Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Letter to My Son: What I Hope You Learn About Men's Health

Movember is upon us!  Men everywhere will be growing their mustaches to help raise money and bring awareness to men's health issues that, at times, fly under the radar.  Since my wife forbids me from growing a mustache and a happy wife leads to a happy life, I figured I'd write a post instead of growing any more facial hair.  So here is a letter to my 8-year old son, sharing my "health" tips that I hope he can incorporate into his life. After all, what better way to promote "men's health" than by preparing our sons for what lies ahead of them.

Dear Son,

You've just turned 8 this month but there is still a whole life that lies ahead of you.  Since the day you were born, I've seen so much of myself in you.  They say you are like an Aaron 2.0.  It seems we have so many similarities, physically and emotionally.  The same things bring a smile to our faces.  Our laughs, our senses of humor seem to be cut from the same vaudevillian cloth.  On the other side of that coin, when we are upset, frustrated or angry, we do the same thing. We close up, shut the world out and crawl within our emotions.

Because we are so similar, I want to write to you so that I can share some of my experiences about my life in the hopes that you will read it, and when you are ready, use this information to learn from what I've learned.  If you are really version 2.0, I hope that the latest version is just a little bit better than the original. So in no particular order, here are some things I hope you'll learn sooner than I did in the hopes you have the healthiest life possible.

  • I hope you appreciate all the amazing things your body can do.  It helps you run, play and compete.  But it also is amazing to see how every muscle of your body moves each time you laugh.  Your body will change over time but I hope that you always cherish each and every thing your body will help you do in life.  
  • I wish I could say your Mother and I gave you the genetic code to have a body like Bruce Lee or Dwane Johnson, but that is probably just is not in your future.  You'll probably look more like Seth Rogan than The Rock but that doesn't mean you should be envious.  You have all the tools you need to do anything physical you put your mind to.  I promise you, your body is capable of doing much more than you ever can imagine. Trust your body and don't be afraid to challenge it.
  • Food is nourishing and fun.  You can eat for many different reasons in life and I hope that you will learn to use food for fuel and not as a way to punish yourself or to feed your emotions.  
  • Your emotions are powerful but not something you need to be afraid of.  It can be hard to open up and tell others how you are feeling but when you finally get the courage to do it, know that others will be waiting and willing to help you.  
  • Being alone and keeping your emotions to yourself will only create a cycle of isolation. Being vulnerable will be the most courageous thing you will ever do.
  • Respect all bodies.  As you get older, the default behavior of many of your friends will be to ridicule or tease any body or person that is different.  When it happens, be brave and stand up to shaming and teasing.  Remember what BrenĂ© Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” 
  • Moving your body feels good and will help you feel better about yourself.
  • Breath in and breath out.  I hope that you will learn how mindfulness can help you connect to your body and your emotions.  It will help you learn to be comfortable in the moment and honor each and every thought and feeling.
  • Honor your partner with love and respect.  Love is the greatest thing you can ever give someone, so when you find that right person, don't hold back.  Share every part of yourself with them and fight every day to sustain a strong union between the two of you.
  • Have faith.  Whether it is the religion we are raising you with or something else that resonates with you, find peace in learning that there are things in this life that are larger than ourselves.  
  • There is no one way to be masculine.  These days, there is a common refrain to "man up" to the issues and occasions.  People will tell you how to be a "real man," but remember,  you are already a man.  Follow your heart, do what feels right and don't feel like you have to live up to some ideal image of what a man should be.
  • Be a feminist.  Understand that because of your gender, your race and where you grow up, you have been given opportunities that many women who are in similar situations might not have. Stand up for all women.  Fight for equality in the work place, equal access to health care and equal access to education and careers.  
  • Don't forget to be a mensch.  Be kind to others and don't take advantage of those who might not have what you've had access to as you are growing up.
  • Find a good doctor that you trust.  Don't be afraid or intimidated of their white coat.  It's ok to ask them questions, challenge their recommendations and have conversations with them.

I know that you might read this and dismiss it, but one day, you'll be confronted with each of these things in real life and when the time comes, remember this letter.  I hope it helps you and I hope you find your path towards a long and healthy life.


p.s. If you ever need help writing a letter like this to your son, it would be an honor for me to sit beside you to help if you ever need it.