Sunday, March 30, 2014

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The 30’s Hit Me Like a Stick of Butter



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In Steve Martin’s memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, he asked himself this question after discussing the women he slept with in the ’60s: “Were they beautiful?”
His answer was, “We were all beautiful. We were in our twenties.”
I recall laughing at what Martin said, not because I thought he was right, but because I thought he was being facetious. I was 24 when I first read Martin’s memoir, and at the time and I knew lots of people in their twenties, and not all of them were attractive. Some of them were fat. Some still had acne. Some of them smelled bad (the hipster thing was just taking shape, so a lot of my friends abandoned showering during this time). Some of them were too short, or too tall, or just flat out funny-shaped. At the time I felt I had a good handle on what was attractive and what was not. In fact, I thought I had a good handle on a lot of things: money, marriage, school, politics, fatherhood… life. I thought my values were in order. My life had a hierarchy:
1.     Look good.
2.     School.
3.     Family (Sadly this hierarchy stayed in place until Tristan, my oldest, was probably two years old. It took be awhile before I could really figure out my priorities.)
I enjoyed telling people what was cool and what wasn’t. What had intrinsic value and what didn’t. In my 24 years, I thought I really understood life and what it had to offer, and I was more than willing to share my years of wisdom with the world.
At that time, I didn’t really think that I was all that attractive, although when I look back at photos from this time I realize I wasn’t half bad. And now, at age 31, when I look at others in their twenties, I start to understand what Martin was talking about. They all seem so young, lean, and attractive. Their hair doesn’t have grey in it. They can run without growing weary, make yoga pants seem socially acceptable outside of the gym, and eat a whole Totino's Party Pizza without becoming gassy and irritable a few hours later.  
The really funny thing is that I listened to Martin’s memoir on audio while running at the gym. This was before I messed up my knee in a mosh pit and couldn’t run anymore. It was also when I had a 32-inch waist and a 42-inch chest. I recall feeling bad about the way I looked because my abs had begun to flatten out, and I couldn’t see a muscle vein in my right shoulder anymore. I even told Mel a few days earlier that I was fat.
She rolled her eyes and told me to shut up.
The fact was, in my twenties, I really didn’t like the way I looked. I spent a lot of time trying to better myself. I lifted weights three days a week, did cardio two days a week, ate small meals every two hours, abstained from anything white: sugar and carbohydrates, that sort of thing. I ate lean organic meat and drank protein shakes.
I saw this stage in my life as a rebirth of sorts. I wasn’t much into physical activity as a teen. In fact, I’d never run a mile until I was in my 20s. I was taking time to get healthy and look good, but what I didn’t realize is that I was spending a lot of time worrying about myself. When I look back on this stage in my life, I often feel selfish. There was a lot of time that I could’ve spent more time focusing on my wife: taking her out or working more hours so she could work less, but instead I spent that time at the gym.
I also got into the bad habit of judging people on the way they ate.
At the time I worked at the Olive Garden as a bartender (Ironic. I know… I was a Mormon bartender. It sounds like an anti-semitic Jew or something). I recall watching a thirty-something father with three kids crowded around him. He was huffing down plate after plate of fettuccine alfredo during the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion that happened twice a year. His gut spilled over his belt, and he had a few chins. He smiled a lot, and so did his wife, and I recall wondering how someone could be so happy and yet be so out of shape.
 I remember thinking, Don’t you care about yourself? I wanted to approach this man and present to him a few lessons on clean, healthy living.
Sometimes I didn’t just think it. Sometimes I told people what they needed to do. I made snide comments about how they needed to make time for the gym, “It’s not that hard. I only work out about seven hours a week. That’s not even a part-time job.”
Friends would tell me that they were too busy for the gym, mostly my friends who were in their early thirties, and I would tell them that I was busy, too. And thinking back, I had more on my plate then most did at age 24. I had a young son and a wife, I was a full-time student, I worked nearly full-time bartending, and I volunteered as a Scout Master. At the time, I felt very ambitious. I honestly recall thinking that I’d met my limit. That once college was done, things would get easier. My life would slow down and once I didn’t have the obligations of school, I’d have a nine-to-five that paid the bills. I’d have my evenings and weekends to work out and spend time with the family. We’d even have a little extra money that I could use to spend on health supplements and fitness equipment. Perhaps even an extra room that I could convert into a personal gym.
I didn’t really consider the fact that I was a Creative Writing major with few job prospects unless I went to graduate school. And even then things were dicey.
I was a bit of a fool.
Flash forward almost 8 years and I’ve become that dude at the Olive Garden huffing down a plate of pasta, a wife and two small kids at the table.
