I grew up in a small desert town in West Texas where there wasn’t much to do, but every once in a while my parents would take my brother and me to the drive-in on the edge of town. With each passing mile the sky would fade from blue to black to something richer and more promising. With each passing mile my 7 year-old body would swell more with excitement.
The first drive-in movie I saw was "Clash of the Titans." I remember being amazed by the Kraken, Medusa’s snake covered head, and heroic adventure into unknown lands. But what I remember most was Harry Hamlin as Perseus swaddled in white linen and his right pec always bare, glistening, and camera ready. I remember my heart skipping a beat every time he was on screen.
I had fallen in love for the first time.
That was the moment, I knew I was different – different from my older brother who would somehow smuggle Playboy Magazines into the house and never spoke of Perseus shirtless in a sandy arena the way I did. From that moment and well into my twenties, I spent a great deal of energy hiding all those emotions that bubbled up watching Perseus fly off heroically and bareback on Pegasus into a blue mythical sky.
Many years later, I left that sleepy town for the big city where I quickly learned that everything they say about gay men and everything my mother warned me about is true. Everything. They dress impeccably. They have every show tune ever written memorized. They will always have the best Halloween costumes. And they are all cut, and I mean Marky Mark, washboard-abs cut.
I entered an unknown world of go-go boys, mixed drinks bigger than a small child, manscaping, hair products for men and the gym. The gym. That mythical place full of sweaty bodies, tank tops, flirty trainers and biceps for miles. I was young and impressionable – and I wanted to fit in. It wasn’t too long that I too had that heroic Greek glistening chest, those immaculately sculpted eyebrows, and a tan that would make Zeus envious. The big city whipped Greek and urban myth together like soymilk into a protein shake.
When I met my husband we worked out together, shopped together, and ran together; I’m going to say it: We were hot. Life couldn’t be better and we couldn’t have been tanner or more waxed to hairless perfection.
But after the twins were born, my life went from Clash of the Titans to Clash of the Twins. Gym time quickly turned to feeding time, bath time and playtime; everything was replaced by the rigors of keeping up with two demanding babies.
I was like a many-armed god, simultaneously feeding, tandem burping, and performing synchronized diaper changes. I took on most of the night feedings, which were a challenge: as soon as one baby fell asleep the other would wake up. At the time it didn’t seem like they were taking a toll on my body. After all I was on a steady diet of coffee, M&Ms; and Pinterest. I felt like I could stay up indefinitely.
The late hours of the night, between feedings, were spent sinking into the visual vat of Pinterest, eating, and constructing a wedding board for my daughter, Luna, not yet a month old. What better way to stay awake than with a bowl full of chocolate covered peanuts and Vera Wang?
Months passed and the babies grew. I also grew. Handful-by-chocolaty-handful, those pounds add up. I was cursed with the curse of only being able to fit into sweat pants.
What had happened to my modern pompadour, my pecs, my tan? All gone. And suddenly everything that people said about gay men was no longer true.
But I was taking care of twins. I had an excuse. I had to eat chocolate to say awake, right? This is what happens when you become a dad. I was almost 40 and it wasn’t me, it was my metabolism. Even I couldn’t believe that one.
What as the point of creating of wedding board for my daughter if, at the rate I was going, I wasn’t going to be healthy enough to walk her down the aisle? Why spend so much time methodically feeding the babies if my idea of eating was ripping open a bag of candy?
Having babies and being a stay-at-home dad means getting to know yourself and the world differently. It means treating your body differently and figuring out ways to take care of yourself while taking care the many needs of babies.
For me, it started with no longer driving and getting a souped-up jogging stroller.
The babies and I started walking everywhere. And when the babies were old enough, we started jogging everywhere. And I discovered that jogging not only calmed two fussy toddlers, but it was also a great way to teach them awesome phrases like “Go, papi, go!” and, “Beep, beep, here we come!”
With each mile we ran, I slowly regained so much that was lost during that first year of late night and binge eating. We ran in the rain, though muddy trails in Stanley Park, over bridges, around the Sea Wall. We ran to gymnastic class, music class, dance class. We ran enough to train for a marathon. No matter where we were going, we ran.
But running wasn’t just about dropping a few pounds or getting my pre-dad body back. It was also about being quick enough to catch two toddlers mid air who suddenly jumped off the bed simultaneously. It was about making sure my arms will not fail me when I pick up one sleeping toddler from a car seat, then the next, unlock multiple doors, call the elevator, open my front door, and finally slide them into their beds. It was about my back not faltering for the last piggyback of the evening, no matter how deeply my daughter’s Barbie dolls pointed feet are pressing into my side. It was about my legs finding new power as I pick up my daughter to run after my son who has decided to run into bike traffic. It means that, after getting up in the middle of the night for weeks, month, even years, my body will not let me down and still marvelously awake at 5:54 a.m. to play with trains. It means being healthy to one day walk my daughter down the aisle.
My body is not that of Greek perfection. It never will be that well tanned, toned, or waxed again. And I will forever be jealous of any shirtless photo of Ricky Martin sculpted and walking his groomed twins along a manicured and sunny South Beach.
There is no use in lamenting the past or envying celebrity dads. Dads and Papas, honor your new bodies; the new body that can push a double stroller in the rain. Honor that body that can herd a group of 3-year-olds on the beach. Honor that body that can carry a backpack replete with diapers, rain boots, a change of clothes, and snacks for days. Honor that body whose arms have learned to carry your babies heroically into unknown adventures wildly new and full of promise.