Gaining.... By Losing
Sometimes becoming a newer and better self starts with letting go of the self you know
Recently, I took my wonderful son, Peace, (truth be told, all three of my sons are wonderful) to try on a new suit. As a college student and a teenager, a nice suit wasn't exactly what he had in mind for the next addition to his wardrobe.
But I think he walked out of that store with more than a new coat and pants. He had put on a new version of himself, and wore a new understanding of who he was, who he is, and who he can become.
See, my son, just a year ago, was that "one in three" American children and adolescents considered overweight. Just a few years ago, he was one of roughly 10% of teenagers in America considered extremely obese.
Despite that, people gravitated to him. His personality and heart have always been as big as his body, and he made friends easily with kids from many different socioeconomic backgrounds.
- He was a football player, a captain for the last part of his senior year due to his hard work and fierce love for his teammates, not necessarily his playing abilities.
- He was a track captain, not because of any record-breaking performances, but because of his unique way of bringing people together and encouraging them.
- He was the kid with the advice column in the school newspaper who actually gave pretty good advice.
- He was the kid who worked his way up from stagehand to one of the leads in the school musical.
Peace learned to play the ukelele for his role as Uncle Fester in "The Addams Family" musical.
And yet, there was this mountain that he faced daily, staring at him in the mirror.
My son has taken on mountains before. He became a football player in 9th grade after never playing the sport. He sang in public when I'd rarely ever heard him sing in the shower. He went from being a freshman nervous to hang with "the rich kids" at his new high school, to being the one senior quoted by the school's headmaster during her remarks at graduation. In losing his fears, he'd gained something precious.
Three generations. Me, Peace, and my dad at graduation, June 2017.
But losing 100 pounds in one calendar year? Especially after being told his whole life he's "just a big guy"? In a much larger and more difficult sense, he'd have to give up more than pounds: he'd have to give up his very self-image.
Often in life, we have to lose something we've embraced about ourselves to gain a higher level of accomplishment, a higher realization of self, and even a higher sense of inner peace. To gain the joys of marriage, a man has to give up the benefits (perceived or real) of being a bachelor. To gain her dream of practicing medicine, a woman has to give up her childhood apprehensions about math.
"To become a healthier version of himself, my son had to give up a lot - not just food, but time, choices, and his expectations as a young man."
Seeing the numbers move in the right direction on the scale mattered to him, I'm sure. Seeing him break through certain milestones mattered too, even when those goals were initially small.
But for me - as his dad, workout partner, and life coach - to get to a point where I could not recognize my son in public because he stopped being "just a big guy"? That hit me hard in a very good way. And, because I'm his dad, I watched his progress and rooted for him in a way that he could not see for himself.
That is, until he saw himself in the mirror, in that suit, in a size he never would have thought he could ever wear just a year ago.
To be fair: he's still a teenager. He's still too cool to show all of the emotions that go with shattering a lifelong physical self-image, so I didn't quite see the joyful shock, the humble pride, and even some of the apprehensive acknowledgement that came with fitting a pair of pants and jacket that did not have "XXL" or larger on the label.
Now more than ever in his young life, he understands: by shedding the weight and losing much of who he was before, he has gained a future full of better health, increased confidence in his ability to achieve his goals, and a lifelong example that more often than not - hard work and persistence do pay off.
Over the past 365 days, my son lost some weight as well as some blood, sweat, and tears. But he gained so much more.
Peace at college in New York City this spring.
Lenny McAllister is a former television host and radio host in his native Pittsburgh as well as Chicago, including the radio show "Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister" and "NightTalk: Get to the Point" on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel.