Fatherhood at Fifty – Sympathy Weight

For the last 25 years, ever since I took up martial arts and yoga, I’ve had a mutual agreement with my body. The mutual agreement goes something like this:

My part of the deal is to workout regularly and eat pretty well most of the time…

My body’s part of the deal is to find a way to manage during the times that don’t fall under the category of “most of the time…”

The deal has worked out pretty well for the most part. Of course my fitness level has fluctuated a little bit over that 25-year period but I’ve always been someone that people would consider to be “in shape”. I used to run until I decided to be kinder to my joints. I still bike and swim. I practice yoga anywhere from a couple of times a week to everyday in extreme stretches. I even do my martial arts forms and a little Tai Chi a few times a month. Sure, with each passing five year period, my average weight number rises by a couple of pounds and I fluctuate five or so pounds within that range, but I have seldom gotten to the edge of my comfort zone. In my thirties my comfort zone was about 170. By the time I got into my early forties I almost never dipped below 175. At 50 I was a fairly fit 180 pounds.

And then we got pregnant!

Now I’ve often heard the term sympathy weight and the effects that a pregnancy can take on the father’s fitness levels and body shape, but I always thought that was an old wive’s tale or a myth or at the very least something that happened to guys who sat around and ate boxes of donuts all the time. That could never happen to Jim Herbert! Jim Herbert works out. Jim Herbert rides his bike to work 3 days a week – 25 miles round trip. Jim Herbert eats tunafish, brown rice cakes and fruit for breakfast. That could NEVER happen to Jim Herbert! Or could it?

About a month ago I saw a number I never thought I’d ever see on a scale in my entire life. The number was 198 pounds. Gulp! Goodbye comfort zone. I hadn’t just reached the edge. I had totally obliterated it!

“How did this happen?” I thought to myself.

I still get to Bikram yoga at least one day or sometimes even two days per week. I might not cycle 100 miles a week like I did last year, but I get at least one good ride in per week. Yes, I’m eating a bit heavier than normal but it’s not like I’m eating only cheeseburgers and pizza for every meal. I cook good quality homemade meals for my two best girls from real ingredients and whole foods. This all just sort of crept up on me. When Christiana needed a piece of emergency pizza to hold her over in between meals I’d join in the fun. If the donut craving hit, I’d buy a half-dozen instead of just one and wind up splitting them with her. If  she needed the car to go to prenatal yoga on Saturday morning, I’d skip my 90-minute advanced hot yoga class downtown and take the easier 60-minute class closer to home. All of this stuff is perfectly reasonable and it makes total sense that I might gain a few pounds, but pushing 200?!

Okay before I continue here I want to be perfectly clear that I am totally aware that weight is just a number and overall health of a person is measured by so many other factors. I’m also totally aware that I am far more attached to the particular number on the scale than I should be, but the scale has always been a sort of check and balance factor for me. When I got to the edge of my comfort zone I would tighten things up and get back to where I wanted to be by either upping the cardio or doing a nutritional cleanse. In fact every single time in the past when I’ve taken notice that I was on the edge of my comfort zone, I would be back to what I would deem normal within a month. The question that still stands is this:

Is that sort of roller coaster approach to physical and mental wellness normal?

My overall psyche is completely different when I see the number I want to see on the scale than when I see a number I don’t want to see. My mood can fluctuate from good to great after an intense hot yoga class because I realized I sweated out 8 pounds in the studio – yes I do know it’s all water. This is a larger topic for another day and another round of personal psychoanalysis, so for now let’s return the to topic at hand which is that number – 198 pounds!

When I realized that I was approaching 200 pounds I realized I needed to do something. I started telling people that I was the heaviest I’d ever been in my entire life so that I would begin to make a verbal contract with myself (and apparently every human in the Universe that would listen to me) that a change was just around the corner. The funny thing is that every time I mentioned it to someone they had nearly same response, “I’d have never known that. I think you look great.” Each time I would hear that I would go look in the mirror and basically agree with them. The thing is that deep down inside I didn’t FEEL great. My old school habits of self-loathing were increasing again. The amount of negative things I would say about myself and to myself were increasing again. I needed a way to break free.

Each day I would plan on starting clean and then something would get in the way. There would be chilaquiles for breakfast at work. I’d have a craving for burger at lunch. I’d have dinner plans with a friend and we’d share a bottle of wine and a giant piece of chocolate cake afterwards for dessert. For some reason this time around, despite the extremity (in my mind) of the circumstances, I just couldn’t flip the switch on starting The Cleanse.

