The 30’s Hit Me Like a Stick of Butter

 

 

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In Steve Martin’s memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, he asked himself this question after
discussing the women he slept with in the ’60s: “Were they beautiful?”
His answer was, “We were all beautiful. We were
in our twenties.”
I recall laughing at what Martin said, not
because I thought he was right, but because I thought he was being facetious. I
was 24 when I first read Martin’s memoir, and at the time and I knew lots of
people in their twenties, and not all of them were attractive. Some of them
were fat. Some still had acne. Some of them smelled bad (the hipster thing was
just taking shape, so a lot of my friends abandoned showering during this
time). Some of them were too short, or too tall, or just flat out funny-shaped.
At the time I felt I had a good handle on what was attractive and what was not.
In fact, I thought I had a good handle on a lot of things: money, marriage, school,
politics, fatherhood… life. I thought my values were in order. My life had a hierarchy:
1.    
Look good.
2.    
School.
3.    
Family (Sadly this hierarchy stayed in place
until Tristan, my oldest, was probably two years old. It took be awhile before
I could really figure out my priorities.)
I enjoyed telling people what was cool and what
wasn’t. What had intrinsic value and what didn’t. In my 24 years, I thought I really
understood life and what it had to offer, and I was more than willing to share
my years of wisdom with the world.
At that time, I didn’t really think that I was
all that attractive, although when I look back at photos from this time I
realize I wasn’t half bad. And now, at age 31, when I look at others in their twenties,
I start to understand what Martin was talking about. They all seem so young,
lean, and attractive. Their hair doesn’t have grey in it. They can run without
growing weary, make yoga pants seem socially acceptable outside of the gym, and
eat a whole Totino’s Party Pizza without becoming gassy and irritable a few
hours later.  
The really funny thing is that I listened to
Martin’s memoir on audio while running at the gym. This was before I messed up
my knee in a mosh pit and couldn’t run anymore. It was also when I had a 32-inch
waist and a 42-inch chest. I recall feeling bad about the way I looked because
my abs had begun to flatten out, and I couldn’t see a muscle vein in my right
shoulder anymore. I even told Mel a few days earlier that I was fat.
She rolled her eyes and told me to shut up.
The fact was, in my twenties, I really didn’t
like the way I looked. I spent a lot of time trying to better myself. I lifted
weights three days a week, did cardio two days a week, ate small meals every
two hours, abstained from anything white: sugar and carbohydrates, that sort of
thing. I ate lean organic meat and drank protein shakes.
I saw this stage in my life as a rebirth of
sorts. I wasn’t much into physical activity as a teen. In fact, I’d never run a
mile until I was in my 20s. I was taking time to get healthy and look good, but
what I didn’t realize is that I was spending a lot of time worrying about
myself. When I look back on this stage in my life, I often feel selfish. There was
a lot of time that I could’ve spent more time focusing on my wife: taking her
out or working more hours so she could work less, but instead I spent that time
at the gym.
I also got into the bad habit of judging people
on the way they ate.
At the time I worked at the Olive Garden as a
bartender (Ironic. I know… I was a Mormon bartender. It sounds like an anti-semitic
Jew or something). I recall watching a thirty-something father with three kids crowded
around him. He was huffing down plate after plate of fettuccine alfredo during
the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion that happened twice a year. His gut
spilled over his belt, and he had a few chins. He smiled a lot, and so did his
wife, and I recall wondering how someone could be so happy and yet be so out of
shape.
 I remember
thinking, Don’t you care about yourself?
I wanted to approach this man and present to him a few lessons on clean, healthy
living.
Sometimes I didn’t just think it. Sometimes I told
people what they needed to do. I made snide comments about how they needed to
make time for the gym, “It’s not that hard. I only work out about seven hours a
week. That’s not even a part-time job.”
Friends would tell me that they were too busy for
the gym, mostly my friends who were in their early thirties, and I would tell
them that I was busy, too. And thinking back, I had more on my plate then most
did at age 24. I had a young son and a wife, I was a full-time student, I
worked nearly full-time bartending, and I volunteered as a Scout Master. At the
time, I felt very ambitious. I honestly recall thinking that I’d met my limit.
That once college was done, things would get easier. My life would slow down
and once I didn’t have the obligations of school, I’d have a nine-to-five that
paid the bills. I’d have my evenings and weekends to work out and spend time
with the family. We’d even have a little extra money that I could use to spend
on health supplements and fitness equipment. Perhaps even an extra room that I
could convert into a personal gym.
I didn’t really consider the fact that I was a
Creative Writing major with few job prospects unless I went to graduate school.
And even then things were dicey.
I was a bit of a fool.
Flash forward almost 8 years and I’ve become that
dude at the Olive Garden huffing down a plate of pasta, a wife and two small
kids at the table.
A switch flipped inside me around the age of 28. Suddenly
it became twice as difficult to keep weight off. I was eating the way I always had,
