fatherhood means your health is not about you

 

DSC_1098I am not as healthy as I want to be. I am out of shape. I am overweight—I have been all my life. Though my cooking and eating styles have evolved since my youth to be pretty darned healthy, especially compared to an adolescence spent sneaking breaded Tyson chicken patties for after-school snack when my parents weren’t home and covering up the evidence with Lysol sprayed near the microwave, I have a tendency to indulge. And after an autumn spent reveling in the fact that both kids were in school at the same time and using that time to finally get my atrophied legs back pumping some bicycle pedals, I have, ashamedly, fallen back into my natural tendency toward inertia. Yes, I admit to laziness. And I don’t like it. But it’s so hard to change.

So hard to change—and yet, I have all the motivation I need right in front of me, if only I’d  gather the wherewithal to harness it. Because as I am reminded on a daily basis, my health is not about me. Okay, yes, it necessarily is about me, but what I mean is this: as a father of two amazing girls, as the partner of a extraordinary woman, as the son of parents who spent their lives caring for me and now spend their lives caring for their own aging parents, I need to live better, stay healthy, for them. Not only as a model for my daughters, but I need to make changes, lasting changes, so that I will continue to be here, physically, mentally, emotionally, at my best, for those I love, for those who need me to be here.

Healthy living. Healthy eating. Exercise. Reflection. Prevention. It’s not just about or for the person doing it.

Today, besides all of the everyday things I need to be doing to be healthier for my family, I’m thinking about cancer. Cancer sucks. My grandfather died from prostate cancer when I was in college. My father has been a survivor of kidney cancer for over a decade. And my mother is a nine-year survivor of breast cancer. Countless stories of mixed-race kids unable to find bone marrow matches to treat their leukemia led me to register as a bone marrow donor years before I became a father, and to collect and store my oldest child’s cord blood when she was born. Every day, I hear my family physician wife talk about patients whose lives were saved because of early detection, because of things like my friend Jim Higley has asked me to talk about, the self-exam for testicular cancer detection. This is just one more small thing we can do for those who need us to keep on being here.

It’s Man UP Monday! 
 
I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM!
Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.
Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?
Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable is detected early?
Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?
What can you do?
Stop by the Single Jingles website for more information on Testicular Cancer
Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions – it just might save a young man in your life!
And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!
Thank you to Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad for inviting me to participate in this important education campaign and for all the passion, dedication, and hard work he puts behind this cause.
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my daughter’s first funeral

bachanandpumpkin

This week my family buried my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who passed away a little over a week before at the age of 96. It was a long time coming, at the end of a long life, and while we are sad, we also know that the pain that plagued her in recent years and months can no longer hurt her.

It was my daughters’ first funeral. Not a milestone a parent can really prepare for, no matter how inevitable. I knew that my happy, dance-y four-year-old would be fine, seeing the event only as an occasion to meet new people and wear a new dress. I was worried about her eight-year-old sister, though, my sensitive, thoughtful girl who is old enough to understand what is going on but who seems to have inherited, for better or worse, her father’s tendency to both feel things deeply and be unable to easily express those feelings to oneself or others in a way that can help with processing those feelings and moving forward.

Though physical distance and my grandmother’s progressively worsening health had made visits with her infrequent at best, The Pumpkin had spent time with her at family gatherings over the years, especially before she became infirm enough to warrant nursing home care. The Pumpkin knows the woman we raised her to call “Bachan,” has memories of her. (To a lesser degree, her little sister does too—every time she would see the poster collage I made for the service from photos of my grandmother, The Button would point and happily exclaim, “It’s Bachan!”) She knows what death is, through her friends who have lost loved ones, but especially from the loss of our dear family dog, Waldo, who greeted her upon her arrival home from the hospital as a newborn, whose name was her first word, and who passed away after a long, quiet battle with cancer when The Pumpkin was six.

But death is not something I’ve talked about much with her, and so, a couple days before the funeral, as we sat side-by-side reading, I asked her if she had any questions, either about the end of life, or Bachan’s death, or what was going to happen at the funeral. That was more concrete, perhaps, more right-in-front-of-her, more graspable, and so she said yes, she wanted to know what would happen at the funeral. And so I told her about how there would be a ceremony in the cemetary chapel, with Bachan’s body dressed up and made up so that she looked like she was sleeping in a casket, and how it would be open so that people could look at her one last time to say goodbye but that she didn’t have to go up there if she didn’t want to. I told her that the Japanese American Buddhist minister who married her grandmother and grandfather would chant in Sanskrit and ring a bell, sort of like the hymns sung by the choir in the Catholic and Episcopalian services she’d been to. (My mother would later play them a video of such chanting so they would know what it sounded like beforehand.) I told her that different people and different religions have different beliefs about what does or does not happen after death, and just as she was familiar with the Christian beliefs of her mother and her family about God and souls and heaven, she would hear the
Buddhist reverend talk about a different belief, the one her grandmother was brought up with. I didn’t complicate matters by trying to explain what I do or do not believe, and luckily, she didn’t ask me. Maybe she just knew.