About two weeks ago I had a day when my stomach was pretty upset. It probably had to do with the amount of food I had eaten that day and the wine I drank that night, but for just a moment I wondered if I had gotten food poisoning. I said too myself in the back of my mind, “Well at least if I have food poisoning it will be the cleanse I’ve been hoping for, even if it is forced upon me by the powers above…”  Minutes later when I checked my weight before bed and saw that number just a hair below 200 still, I thought to myself “I just wish I could find ANY way to get rolling on that cleanse I so desperately know that I need…”

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for,” I will now share with you my updated version of that phrase as it applies to us Thoughts Become Things people:

Be fully prepared for the intentions you set, because once you’ve thought about with intention, it’s going to happen, whether you like the way it happens or not…

I’ve been a little out of sorts lately. I haven’t been able to wear the bite plate that I wear at night because of the dental surgery I had a couple of months ago and that effects my sleep. I snore more when I’m heavier so I don’t get as much rest. I’ve had a lot on my mind with the pregnancy, and the book that is in progress, and the uncertainty about where we might live next year and my multitude of other side projects…so when I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s not as easy to fall back to sleep. My fitness levels are still good for a guy my age, but well below my lofty personal standards.

Tuesday night last week when I got home from work I just pretty much hit the wall. I had the chills and some body aches so I jumped in a bath and then went straight to bed. Many people at work have called in sick over the last couple of weeks so I figured I had caught the bug going around the store. Additionally I had somehow managed to do something to my knee and noticed the next day that it was a bit swollen. For the next couple of days I just didn’t have any appetite. I managed to drink tea and eat a bit of tomato soup, but anything with meat or sugar or carbs seemed totally undesirable to me.

I won’t go into all the twists and turns of the last five days because I still have a bit of follow up care to deal with, but suffice it to say that I found myself in the hospital on Friday afternoon hooked up to an IV fund drip and eventually going home with two very powerful antibiotics that will coincidentally force me to stay on a very simple diet for the next week and a half including no alcohol whatsoever.

Now if I were in different point in time in my life – or perhaps better said if I were viewing this through a different lens – I would likely be feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my miserable lot in life. But you know what I couldn’t stop thinking about all weekend? I could help stop thinking how grateful I am that all of this happened!

If I had only gotten the 24-hour flu, I probably would have been back at the table eating and drinking like a champ all weekend. If I had only had an issue with my knee I would have hit the pool in Lincoln Square so I could swim a mile or two, which is very low impact on my legs, and then gone right over to Garcia’s for a margarita and a plate of tostadas. If I hadn’t had the concern about why my knee was swollen and red I might not have gone to the urgent care center where the PA told me to go directly to the Emergency Room. It’s like God/The Universe cared about me so much that they wanted to make sure that I didn’t ignore the message that I once again needed to slow down. I needed to prepare the way for what’s ahead. And Oh Boy (or should I say Oh Girl) there is plenty of stuff ahead. What a gift this non-optional, self-manifested period of rest has already been  – and will continue to be in the days and weeks ahead.

I’m eating a little bit more today than I was last week, but I still have no taste at all for any meat or starchy carbs or sugar. Maybe I’ll go on a little vegetarian kick again like I have many times in the past? The thought of a glass of wine actually makes me feel a bit nauseous, which is surprising since my favorite team is playing on Sunday night football tonight. Maybe I’m done with any sort of drinking for a little while? I feel like I’ve already lost at least a few pounds even though I haven’t been able to get any sort of workout in for the entire week. I’m not sure if I have lost weight or not though because I haven’t weighed myself at all. Maybe I’ll check tomorrow and then again maybe I won’t? Maybe I’ll give the old scale under the bathroom counter some time off?

What does all of this mean? As of right now, Im not entirely sure yet. I just now that feel different and it’s the kind of different that I like.

What I do know for sure is that last night when we put our daughter’s crib together it all became even a bit more real. Even though we fumbled around on the floor of our nursery-to-be, me on one leg and her with a big belly in the way in front, somehow we managed to pull off the task together. We missed all the Halloween parties. We missed the gong ceremony we wanted to go to on Friday night. We missed the jazz showcase trumpet show on Sunday with Christiana’s father. But you know what? In the end none of that mattered.

We had the most amazing weekend, just the three of us at home reading, resting and preparing the way for all the magic that lies ahead. We even managed to come up with a little Halloween costume and snap a photo for the archives. Our first ever family Halloween costume, an idea that came to us as if delivered from above after watching a wonderful animated film from director Henry Selick. If you are not familiar, Selick directed the famed Nightmare Before Christmas along with the movie we watched last night called Coraline. He also did the movie based on a famous Children’s book called James and the Giant Peach. With our little peach growing strong inside Christiana’s belly what could possibly be more appropriate?

The Herbert family rests well tonight – all three of us – with the deep sense of knowing that even when we can’t find our own way to what we know in our hearts that we need, there will always be help from Above to assist in finding THE way. Happy Halloween dear friends. I remain, James (and the giant and little peach).





About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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2 Responses to Fatherhood at Fifty – Sympathy Weight

  1. wendydoherty says:

    Jim, I am happy to hear you are on the mend. Preparing for fatherhood includes preparing your body physically. Parenting is not a sprint but a marathon; and you want to be present for the long haul. Your body is sending you messages of what needs to change to get you in shape. With the birth of you daughter requiring diaper changing. so will your priorities need changing. Kudos to you and keep listening.

    “We had the most amazing weekend, just the three of us at home reading, resting and preparing the way for all the magic that lies ahead.”

    PS Coraline is one of my favorite movies.

  2. I recently started martial arts myself (at 42). My body is changing, no doubt, despite all I do to keep it young.

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