When some people find out that I don’t eat red meat or poultry, they usually give me a confrontational reaction. At the first sound of dietary restrictions, they get into an immediate defensive mode.
Yeah? Well, I love meat. I’m going to eat meat.
They usually end it by making that disinterested turned-up mouth expression like the girl in the Olympics. It’s as if they just scored a point in the whaddaya-eat game. That look changes when I respond.
Good. You’re lucky. Go for it. I don’t care what the hell you eat. Eat your dog, if you want.
And, with that, we balance out again.
Yes. I don’t eat meat. I’m a pescatarian, which sounds pretentious out loud. It’s like when you first get engaged and it feels weird to say “fiancé.” There’s nothing you can do about it, though. It works better than “fish-eater.”
The reason behind my pretentious meal choice is simple. I had a quintuple bypass at 35 years old. It was my first surgery ever and, up until that point, I had always been given a clean bill of health. Following the procedure, one doctor burned a thought into my brain forever:
You ever read in the paper about the perfectly healthy guy who just drops dead of a heart attack at 40 out of the blue? That was going to be you.
That shook me, as the shaken kids say. It changed my perspective on everything. For the first time in my entire life, I pictured a world without me in it. My kids were my biggest concerns.
The narratives of their lives changed in my head. Suddenly, my daughter having a loving father would be something that ended with, “but he died when I was little.” I thought of my son and the emerging challenges he was facing. What would he become? How would my children grow up? They need me for their stories. They need me in their lives.
After my heart attack, surgery, and recovery, doctors sent me home with some vague advice. Since my heart issues had been genetic, it was never fully about my lifestyle or habits. So, in moderation, all would be fine, for the most part. Eat whatever. Just don’t overdo it.
The idea to cut out things like meat was my own. I knew that moderation would definitely slip into consistency and, before long, I’d be shooting cattle at the Outback Steakhouse every week. Once I verified that eating heart-healthy would be to my advantage, that’s what I did. My life changed that day and continues to change every day since.
I still follow that diet and I exercise every day. I’m in better shape now than I ever was and, while I’m not Indiana Jones, I like to do adventurous things. I keep up with doctor’s appointments, ask him about tests that need to be done, and don’t smoke anything. That’s just how I live.
When people ask why I’ve chosen to do all that, I tell them the same thing – I do it for my kids. They smile. Then, they’ll try to add.
Yeah, but you do it for yourself too.
And I say, “Nope. Just for my kids.”
That’s where the story takes a turn. Sometimes I write these things and think, “Yeah. People will relate to this.” Other times I type and say, “What are you doing? This isn’t relatable, weirdo.” This might be one.
My kids are the reason I am who I am today. I don’t say that as an affirmation or applause break for them. I say that as truth.
I know me. Without those little human anchors in my life, I’d be anywhere and everywhere. Depending on which side of the pole I woke up on, I could be living off in a forest cabin, backpacking across the country, leading a faith-healing service, or mixing molly at the club. I’m the type of person who never gets through a mission in GTA because I get distracted running people and stealing an airplane. Live is to be lived.
Backpacking? Living in the woods? Some might be reading this and thinking that these are unrealistic situations for a man in his 40s to be in. They may have a point. The truth is, though, that I never would have expected to live that long anyway.
That’s the truth. The comment from that doctor I mentioned only occurred because I had gone to the hospital after my heart attack. It was the same heart attacks that I had been ignoring for years. I assumed it was just my body being my body. I would never have walked to that walk-in center if it wasn’t for my kids. Visit a doctor? Ask about a pain? Ha! Never. The reason I gave in and did it that day was because my brain insisted, “You’re a dad now. Go. You have to.”
I wouldn’t be here today without my kids. As my life grows and more loved ones enter my world, I want to, more than ever, stay here today and tomorrow and all the days after until I no longer can. If cutting out ribs and steak can afford me a possible few more days, I’ll take it. Whatever I can do, I will.
Being a parent is the biggest responsibility a person could ever have. We’re the most prominent co-stars of our children’s life stories. Who they are and what they become are based on the roles we play in their lives. In many ways, absence is the most profound role of all.
Absence isn’t an option for me. If it happens, it won’t be because I didn’t try. Stay healthy for the people who love you and need you. I am.
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