Show of hands, please: How many of us have — with the best intentions, of course — tried to get the men in our lives to:
a. Eat better
b. Move more
c. Go to the doctor, already!
If I didn't need both hands to type this, I'd have one of them up in the air. For while we all know it is pure folly to try to change a man, surely it isn't really manipulation when our intentions are so completely virtuous, right?
Virtuous, maybe. Successful? Rarely.
It's Men's Health Month, and Father's Day is Sunday. Time to call an expert.
Stephen Perrine is editor at large of Men's Health magazine and author of The Men's Health Diet book. So he makes his living giving health advice to millions of men who at least read it.
Steve! What am I doing wrong?
"Anyone who's ever tried to nag a man into doing anything knows the more you berate him, the more resistant and stubborn he will get,'' Perrine patiently told me.
"What works for the writers and editors of Men's Health is to disarm guys with humor, and in that way make the idea of accepting advice more acceptable. Men don't like to take advice or go to the doctor for the same reason we don't like to ask for directions. We want to be autonomous.''
However, there are ways around this little problem.
• "Enlist a buddy — a brother, co-worker, trusted confidant,'' Perrine advised. "See if you can't get a buddy to talk to Dad in the way men talk to each other.''
How might that be?
"I notice you're drinking more beer. That can mess with your blood sugar. What do you say we go get a checkup so we can keep drinking more beer,'' Perrine suggested.
I would not have thought of that, but whatever works.
"Or, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of working so hard and I'm looking forward to retirement. What if we both go to the doctor and get checked out so I can keep beating you on the golf course.''
• Bets can also be effective — Perrine suggests if two buddies agree that the first one who skips a workout has to pay the other $50, nobody is skipping the workout.
• The buddy can be a man's adult child (of either gender) or even his partner. But it helps if you have shared goals, like both needing to lose weight. Guys like challenges.
• When it comes to getting the man in your life to get heart disease screenings, colonoscopies and the like: "Put it on the schedule for six months ahead. Just go ahead and make the appointment for a time it'll be real super-convenient, then you take it out of his hands.''
But isn't that taking nagging to a whole new level?
"That's not nagging. Nagging is: 'I've told you a thousand times to call the doctor and make an appointment.' After time two or three, just make the appointment.''
I can see the logic. The men I know do not like to make appointments. Too much planning. Too little autonomy. Kind of like asking directions.
But I wondered — is there a time when you just give up and let Dad be Dad?
"If it's a serious health concern, I would not give up. You have to stay focused. Imagine how you'd feel if you nagged Dad about a colonoscopy and then gave up, and 10 years later it's too late.''
Good point. So there you have it — instead of nagging, take action. It might be the best Father's Day gift you ever give.