and following the same fitness routines, but my body started being less
responsive. I was also in graduate school, which didn’t help. Most of the day I
sat on my ass and wrote.
Now, at age 32, I drink an alarming amount of
diet cola. Mostly because I have small children that keep me up at night, and I
work two jobs. Or at least I say it’s two jobs. Sometimes it feels like three.
I am an academic counselor at a traditional brick and mortar university, sometimes
I teach for that same university, and I teach two and sometimes three classes
for an online university. I always get up early and often come home late. When
I am home for dinner, and after the kids are in bed, I crack open my computer
and grade papers.
I eat a lot of frozen chicken made by Tyson.
Usually the spicy buffalo variety because it’s cheap and easy, although I must
admit that it does some real damage to my insides. I still work out, but not
like I used to. I just don’t have time. I go to the campus gym on my lunch
break for about 45 minutes. Well… on the days that I can. Sometimes things get
crazy at work and I can’t make it. But I will admit that I am relatively consistent
with my gym visits.
Long story short, I used to have pecks. Now I
have what I call…chesticles. They are droopy things on my chest that bounce, hypnotically,
like a lava lamp, when I use the elliptical. I can place my hand beneath my
gut, lift, and let it fall. Everything seems to jiggle. Depending on the day,
sometimes my pants fit, and sometimes they don’t. My collar is tight, and my
pant legs are tight, and the elastic bands on most of my underwear remind me of
a balloon that has been blown up and deflated multiple times. I don’t think I’m
obese. But I don’t think I’m sexy, either. I’m in the middle, a transitional
place between fit and fat. Sometimes I move a little more toward being lean,
and sometimes I move a little more towards being fat, but ultimately I stay
right in the middle.
Obviously I have this longing to reach a former
glory, to be what I was at age 24, even though I was dissatisfied with myself
at the time. I’ve come to see it as my physical prime. But I just want to look
like I’m 24, I don’t want to act like it. When I chat with 24-year-olds (which
I do a lot of because of my job at a university) they come across as immature,
confused, and foolish. And when I think back on myself at that age, I realize
that most of the time I had no idea what I was doing.
I feel mentally stronger now, wiser, and more
mature, but my body doesn’t seem to match that. I want to be productive, I want
to be a good father and husband, but I want to look sexy while doing it. I want
to be a writer (a sedentary activity) but at the same time I want to be active.
I want to eat and drink what I want, but at the same time I want to be healthy.
I want my cake, and to eat it too.
I want to look young and sexy like I did in my 20’s,
while having the wisdom of my 30s, and that is a contradictory mix that I can’t
seem to accomplish.
I look at myself and wonder if I’ve lost
something, but I struggle to define what that something is. Perhaps I lost the
time I once spent on improving myself. Maybe I lost my youth… somewhere. But I
don’t feel that old. In fact, I still feel young enough to get it back. My
twenties don’t seem that far behind me. They almost seem close enough that if I
reached far enough back, I might be able to reach them.
But when I think about everything I’ve lost, I
can’t help but think about what I’ve gained. When I think back on all those
married overweight men I used to judge at the Olive Garden, I can’t help but notice
how happy they seemed. They always seemed to be smiling at their kids, their wives.
They seemed so excited about helping their little girl with a crossword puzzle
on the back of the kids menu.
When I compare my 20’s with my 30’s, I often
realize that I am much happier now. And I think the difference is that I have
kids who are a little older now, and a wife that I better understand. I realize
that I have a family to focus my attention on rather than focusing my attention
on myself.
Sometimes I chat with childless friends of mine
about fatherhood. They always list the things (money, sleep, free time, and so
on) that they would lose if they have a child. And I always tell them that they
will lose a few things, but they will also gain a lot, too. And not just
fat. 
 Spending
time teaching my son how to build a house out of Legos is more satisfying then
spending time developing a six-pack. Making sure that the lights stay on and
that my home has heat is more rewarding than running ten miles, or twenty
miles, or half way around the world. Seeing the stress leave Mel’s face after
she sees me roll up my sleeves and start washing dishes is far more satisfying
than fitting comfortably into a 32 inch pair of jeans.
In my 30s, my hierarchy has changed:
1.    
Family.
2.    
Security.
3.    
Faith.
As you can see, looking good isn’t even in the
top three anymore.
I suppose what I’m starting to realize is that
although I wish I looked as lean and fit as I did in my 20’s, I am much happier
with my life in my 30’s. I’ve gained a few pounds, sure. But I’ve also gained a
family. I’ve gained responsibility, which results in satisfaction. I’ve learned
how to give and take, and find reward in the simplest of things.  

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video
game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play
dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of
fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial
and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley

 

 

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  • Sarah

    I'm sure Mel finds you doing dishes now to be way more sexy than you were when you were 24 and self absorbed.