My seven-year-old son and I are reading a Children’s Bible before bedtime. (BTW, I highly recommend the Children’s Bible by Bishop Desmond Tutu published by ZonderKidz – which is brilliantly illustrated by a wide range of artists and styles depicting many different types of bodies). He’s leaning on my stomach as I read. After reading the Bible, we’re getting ready to pray when my son says, “Dad, God’s telling you to lose that gut.”
My first thought: “My son has the gift of prophecy. He is hearing the voice of God.” My second thought: “My kid’s a punk.”
I was actually under nourished as a child. My family was on food stamps for most of my childhood. I actually remember opening up our fridge and finding absolutely nothing inside except for a huge hunk of government cheese in the freezer. (Some of you may remember several decades ago when the government used to give away blocks of cheese). We’re a Korean family. Most of us are lactose intolerant. Cheese doesn’t go with any Korean food. Cheese and kimchi may be the most disgusting combination in culinary history. So that hunk of cheese sat untouched in our freezer. It was still there when we moved out of the apartment. It may still be there – remnant of failed social policy.
So during elementary school I was actually ridiculously skinny. Like pants on the ground skinny. All the way through high school. Skinny kid with glasses and long hair in a plaid shirt and Sears corduroys secured by my big buckled belt. Thankfully, my poor fashion choices distracted attention away from how skinny I actually was. When I got to college, I discovered the most amazing thing: the all-you-can-eat cafeteria. The food was awful. But you could actually go back for seconds. I’ve always been an overachiever. If the assignment was for 5 pages, I would submit 10 pages. So when someone told me about “freshman fifteen,” I felt the strong inclination to overachieve above and beyond the “freshman fifteen.” So the “freshman fifteen” was compounded by “post-undergrad poundage,” the “seminary sixteen,” the “grad school gainage, the “just-married weight adjustment” and the “new baby Daddy gain even though I actually didn’t give birth but there’s a sympathy weight gain poundage”.
And I am now confronted with this gut-wrenching reality. In my son’s prophetic pronouncement of God’s will for my gut. In my nine-year-old daughter’s sly retort when I said that I wanted to eat more vegetables and less meat: “Who are you and what have you done with my Dad?!” Even my Wii Fit board’s condescending “Oh” when I step on. My wife doesn’t complain about my physical appearance, but she does tell me that I need to be mindful of my health. That my apple body type inclines me toward numerous health problems. She reminds me that she wants to live a long life with me and wants me to see our grandchildren. Then she tells me that she’ll kill me if I die of a heart attack at an early age.
So that’s what it comes down to. I will resist with all my might to be forced to conform to an image of masculinity and fitness that is out of my reach. But I will do everything I can to avoid being killed by my wife after I’m dead.