When it comes to medically taking care of ourselves, we Dads still struggle with the importance of going to see the doctor. When I look back at my childhood, it’s difficult for me to remember a time when my Father had a cold, let alone told us about doctor visits he might have had. Like many men of his generation, my Father volunteered to go to Vietnam and like many of the veterans who returned home, he was plagued with various ailments – but you would have never known it while growing up in my house. As a consequence, I learned from that and as an adolescent growing into adulthood, I privately struggled with my own health concerns which caused me years of personal anguish and until recently, severe self-confidence issues. I know I am not the only one that grew up like this and while there could be plenty of different reasons as to why men do not talk openly about their health, the bottom line is, this needs to change.
It should go without saying that as Dad’s, we have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy – not only for ourselves but also for our families. But there are many more layers to that. As Dad’s we are the “gold standard” for our children. It is downright negligible on our parts for us to be healthy, while our children are not. And it is just as negligible on our parts to allow ourselves to become unhealthy, in front of our children. It is bad enough that there is a certain acceptance in this country for men to live unhealthy lifestyles – but as Dad’s, we need to live by a different standard.
But if this is meant to be an honest discussion, then we would be remiss if we did not talk about our emotional health as well. Not to start a pity party, but we dads are under our fair share of stress and for a majority of us, we never had positive examples of how to cope with circumstances in our lives. There are plenty of statistics out there that suggest that we dads are really letting our families down, if not destroying them completely, due to our poor emotional health – our families deserve better! We still have to battle a negative connotation that still exists in this country that seeks to diminish, if not downright demonize, men seeking assistance from a mental health professional. I have experienced this first hand while serving in the military and as a government contractor. Due to the level of my security clearance, I would have been perceived as a “threat” and my career could be in jeopardy, if I consulted a mental health professional. With the increase awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by our troops, I am glad to see a gradual change in perception and our soldiers getting the help they need – but there is still a long way to go for the rest of us.
My father had grave concerns for us when we were children due to his own exposure to Agent Orange and his bouts of PTSD – but these concerns of his were not realized until later on in my life. I am pleased now that we have more communication in this area but we still have a long way to go. This highlights another point. There is an increasing need for us to know our complete medical history – our current health and where we have come from, medically speaking. We need to know what is in our family’s medical history that can possibly effect our children – both positively and negatively. We cannot be afraid of what we might find and our children need to be aware.
Taking all of this into account, how can a lifetime of conditioning be changed? Well, for me, I have sought to change my outlook by going to the other extreme – by turning into a bit of a hypochondriac – but in a positive way. I have taken it upon myself, the moment I feel, see or touch anything abnormal (or think it might be), to either see a doctor or conduct my own research. At times my self-diagnosis can be a little out of control but what this has done is not only made me more conscience of my own health but that of my family – making me a more involved dad. I realize this won’t work for every dad out there but my point is, we have to make a conscious decision to be better in this area. If becoming a hypochondriac does not work for you, then try something else – they are counting on us!
I have had my share of medical issues and I get it, it’s difficult for us men to share that side of us. We are supposed to power through the pain and deal with our health issues privately – but being the example of healthy living for our children and taking care of ourselves by having regular doctor visits, should be looked at as part of being man and an obligation of being a Dad.
So I am publicly making a commitment to myself and both my family and online family, that starting in December, I am going to begin the process of making myself healthy, both physically and mentally and set the tone of health for my family – and hopefully serve as an example to other dads. In the coming weeks and months, I will be updating you on my successes and failures – with my goal to be back at my “fighting” weight and health by May 23, 2013. I appreciate your encouragement, advice and guidance through this journey.
Have you made any recent health changes or discoveries? Has anything we discussed here today change your perspective on men’s health?