my or any other man’s growing girth. Meanwhile, the cellulite of every fertile female on the continent was front-page news.
Tanner’s pregnancy came and went. Brandy got back into shape in a hurry, and I still looked like I slept with a blanket made of African killer bees.
It took me six years, 430 mozzarella sticks, and 1,200 never-even-attempted crunches to realize the simple truth: To be a good dad, you have to be an active dad. Why? Because Dad is the fun one. Dad is piggyback rides, games of tag, and a catch at dusk. But in 2013, sedentary, tech-centric activities are also fun. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. Is it a coincidence that the home computer arrived around 1980?
Fun is what dads do best, and we have to set the tone. A fat dad looks at a playground and sees the park bench. A fit dad looks at the playground and sees a race to the monkey bars in 3, 2...
In a recent interview with Parenting, The Hills star Kristin Cavalleri shared her advice for moms obsessing about their baby weight. “Try not to be too hard on yourself,” says Cavallari. “We need to remind ourselves of the incredible journey our bodies went through and applaud it rather than being critical of it.”
For dads, I say the opposite: Be hard on yourself. Judge each other. Your body didn’t go on an incredible journey; you just had a front-row seat to one. We’re going to have to do this health thing on our own, fellas. Because the tabloids are going to let us off the hook, and Curves isn’t expanding into male franchises anytime soon.