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How Men Fall Apart

It’s Wednesday and I’m flying fast toward the weekend. On Monday I wasn’t sure this was going to be possible. After 5 days (including most of Father’s Day) of holding down the family without the wife, I was dead tired. My superhero juice was gone and as 10% of my daily commute involves walking, I just didn’t think I could do it. With the weak dollar and the warm weather, the streets are completely clogged with international tourists. Add to this congestion all the working stiffs like myself, who just want to get home, and walking down NYC sidewalks at rush hour is no different than navigating a minefield while having someone shoot at you.

Each day I cross two major intersections on my way to Grand Central Terminal --- 34th and 42nd. Standing on the corner of 34th and 6th at 5:20 on a Monday afternoon waiting to cross the street, I was faced with what looked like a solid wall of people that stretched at least forty feet wide. This didn’t make me wanna holler. It made me want to scream. It made me want to put on a gold titanium alloy battle suit, turn on my rocket boots and fly the hell away (à la Tony Stark/Iron Man). I figured I’d land on the south coast of Barbados, figure out how to take off the suit, and float on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, buoyed by saltwater, as I did the morning before my wedding. I’d send a plane for the wife and kids and hang out there indefinitely.

And then the light turned green and the little walking guy changed from orange to white.

As I hustled to the train, I thought of a friend of mine who was surprised to hear how much I traveled on foot.

“You got the stamina for that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, plainly.

“He patted his slight paunch and said, “C’mon, man you gotta start putting on that steak weight.”

I laughed and then deadpanned, “Never.”

The last time I worked out in a gym were in the days leading up to my wedding. Back then I’d spend at least an hour, three to four days out of the week lifting, doing cardio and staring at myself in the wall-to-wall mirrors. The year before my daughter arrived, I spent nearly six months in an outdoor, exercise boot camp, rising at five thirty in the morning to reenact scenes from An Officer and a Gentleman, with the Officer being this 50 year old Panamanian psychopath named Mauricio. To his credit, he got me in best shape of my life. I lost eleven pounds (I wasn’t trying to lose weight) and I had a six-pack.

Why, you might ask, other than to satisfy my ego? That same year in 2005, I underwent a surgical procedure to be “cured” of a case of low grade sleep apnea and a whole host of sinus issues that had been plaguing me for most of my life. After my recovery, my surgeon had a simple caution for me:

“Stay in shape. Don’t get fat.”

And I haven’t, nor do I intend to.

Currently, my Achilles Heels are my work/life balance and French fries. But I do my best to keep the pounds off. I get up at six, most mornings, do a round of push ups and crunches, walk part of the way to work, drink water all day, walk for at least ten minutes after I eat lunch and walk part of the way home.

I’ve watched and listened to several men and fellow fathers complain about how they are falling apart physically, cracking fat jokes at their own expense, but seriously complaining about new and unexpected health issues. They ask me how I do it. By it, they mean: looking almost the same as I did in college. I don’t have an answer. I bumped into a frat brother at the Big Apple Barbecue Festival and he told me when first he saw me he sucked in his gut. I didn’t know how to respond.

Other than a small band of fat that has collected along my lower back over the past eighteen months, I do my best to stay fit and trim through a semi-proper diet, toting around a 35-pound baby and all that I mentioned before. Someday soon, I hope to be able to carve out enough time in my day to get back on a regular fitness regimen, get rid of my “back fat” and return my fitness fanatic self. My wife thinks Fitness E.Payne is a nutjob. Oh well! Ask her if she enjoys the fringe benefits and she nods with a lusty grin.

I don’t believe being married or being a father or even having a busy schedule is justification for letting yourself go (if you were in decent shape to begin with). This is a stigma of the two institutions that had me spooked and contributed to my commitment-phobia for years. But on my own, I decided that this wasn’t going to be my fate. I enjoy being strong for my kids so I can wrestle with them, chase them around, and in my daughter’s case, carry her up and down three flights of stairs to my apartment everyday without incident. I don't want my health to be the reason I can't live a full life with my family and for myself. You never know when you're gonna go, but I don't need to help things along by being negligent with myself.

So I ask the question: What is it about married life and fatherhood that causes men to fall apart? What has us believing this is to be expected or even acceptable? What could/should be done to change this?

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