My father died before his 61st birthday—he was just 8 years older than I am now. My dad smoked too many cigarettes, ate too few proper meals, and enjoyed his beer more than he should have. He was more underweight than over and his once athletic body just gave out from lack of care.
My mother has survived over 30 years without her husband and is still going. The other day, I found myself wondering what it would be like if he were alive today also. I’d like him to see the new life I’ve made and the family that I have. Unfortunately, even if the doctors could have saved him back in ’84, his quality of life would have been miserable. He spent too many years neglecting his health and his body was too broken to ever recover completely. It makes me sad that my children never got to see what a remarkable man their grandfather was.
He was raised in the Depression era to be tough and to push through pain and he raised his children to do the same. The only time I was taken to the hospital was when I broke my wrist—other injuries were handled at home. Even when I sliced open the palm of my hand with a box cutter while working on a bathroom remodel, my dad just closed it up with medical tape fashioned into butterfly bandages. I’m sure it was a cut worthy of several stitches, but I was tough and didn’t think twice about his solution. Skipping the trip to the doctor was normal.
A month after I got married and moved out of the house, my dad played tough and skipped the hospital visit when he pushed through the pain of several small heart attacks. When my mother and his friends eventually forced him to seek medical help, his doctor said these attacks could have been going on for weeks. This landed him in triple bypass surgery, a stroke during recovery, and his last breath just three months later.
Whenever I’m feeling stubborn about scheduling an exam or medical test, I think about Fran Hoctor and how his tough behavior cost us his presence and it kicks me into action. Not always immediate action, as I did put off one or two tests for a handful of years. Stubborn as I am, I did manage to do the right thing and get caught up the past couple of months.
As far as health goes, I’m a blessed individual. I circle all the “no” answers on the “do you have” medical questionnaire list. The issues I have are terribly minor, but enough that the endocrinologist I went to offered some proactive measures with regard to diet and exercise, “Avoid dairy, gluten, and fruit…”.
I have never smoked, I keep my weight in check, enjoy a whisky or glass of wine now and again without excess, and I try to stay active and exercise. As for eating, I try to make good choices. Back in the late ’90s, I was a fast food junkie. I was gaining weight and living off caffeine for energy. Judy convinced me that we should get healthy and switch to a vegan diet, which we did—for about two weeks. Did you know that vegans don’t eat cheese? That was a deal breaker. I love cheese too much and decided that eating vegetarian was good enough. I have no problem making radical diet changes, but I’m not going to be a food martyr.
I’ve worked hard to keep my body in good running order so I could enjoy a long, healthy life. After the nine-year stint as a vegetarian, I was tired of avoiding meat and decided to just eat healthy without going to an extreme. Giving up bread and fruit feels like another extreme and I’m not convinced either is a real health issue for me.
There has to be a balance between maintaining good health and enjoying life. I’ll exercise more, so I can enjoy the occasional pizza or butter-infused French cuisine. I will not sacrifice my quality of life by abusing my body, but I also won’t trade it for a bland existence. I hope I’ve found a way to embrace the gusto my father had in his life without falling into his short-sighted failings. Today, I feel like I’m doing well with my balance.
Here’s to your good health and a life filled with joy, love, and quality. Cheers.