What’s it Worth?

I am sitting on the couch, watching  (my boyfriend) Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, watching him drool over cassoulet and blood sausage and foie gras prepared six different ways to Sunday, and it’s making me feel snacky.

I really want some cheese.

More specifically, I either want hunks of extra sharp New York cheddar on Triscuits with a sliced Pink Lady apple (this was my nightly snack and only craving during both of my pregnancies), or I want to tear off pieces of an olive Fougasse loaf and slather them with Wegman’s “Milky Brie,” which might be the most decadent, unctuous, perfect bite of anything I’ve had in recent memory. I could eat an entire wedge by myself and very nearly have, in the past.

Ah, the past. I am not living there at the moment. I am living in this new, healthier, more mindful space–a space carved out by the six month-long research study I joined that looks at weight loss and bone health in pre-menopausal women. It’s going well. I’m walking every day, taking a weekly nutrition class, and eating a prescribed but very healthy, reasonable diet. I’ve lost fifteen pounds so far and feel good–more energy, clothes fitting well again, less brain fog in general.

This was my 40th birthday present to myself. Health. Or, at the very least, the first steps back toward health. It’s not that I’ve ever been terribly unhealthy, but I’ve carried extra weight my whole life, and since having kids, well, you know that story.

So I am forgoing things like milky brie by the luscious wedge for the time being, relegating them to the status of “once-in-a-while” and “a little goes a long way,” which is probably where they should have lived in the first place.

(Dammit, now Bourdain is slicing gorgeous Wisconsin cheddar and serving it with maple-glazed pork belly. And beer. Not fair, Tony! Turn off the television, Sheila.)

My motivation for this change of lifestyle is simple enough: I want to be healthy for me, and I want to be around for my kids.

I don’t know if it sounds melodramatic to make a statement like that at the age of 40, which, while it sure isn’t youth, is not exactly old age either. But consider this: by the time my father was just two years older than I am now, he was injecting himself with insulin several times a day. Five years older and he was recovering from a heart attack. Six years older and he was gone.

Of course, there is no guarantee that getting healthy will keep me around for my kids at all. The illness that killed my father appeared to have nothing at all to do with his day-to-day health or with his previous health problems. Stuff can happen. I don’t want to think about it too much, but I know it and I carry it with me.

Still, it seems like a wise plan, and one I wish my father had followed after his own health began to decline.  Diabetes? Insulin injections? How about a cheesecake chaser. Heart attack? Hand me that cigarette and pass the salami.

I remember feeling angry and betrayed watching  him ignore doctors and carry right on with his excessive gourmand ways. I thought, “Why doesn’t he care more?”  I remember thinking that he had an obligation to us–his family–to make an real, sustained effort not to kill himself. I remember thinking he was being a completely selfish jerk.

My father’s inability or refusal (both?) to change his decadent lifestyle was, of course, more complicated than I understood as a nineteen or twenty year old. And I’m trying to work that complexity out in an essay chapter for the memoir. (Now that I’m a parent, everything is more complex.) I’m not ready to make any statements about it yet except this: That he didn’t take care of his body does not mean that he didn’t love us. I get this now.

Still, it doesn’t change my impulse, foolish though it may be,  to try to protect my kids from the early, possibly preventable, death of a parent.  Believe me, I don’t want to die young. But more than that, I don’t want them to lose me while they are.

I do worry about the genetic component of illness. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer…they all run amok through both sides of my family. But at 40, even before I started actively working on my health, I was still far healthier than my father was at this age. I don’t smoke. I rarely drink to excess. I’m regularly active for the first time in a long time. I’m in a good marriage and have a job I love. I have some real stress, too, but I am, in general, happy.

Reminding myself of these facts and factors makes me feel reassured about my own health but, also, terribly sad remembering how unhealthy and unhappy my father was (seemed? must have been?–how can I really know?) most of the time.

Incidentally, Anthony Bourdain would have made my father very happy. Every time I watch him, I think this. I also think, Bourdain loves food as much as you did, and he cleaned up his act so he could be here for his daughter.

Why couldn’t you do that for me?

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