I told her that at some point, everyone would be invited to come up and drop a pinch of incense in a burner, bow, and then say goodbye to Bachan, and that, again, she could go or stay, or even go up with me, it was up to her and how she felt at the moment.I told her that my mom’s brother, father of her 9- and 5-year-old second cousins with whom she was excited to play, would talk about Bachan’s life, and that I would thank everyone for coming on behalf of the family and invite them to join us for a meal afterwards, and hat for some reason, the traditional thing to do after a Japanese American funeral was to go out for Chinese food, which she was excited about. And I told her that after the chapel ceremony was over, Grandpa, some other family members, and I would help move the casket to the big black car which would take it to the grave site, and all of us would follow it there, where we would say a final goodbye to Bachan. And I reminded her that it was important for all of us to be there for Grandma and let her know we loved her and were there for her. Did she have any questions, about anything? No, she said. We continued to sit there, reading, separately but together. I think just knowing what was going to happen when, the process of the thing, helped to set her at ease a bit.

Somehow, as the funeral got underway, we got separated. I sat with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my great-uncle, who had lost two sisters in less than a month and was now, at 92, the last of five siblings left (six if you include the first-born girl who died as a baby not long after my grandmother’s birth and about whom no one of my mom’s generation had known until they started doing research for my great-aunt’s funeral a few weeks ago). My wife had taken The Button to a pew further back, near her parents, my dear parents-in-law who had come to show their support, in case she needed to take our rambunctious little one outside—we needn’t have worried, as the minister’s sutra chanting lulled her to sleep in her mama’s lap for an unexpected nap. But The Pumpkin had wanted to stay with her cousins, and so ended up across the aisle from us, sitting next to my uncle’s oldest while his wife had her hands full with the twins. I looked across, beckoning her to sit by me whenever she looked my way, but she shook her head no. I kept watching her face, worried, wanting her to be okay, wanting to be able to pull her close and nestle her by my side, arm around her, to kiss her hair and let her know that everything was going to be okay, that she was allowed to feel anything she needed to feel.

I watched her as she watched the minister chant, strike his bell, burn incense. I watched her as the family started to queue up to burn incense, bow, and approach the casket, holding my hand out to her to ask if she wanted to go up with me, but she shook her head no and stayed on the bench with her cousin. I watched her as my uncle gave a combination of a eulogy and the family history common at Japanese American Buddhist funerals, weaving the story of my grandmother’s family with the story of his own, at times rocky, relationship with his mother and what he had learned from her by the end of her life. I watched her face, serious and beautiful, as the minister read the Letter on White Ashes, a Jodo Shinshu text about the impermanence of life, and then talk about what the ideas about death held by this sect of Buddhism, which comprises a large portion of the Japanese American community, mean for the living.

Life is short. Wake up. Live.

Every funeral, every memorial service, every pinch of incense, every bow—each one is a reminder:

Life is short. Wake up. Live.

As I watched my daughter walk up to her great-grandmother’s casket with her cousin after the ceremony was concluded, as I put my arm around my mother’s shoulder, shook my uncle’s hand, hugged my great-uncle, as I helped my father and my cousins carry my great-grandmother to and from the hearse, as I watched my daughter happily hand out flowers to the assembled to place on the casket at the grave site and then place one of her own on both the casket and on the headstone of the great-grandfather she never got to meet, as I watched both my girls dance and run and play with their cousins in between mouthfuls in the banquet room of the Chinese restaurant, as I clasped my wife’s hand in mine in silent thanks, that is what echoed in my mind.

Life is short.

Wake up.

For them, and for me, live.

