During my visit to L.A. last weekend, I looked at some pictures I'd never seen before -- old photos my sister Lore brought out for us to peruse together. In one of them, my father is surrounded by his three children from his first marriage -- my half-siblings, including Lore -- as well as his first wife, Patricia. What struck me immediately was how large he was. When I was alive, my father was big, but I didn't think much of it until my teenage years, when I went from overweight to anorexic via a self-deprivation plan of my own design.
When I was at my most deluded and paranoid, I looked at people who were overweight and thought: I'd rather die than end up like that. Seeing the old picture of my dad this past weekend really moved me, and helped me realize how far I've come since the last time I visited my sister in California -- 15 years ago, when I was deep in the throes of my eating disorder. In 1994, she weighed me daily during my visit, as my parents and the growing number of specialists following my case insisted she had to. I, of course, hated being weighed and watched and told to eat what was in front of me. These days I still struggle with eating and weight and body image -- during my recent physical exam, I found out I'm back over 190, which is what I weighed when I unsuccessfully gave Weight Watchers a shot in 2007 -- but I've probably never had a healthier, more even-keeled outlook on those interlocking subjects, and that's worth appreciating, or even celebrating.
What struck me about the photo was that my father must have struggled even more than I have with his size, since he clearly passed out of adolescence and into fatherhood at an unhealthy weight. He never did what I did; he never fled the problem of being too heavy with all his might -- with such fervor, in fact, that he overcompensated, went too far, and ended up with a different, no less dangerous problem. Also, all of his children are doing better today than he was in that picture, and that's a nice way of regaining perspective when I give myself flak for overeating or not exercising enough. I've told several people lately that I still can't quite grasp how others, friends and acquaintances of mine, can actually enjoy exercise. For me, the act of exercising is still weighed down, so to speak, with middle-school baggage (being the fat kid, failing to do even one pull-up, all the humiliation that accompanied that kind of failure, etc.).
This year, I hope to develop a better relationship with exercise by doing things I actually enjoy -- softball, classes, bicycling -- rather than forcing myself to pay for yet another gym membership I can't afford and will likely underuse, or never use at all. I guess my heart broke a little for my dad when I saw that picture, but I was also glad that by the time he became my father, he'd lost at least some of the weight he'd carried around as a younger man. And as I try to get a better sense of what he was like at my age, I imagine it's inevitable that I would start to think of him less as my infallible, all-knowing father and more as a human being, flawed and well-intentioned and funny and good. He's been gone for nearly six years, and it saddens me that he'll never see me get married or have children. But if old photos and stories I've never heard can help me get a better sense of him, I'll settle for that.