Dear Mr. Dad: My husband doesn’t exercise, he eats tons of fried foods and sugary drinks, and hasn’t been to see a doctor in years. Worse than that, our two sons, 8 and 10, are following in their dad’s footsteps. I’m really worried. Why won’t my husband take better care of himself?
I really wish I had an answer to that question, but the closest I can come is, “It’s complicated.”
Part of the problem is the messages we send to boys and men: “Big boys don’t cry,” “Take it like a man,” “Man up and stop complaining,” “Real men play through it,” and my favorite, “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.”
Once those messages get into our heads, they’re nearly impossible to get out. So it’s no wonder that, like your husband, we don’t get regular checkups, don’t do much preventive care, ignore our symptoms and generally stay as far away from health care providers as we can unless the pain is unbearable – and even then we often hold off, hoping it’ll go away.
On average, we’re half as likely as women to have seen a health care provider in the previous year – and that’s after taking out women’s prenatal visits.
Instead of “Why won’t he take care of himself?” the real question you should be asking is, “What can I do to help?” I know that doesn’t seem very fair. You’ve got enough to worry about already, and you’re probably tempted to tell him to “Man up” (and you’d be right).
But the bottom line is that his health affects you in a pretty significant way.
Men die at younger ages and in greater numbers from nine of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. We’re 80 percent more likely than women to die of heart disease, 40 percent more likely to die of cancer and 50 percent more likely to die of kidney disease. Overall, women outlive men by an average of five years.
What’s worse, at least half of those premature deaths could be prevented by making simple (but not easy) lifestyle changes. But since men too often don’t or won’t, there’s a good chance you’ll see your husband or sons (along with your father and any other men in your life) suffer or die unnecessarily, leaving you without their love, support and companionship.
The object here is to get your husband to take better care of himself and to encourage your sons to start building good health habits. But that won’t happen unless you step in. Here’s what to do.
▪ Put the whole family on a low-fat, high-fiber diet, and encourage everyone to get regular exercise. If you and/or your husband smokes, quit. “Dad bod” may be trendy, but it’s not healthy.
▪ Learn everything you can about men’s health – conditions, symptoms, risk factors, screenings and treatments – and pass that information on to your husband and sons. You can get all of that information from Men’s Health Network at menshealthnetwork.org.
▪ Check him out. Just as you should be doing monthly breast self-exams, your husband should be doing testicular self-exams (and so should your sons, starting at about age 15).
▪ Ask him to get a physical. If he won’t make the appointment on his own, do it for him.
▪ Be patient. Overcoming decades of socialization won’t happen overnight. But with each small change you’ll increase the quality – and length – of the life you have with the men and boys you love.
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”