A switch flipped inside me around the age of 28. Suddenly it became twice as difficult to keep weight off. I was eating the way I always had, and following the same fitness routines, but my body started being less responsive. I was also in graduate school, which didn’t help. Most of the day I sat on my ass and wrote.
Now, at age 32, I drink an alarming amount of diet cola. Mostly because I have small children that keep me up at night, and I work two jobs. Or at least I say it’s two jobs. Sometimes it feels like three. I am an academic counselor at a traditional brick and mortar university, sometimes I teach for that same university, and I teach two and sometimes three classes for an online university. I always get up early and often come home late. When I am home for dinner, and after the kids are in bed, I crack open my computer and grade papers.
I eat a lot of frozen chicken made by Tyson. Usually the spicy buffalo variety because it’s cheap and easy, although I must admit that it does some real damage to my insides. I still work out, but not like I used to. I just don’t have time. I go to the campus gym on my lunch break for about 45 minutes. Well… on the days that I can. Sometimes things get crazy at work and I can’t make it. But I will admit that I am relatively consistent with my gym visits.
Long story short, I used to have pecks. Now I have what I call…chesticles. They are droopy things on my chest that bounce, hypnotically, like a lava lamp, when I use the elliptical. I can place my hand beneath my gut, lift, and let it fall. Everything seems to jiggle. Depending on the day, sometimes my pants fit, and sometimes they don’t. My collar is tight, and my pant legs are tight, and the elastic bands on most of my underwear remind me of a balloon that has been blown up and deflated multiple times. I don’t think I’m obese. But I don’t think I’m sexy, either. I’m in the middle, a transitional place between fit and fat. Sometimes I move a little more toward being lean, and sometimes I move a little more towards being fat, but ultimately I stay right in the middle.
Obviously I have this longing to reach a former glory, to be what I was at age 24, even though I was dissatisfied with myself at the time. I’ve come to see it as my physical prime. But I just want to look like I’m 24, I don’t want to act like it. When I chat with 24-year-olds (which I do a lot of because of my job at a university) they come across as immature, confused, and foolish. And when I think back on myself at that age, I realize that most of the time I had no idea what I was doing.
I feel mentally stronger now, wiser, and more mature, but my body doesn’t seem to match that. I want to be productive, I want to be a good father and husband, but I want to look sexy while doing it. I want to be a writer (a sedentary activity) but at the same time I want to be active. I want to eat and drink what I want, but at the same time I want to be healthy.
I want my cake, and to eat it too.
I want to look young and sexy like I did in my 20’s, while having the wisdom of my 30s, and that is a contradictory mix that I can’t seem to accomplish.
I look at myself and wonder if I’ve lost something, but I struggle to define what that something is. Perhaps I lost the time I once spent on improving myself. Maybe I lost my youth… somewhere. But I don’t feel that old. In fact, I still feel young enough to get it back. My twenties don’t seem that far behind me. They almost seem close enough that if I reached far enough back, I might be able to reach them.
But when I think about everything I’ve lost, I can’t help but think about what I’ve gained. When I think back on all those married overweight men I used to judge at the Olive Garden, I can’t help but notice how happy they seemed. They always seemed to be smiling at their kids, their wives. They seemed so excited about helping their little girl with a crossword puzzle on the back of the kids menu.
When I compare my 20’s with my 30’s, I often realize that I am much happier now. And I think the difference is that I have kids who are a little older now, and a wife that I better understand. I realize that I have a family to focus my attention on rather than focusing my attention on myself.
Sometimes I chat with childless friends of mine about fatherhood. They always list the things (money, sleep, free time, and so on) that they would lose if they have a child. And I always tell them that they will lose a few things, but they will also gain a lot, too. And not just fat. 
 Spending time teaching my son how to build a house out of Legos is more satisfying then spending time developing a six-pack. Making sure that the lights stay on and that my home has heat is more rewarding than running ten miles, or twenty miles, or half way around the world. Seeing the stress leave Mel’s face after she sees me roll up my sleeves and start washing dishes is far more satisfying than fitting comfortably into a 32 inch pair of jeans.
In my 30s, my hierarchy has changed:
1.     Family.
2.     Security.
3.     Faith.
As you can see, looking good isn’t even in the top three anymore.
I suppose what I’m starting to realize is that although I wish I looked as lean and fit as I did in my 20’s, I am much happier with my life in my 30’s. I’ve gained a few pounds, sure. But I’ve also gained a family. I’ve gained responsibility, which results in satisfaction. I’ve learned how to give and take, and find reward in the simplest of things.  

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley




Sarah said...

I'm sure Mel finds you doing dishes now to be way more sexy than you were when you were 24 and self absorbed.