Fit Dad vs. Fat Dad

Being a healthy role model should be part of the job description of being a good father.


Ben Cartwright. That’s who I’m picking for fittest TV dad. Lorne Greene was the embodiment of the athletic, rugged dad ridin’ ‘round the Ponderosa with his strapping sons. On the other end of the spectrum is Tony Soprano, inhaling meatball sandwiches while terrorizing his kids and having his enemies whacked (too lazy to do it himself). And somewhere in the middle is Cliff Huxtable. The good doctor was arguably the idealized version of a good dad, but not exactly a healthy role model. His main form of exercise was walking from the couch to the kitchen to get a plate of food. Now I don’t begrudge dads that occasional burger and beer, but it’s important that they set a good example by practicing good health habits. If for no other reason than to stick around long enough to watch their grandkids torture their children.

Just like any important job, being a good dad is hard work, so in order to be the best dad you can be, you have take good care of yourself. Good health starts with regular checkups; unfortunately, getting a man to the doctor is like getting a man on the moon. “Houston, we have problem,” indeed. Studies show that American men are three times as likely as women to go a year without seeing a doctor, and therefore they live sicker lives than women and they die younger. For black men, checkups are even more important because African Americans suffer disproportionately from high blood pressure, kidney failure and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are more easily treatable when caught early.

Most men simply do not like to see the doctor, and they have all kinds of reasons for ducking a regular checkup. Like the certainty that it will include a rectal exam. Clearly not a big selling point. Then there are societal issues. Throughout their lives, men have been taught that they should be strong, and so when they’re hurt, they are expected to tough it out, rub some dirt on it and keep it moving. Typically that means moving right into the sympathetic arms of doctor mom, wife or girlfriend who’s unfailingly pressed into service as caregiver/emt.

Another reason for male foot-dragging is that most health care campaigns have been aimed at women, children and the elderly, which do little to encourage men to become involved and pay their doctor a visit. And historically it’s women who manage the family’s health. Little boys almost always arrive to doctor’s appointments accompanied by a mom, sister, or grandmother, but rarely come with a male relative. As kids mature, the perception that health awareness is women's work only gets stronger. When girls reach puberty, they start seeing gynecologists for annual checkups, but there's no equivalent for boys.

How to Be a Fit Father

First, see your doctor regularly. The easiest way is to schedule an annual health care checkup day for all important medical exams or tests instead of trying to squeeze them around other responsibilities. These include cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, Chlamydia and other STDs, and glaucoma. If you’re post-40, add colorectal and prostate screenings and check with your doctor about additional tests and frequency based on your family history and risk factors.

Next, don’t be a couch-potato dad. Get up and get some regular exercise. Hitting the gym or hitting the links is fine, but why not find a way to make fitness a family affair. In addition to the fun factor, working out with your kids is a way to increase communication and to bond in a natural, low-pressure environment.

Here are some ways to become Super (healthy) Dad!

Be a coach: By volunteering your time to coach an intramural sports team, your kids will think you’re a hero; meanwhile, you’ll build in some exercise running laps and chasing soccer balls.

Practice: If you don’t have time to commit to coaching, spend time with your kids practicing their skills: have a catch, chase grounders or simply be a human backboard. Whatever the sport, find a way to help them train because it means spending time exercising together.