***As we head into Father’s Day weekend, I think it’s a good time to share this popular post, originally published in September 2014. Thinking of (and missing) my dad, and wishing all the other dads out there a very Happy Father’s Day!***
As I’m finishing up reading my latest nutrition book (a really good one, by the way, which I’ll be sharing with you all soon) and learning about all these complex nutritional principles, beliefs and theories, I can’t help but think about my dad.
My dad was the ultimate health nut. He’d spent years struggling with his own health demons, so when he began to learn about the role of nutrition in achieving good health, he was extremely passionate about sharing it with everyone he knew. He could go on for hours, talking about the importance of eating natural foods, consuming raw dairy instead of pasteurized, replenishing the “friendly” bacteria in our guts (that one really threw us for a loop), and in his later years, explaining the horrific consequences of improper cattle raising (I can’t tell you how often I was lectured about Mad Cow Disease!).
It was hard to wrap my mind around ideas like this. I was a kid, after all, and most of those concepts went right over my head. It’s not that I didn’t believe him, it’s just that I couldn’t comprehend what they had to do with me. I mean, sure, I had allergies, headaches, frequent sinus infections, you know, stuff that lots of other people had. But what in the world did those things have to do with food?
And it wasn’t just me. Most of the adults around us seemed to not quite “get it” either. It was the 80’s (and the early 90’s), so a lot of these concepts were far removed from the average lifestyle. There was no internet where we could look up new ideas and research topics ourselves, and his beliefs were certainly far from the conventional “healthy” diet we were indoctrinated to follow by the powers that be. So to most of us, his ideas seemed extreme, not all that necessary and well, a little crazy at times.
It’s funny how life sometimes comes around full circle. Fifteen years after my dad passed away, I find myself immersed in nutrition books, scouring the internet for every health-related detail I can dissect and experimenting (and finding success) with my own diet and lifestyle choices. I find myself practicing a lot of what he’d preached decades ago: consuming natural, real foods, understanding the role of probiotics (i.e. those “friendly” bacteria), and choosing healthy animal proteins that don’t come from those dreaded factory farms. My dad passed away shortly before I was diagnosed, so he never had to witness (at least not in an earthly way) my health struggles or see me hospitalized repeatedly or watch me take a list of prescription medications that would make his head spin. He left this earth before the terms “organic,” “nonGMO,” and “gluten-free” became popular — and sadly, necessary — buzzwords. But I’m guessing that if he were here today, he would be preaching about the importance of all these things. I’m pretty sure my dad would totally be Paleo, too (go, Dad!).
I took so much for granted as a child. I had a passionate, proactive, kind-hearted father, but instead of appreciating those things, I was probably rolling my eyes or nudging him to “shush” when he was going on and on to one of my friends. He genuinely cared, he wanted all of us to be healthy and happy, and he was not ashamed to share his knowledge, no matter what anyone else thought about it. Although it’s taken me many years to realize it, I’ve finally discovered the critical role of nutrition in my life, and I really think a lot of that comes from my dad. But even more than that, he taught me about having the courage to stand up for what I believe in, even if it’s not the most popular theory in the room. I wish he could still be here with me today, cheering me on as I navigate through this illness, reassuring me that I will find all the answers and that it’s all going to be okay (he was good at doing that kind of stuff).
I will forever remember that time we argued in the health food store when I was a kid: I begged to get the chocolate chip cookies, but my dad forbade me and insisted I get the carob chip cookies instead (carob? yuck!). I pleaded my best case but I eventually lost the argument. So I gave in, reluctantly picking up the carob chip cookies and placing them in our shopping cart. But as my dad turned his head, I secretly switched out the carob chip cookies for the chocolate ones, and he never noticed. I felt a little guilty, but I found a way to justify it in my head. On the way home, I munched on those cookies in the backseat of our old Cadillac, proud of my cunning, defiant victory, thinking I’d outsmarted that man who’d made far too big a deal out of a “harmless” chocolate chip cookie, as if he knew better than I did. So now, many years, hospitalizations and surgeries later, instead of begging for some silly cookies, I wish I could go back in time and beg for forgiveness, admitting to my dad that I was wrong and that I should have listened to his advice all along.
The “Cookiegate” scandal illustrates a lot: no, not that I was a rotten, disobedient child (okay, it does kind of say that), and not that I now advocate carob (sorry, still not a fan!), but that father really did know best, and I should have paid much closer attention to the things he had to teach me. My insistent attitude that I could eat whatever I wanted without having to think about the consequences would become a theme in my life and eventually, it would be the downfall of my health.
I’ll never get to have that apologetic conversation with my dad, and it’s too bad because despite it all, I think we’d both have a good chuckle about the whole thing. But more importantly, I’ll never get to tell him what an impact he’s had on my life. Sure, I went off-track and almost lost my life completely. But even in my worst moments, there was a voice in my head telling me not to give up and to start looking for answers in those unconventional places that most of us would prefer to deny. I suppose it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that voice I heard was probably his, and that perhaps, even though he’s no longer physically here, he’s been with me on this journey all along.
This is dedicated to you, Dad, my guardian angel. Thank you for the simple reminders to not take our loved ones for granted, to listen to the wise ones that were here before us, and to stand for up for anything we believe might make this planet a better place.