What makes a man a great father? High on my list is understanding that taking care of one's own physical and mental health is one of the most important things men can do for themselves and their families.
I hope no man feels he should sacrifice his own health to put all his focus on providing for his family. But I suspect that kind of thinking still lingers.
We know that men die younger than women. It's also true that men tend to wait until they're at least 50 pounds overweight before they become concerned about their weight.
Men who recognize they should pay attention to their health find that this way of thinking enhances their lives and family members' in numerous ways.
I recently asked some of my favorite fathers why and how they put energy into taking care of themselves. Here are some things they had to say:
• "In preparing my sons for the 'real' world, it's sometimes about passing along wisdom. Since I continue to explore health and fitness, I believe it's the ultimate advice to pass along. Since we're genetically close, I can pass along experiences that carry a lot more weight than experiences that apply to the average male."
• "Because I run marathons it encouraged my son to want to run marathons, too. We've been able to run some together. And, since I ran 50 miles on my 50th birthday, it inspired him to run 30 miles on his 30th birthday and I was able to share in the experience with him."
• "The best gift a father can receive is time. More time to spend with your children is irreplaceable. Living well provides that gift if we stay focused on its importance. It's really an easy trade. Stay focused on the prize — live longer and healthier."
• "I've learned to think about the joy I felt playing in childhood and to continue to make room for play in adulthood. I'm happier, and so are the people around me."
• "Without health, life is severely compromised and I want to be around to enjoy life and those I love as long as possible. Therefore, I've decided to make the time it takes to take excellent care of myself."
Typically, I hear men say that they started ignoring their health when they started a family. These same men are usually in their 50s when they are sitting across from me telling me their story. That's about 25 years of self-neglect.
Fortunately, these same men decided that it's never too late to work on regaining their health. They figured out that a little self-focus doesn't keep you from being a good father. On the contrary, it makes you a great role model, a more vibrant (and sexy) spouse, and a more energetic, powerful and fulfilled individual. Not a bad payoff for a little time and attention.
From another perspective, adult children start becoming aware of their parents' mortality when the parents are in their 50s. These grown children are clearly uncomfortable thinking about their parents aging. But when they see their parents eating well, exercising and enjoying life, it brings them comfort and joy.
So every father should know that tending his own health and well-being is not a selfish gesture, but a generous one that provides loved ones with security and contentment.
For sons and daughters, one of the most meaningful Father's Day gifts is the message that you want him to take good care of himself. Here are some ways to say, "Dad, I want you to be as healthy and happy as you can be because I want you around for a long time:"
• Invite Dad to share in a healthy activity that the two of you can regularly do, like walking, fishing, hiking, bicycling or going to a gym.
• Introduce him to an activity that he may not have considered, such as yoga, massage or a retreat of some kind.
• Start a habit of regular conversation with your father so you get to know each other better. Many years from now, you'll treasure these times.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]