One of the hardest things to do, as a dad, mom, grandpa, or grandma, is to silently watch as your kids and grandkids make mistakes. Making mistakes and learning the hard way is sometimes the only way that lessons can truly make the impact that is life-changing. Sometimes our preaching and coaching falls on deaf ears until we get our audience at just the right moment. Myself, I smoked cigarettes until my Dad told me he had emphysema. That was the right moment in my life to finally get me to the point that I knew that there was no better time to quit than immediately.
Now I have a twenty something that is staying at the house. He has been living ‘on his own’ in the US Navy now for almost six years. When he left home we were living the life that everyone else in our circle was living. I drank a twelve pack of Coke per week, at least, and drank a case of beer every week, too. We ate the average diet that included everything that I preach against these days. There was plenty of processed foods, sweet foods, starchy foods in our menu.
He is home for about a month, just before he is to get out of the Navy. He has been living on fast food, junk food–the typical diet for the single man. At my house he is eating candy, cakes, drinking energy drinks. Nothing I say can stop him from acting like that. I tell him all that sugar will get to him and he laughs the laugh of the invincible. He says he would probably keel over if he went a day without a Monster to get him through his busy life. Where do they get the idea that one has to have an artificial stimulant because their schedule is packed? People throughout history have maintained busy lives, and much more physical lives without the benefit of drinks that were just recently invented. The message is in the media, of course, and maybe from friends and colleagues.
As I watch him eat, play, sleep, I wonder how does a person teach someone at this stage in life how to feed him or herself properly? I know that he has a kitchen in his house in Hawaii, but I would be willing to bet that it never gets used, except for the microwave to heat up left over junk foods. I remember when I was single in my twenties, I cooked for just myself on a regular basis, and I ate out infrequently. I drank a lot of beer, smoked a lot of cigarettes, but I really didn’t eat nearly as unhealthy a diet as today’s kids do. It is hard to cook for one, but I would always cook for four and eat that same meal four times, until it was all gone. There was no need to cook every day, that way.
Amazingly, my son does not come from a family that eats out, or eats junk his whole life. The life he is living is not the life that he saw growing up. He is truly a product of convenience trumping all. The food he is eating is not better or better tasting than what I know that he knows how to cook, it is just easier. Maybe if he were to find a partner in life it would get better for the pair of them, but who knows? If his girlfriend is trained to convenience like he is then it may be many many years before they get to the point that they are worried that they are getting heavier, no matter what they eat.
So the answer is that I just don’t know how I can warn him about the poisons in his diet. Other than to tell him that sugar is an addictive substance, I don’t really know how to explain to him what an addiction is. He does not recoil automatically from something just because it is harmful and addictive. When your babies are babies you can tell them something dangerous is ‘hot’. That is enough to keep them away. Once they are men they have to find out what is hot for themselves and our warnings can serve as signposts for what to try next, instead.
On the up-side, there is a good chance that, because he has only been eating like a food-science-lab rat, living entirely on processed foods full of lab-created ingredients, for the last six years, that he hasn’t really done that much damage yet to his heart or liver. Maybe he doesn’t have that much adipose fat in his torso, at least it’s not yet too visible. I know that kids that eat like he does are obese by the time they are in middle school and the damage can be quick to come on, so maybe he is not in as bad shape as he will be in a few more years of the kind of abuse I have been witnessing for the last week.