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and now, for some shameless begging: vote for me!!! (please)

jasonsperberrecipe

I am proud to announce that I am one of eight semi-finalists in ReadySetEat and Dad 2.0‘s Great Dad Cook-Off dadblogger recipe contest. From 12 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 13, 2012 until 12 p.m. EST on Monday, January 14, 2013, you can vote for your favorite recipe (one vote per Facebook user ID/person per day, so please go back every day, and spread the word!) on the Great Dad Cook-Off tab on the ReadySetEat Facebook page (the main ReadySetEat Facebook page is here). The top four vote-getters will earn all-expense-paid trips to the Dad 2.013 dadblogger summit in Houston Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and will compete in a live cook-off to kick off the conference on Thursday, Jan. 31. Needless to say, a free trip to the second annual Dad 2.0 would be awesome, as would be the chance to cook in front of my colleagues and friends for a chance at a big prize, and so I’m asking for your support all month long.

Contest entries had to be original, healthful recipes for a weeknight family meal for four, completed in half-an-hour, and I submitted a weekly favorite in our home, teriyaki salmon with kale mashed potatoes (tweaked just a bit to use sponsor ConAgra’s LaChoy teriyaki sauce and Wesson canola oil). My 8-year-old and 4-year-old daughters devour this meal every time I make it, and the kale mashed potatoes, made with Yukon golds, dark Tuscan kale, and lots of garlic, are good and hearty enough to stand alone as a vegan meal. It’s quick, easy, and tasty, and a great way to get your kids to eat their dark leafy greens and get their omega-3s.

Last year I had the privilege of being on a panel about dads and community at the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit, and I’m so excited to be speaking again this year, on a panel called “Cross-Cultural Communication and the American Understanding of Fatherhood.” The opportunity to connect and dialogue IRL with other dadbloggers and mombloggers was and is invaluable—and the only thing that could be better? Going as a Great Dad Cook-Off finalist. As the saying goes, vote early and vote often—and I thank you for your support.

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dude where’s my mo?

20121129-065936.jpgTwenty-nine days ago, I shaved off the mustache and goatee I’d had for thirteen straight years in order to participate in Movember, the global effort to raise funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer support and education through the cultivation of upper-lip hair. As you can see, what I have on my face today, at the end of a month of growing, resembles the Day 2 pictures of some of my esteemed teammates on the Dad 2.013/NYC Dads Group team, who now appear as if they are hosting large mutant woolly caterpillars on their mouths. I’m sure they (or, rather, their spouses) are anxiously awaiting the day-after-tomorrow so they can break out their razors again and return to normal. I, however, can’t wait until Saturday so I can stop shaving my chin and start hoping that my goatee grows back and that I don’t look even more strange and patchy and sadsack during the next month than I have during this one. Sigh.

[True story: last week, on Thanksgiving, my grandmother told me that I looked younger without my mustache and beard. She was standing right. in. front. of. me.]

You know how you can make me feel better and make it all worth it, though, right? You’ve got a little less than two days left to donate, so go to my MoSpace at mobro.co/jasonsperber now and give now. My poor, sparsely upholstered face thanks you.

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i just shaved off my 13-year-old goatee for movember (so give me money)

I just shaved off the goatee I’ve had on my face for almost exactly thirteen years. I haven’t been clean-shaven since I was 25. Holy crap.

Okay. Take a breath. [That was to myself, not to you.] Okay, now why would I do such a thing, something with the potential to scare (but which of course only provoked laughter from) my children, who’d never seen my top lip and chin before, and to scratch the beautiful spouse whom I’ve been kissing with this thing on my face for almost three-quarters of our life together?

Because it’s Movember, MoBros. And this year, this dad, son, grandson, husband, and dadblogger decided to step up and join the awesome Dad 2.013/NYC Dads Group team to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer awareness, education and research by growing hair on our upper lips for the month of November. I’m sure there are many fine MoBros who are normally clean-shaven who look at this month as some philanthropic fun that will end with a razor restoring their faces to normalcy, or others who are follicularly blessed with the ability to change their look at will. But when I jokingly say that I wasn’t sure about doing this, even with the great cause and the peer pressure, because I’m afraid this thing on my face [correction: this thing that was on my face until this morning] won’t grow back, I’m only partially joking.

My dad has had a full beard my entire life. I’ve seen photos of him pre-marriage and pre-beard, but I’ve never seen it in person, and I never will. His red-blond beard and mustache has gone grey over the years, but it’s never lost its fullness. His dad, my late grandfather, I remember as someone who switched between mustachioed and clean-shaven whenever it suited him, and he looked good either way. My dad’s younger brother has mostly stayed baby-faced, though I seem to remember a long-ago mustachioed period or two that is best left to distant memory next to his youthful Jewfro. My mom’s dad, who passed when I was in junior high, I seem to remember mostly clean-shaven, while his son, my mom’s brother and my uncle, has defied stereotypes about Asian men and facial hair to sport a pretty full mustache for most of my memory.

I first tried to grow a mustache and goatee when I was still in college and teaching over the summer while my girlfriend, now wife, was overseas doing research. It was an experiment and a lark, started after she left and expunged before her return, and I have no photographic evidence of it. When we got married three summers later, in 1998, I was as clean-shaven as always. But a little over a year later, when she left for a few months to do med school externships and residency interviews in California, I decided to try again. I started in October 1999, and when met her at the airport for Thanksgiving, she found her husband with a mustache and a goatee. [And an earring in his left ear that hadn’t been there before, but we don’t talk about that anymore.]

In part, I grew it then because I was getting ready to go to grad school to teach high school the following year, and I hoped that some facial hair would make me look older, if not to my students, then at least to the other staff so I wouldn’t get stopped on campus and asked why I was out of class. [And yeah, the earring… Never mind.] In part, I grew it because, I think, that was how I always thought I’d look. I knew I couldn’t do the full beard like my dad, but thought a goatee would look, I don’t know, grown up, distinguished, or something. And though the mustache has been a bit sparse in places for my liking, this has become how I see myself when I think of myself. When it’s a certain length, you can see flecks of reddish orange in the light, my mishmashed Hebraic/Celtic inheritance, and I always get a kick of being the Asian American guy with the (slightly) red(dish) beard. Though I’ve had it for less than half my life, I’ve had it for most of my marriage, all of my time in Bakersfield, and all of my time as a father.

And I really, really want it to come back. I’d finally decided, last month, to bite the bullet and do this, signing up with the Dad 2.0 team, before I found and read the rules:

Movember is about real men growing real, authentic moustaches. It’s the moustache which causes an average of 61 people to ask each Mo Bro why he’s growing it. To be a true Mo Bro you should start completely clean shaven on Movember 1st and grow a Mo. The definition of a Mo:

1.    There is to be no joining of the Mo to side burns – That’s a beard.
2.    There is to be no joining of the handlebars – That’s a goatee.
3.    A small complimentary growth under the bottom lip is allowed (aka a tickler).

Crap. So not only do I have to start from scratch, I have to wait until December to try to grow the bottom half back. And what’ll that look like, trying to grow a goatee to match an already growing mustache? Like uneven layers or something? I have no idea.

But you know what? My customary wordiness has made me push to the bottom the real reason to do this. A year before I got married, my grandfather, Jerome Leon Sperber, passed away from a short battle with prostate cancer. Actually, we’d been planning to wait to get married until after my wife-to-be finished medical school, but my grandfather’s death made us realize that waiting longer only meant the possibility that other loved ones might not be with us. So, I do this in the memory of my father’s father. And if, by chance, my facial hair grows back patchy, funny-looking, or not at all, it’s worth it.

So, please, in my grandfather’s memory, and for the friends and loved ones in your lives touched by prostate cancer and testicular cancer, and yes, in the hopes that you can bribe my facial hair to grow back properly through philanthrophy, please visit my Movember page and donate, and check back here and there over the month to see how funny I look.

Now, on a lighter note, some multimedia:

The last time I was clean-shaven, June 27, 1998 (1.25 years before I grew my goatee).

What I think I look like. (Because Karen Walrond makes me look good!)

And finally, here’s the main event, The Pumpkin shooting me shaving it off this morning before taking her and her sister to school, with The Button’s color commentary:

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eight

Eight years ago on Halloween, two weeks before my wife’s due date, we got a trick-or-treat surprise.

Eight years ago today, my baby girl was born.

Eight years ago today, I became a father, and my world has never been the same.

I have watched her grow, learn, try, cry, fall, smile, and laugh. I have rocked her to sleep as a baby and carried her, sleeping, to her own bed after falling asleep in mine as a big kid. I have held her, encouraged her, yelled at her, been frustrated with her, apologized to her, tried to understand and support and validate her. I have witnessed her be a loving sister, a good friend, a curious and creative and knowledge-loving student. I have been amazed by who she is, has become, is becoming. Just as parents shape their children, her mother and I are who we are today because of her.

Happy eighth birthday, our Pumpkin. We love you.

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toddler gangnam style

The Button loves to sing, loves to dance, and loooooooves Gangnam Style. The first two weeks of preschool, she’d demand to watch the video, over and over again, once she woke up from her nap. This is just a taste of the entertainment we’re treated to on a daily basis. Baby. Doesn’t. Stop. (Heh.)

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