As I wake to what looks like another beautiful day on tap, I look forward to helping my husband feel a little more special today, but can't help wishing someone else was here to celebrate. His name is Jeremiah (aka Jamal Shaheid Muslim) Shabazz. That's my Daddy. Unfortunately, we no longer celebrate Father's Day together. My son & daughter (who looks just like him) never gave him a big squeeze around the neck, never had him pinch their noses. He never puffed out his cheek with air and make a loud toot as they kissed it, or shared with them one of his amazing stories. Nope, they missed all of that because his health failed him before they were even born.
My daughter & My Daddy
Fortunately, if you look at the most common causes of death, most, if not all are preventable. According to the CDC, the leading causes of death in America are heart disease, cancer, lung disease and stroke. The list is similar for ethnic group subsets. The risk of all of those can be dramatically reduced by following a healthier lifestyle- one that results in a slim waistline, does not include cigarettes (which happens to give you a slightly fatter wallet), that is high in fresh fruits and veggies but low in fat, meat, and processed food. For blacks and Latinos in particular, the statistics on other health indicators help you understand why we tend to die younger. Here is just a snippet:
Black men who currently smoke: 24.4%
Black men who are obese: 38.1%
Black men with hypertension: 37.6%
U.S. adults with pre-diabetes: 35%
Latinos & Blacks with diagnosed diabetes: ~12%
My dad had many healthy habits. He did not smoke, he jogged 5 miles nearly every day, and ate lots of home cooked meals including the vitamin & protein packed navy bean soup almost every day. However, becoming relaxed with his 20 year pattern of eating one meal a day led to overindulgence that resulted in weight gain in his 40's. He was diagnosed with diabetes by the time he was in his early 50's. There are things I can look back on that I now know were clues that he did not have good control of his condition. He urinated frequently, a tell-tale sign your sugar is too high. He had a sweet tooth. We all were under the false impression that his diabetes wasn't that serious because he didn't take insulin. He didn't even own a glucose meter to monitor his sugar levels. After jogging, much of the benefit of his vigorous exercise was undone with a fat & sugar packed meal soon after. He ate beef and lamb more often than he should.
|My Dad in his younger years, with Malcolm X & The Hon. Elijah Muhammad. An FBI report I have says he was a slender 5'10" and 160 pounds at the time.|
My freshman year in college, he started having symptoms of congestive heart failure, a common complication of uncontrolled diabetes. His heart was no longer strong enough for him to jog every day. He was in and out of the hospital over the next 5 years. Keeping close with the prognosis of CHF at the time, he passed away months after his 70th birthday. I was, and still am, heartbroken.
There are a few lessons in all of this that I hope any reader can learn and some actions steps to consider. For one, most of my patients are women. I am not convinced that the men are only visiting male doctors, I think men are less likely to visit any doctor. This is especially true in terms of getting preventive care. Bleeding, swelling, or pain might send a macho man to the exam table, but without it, they might need a little nudge from someone else. Most of the time, the women in their lives will have to take action, but there is so much power in brothers encouraging each other to get a check-up.
This week (maybe not today), pick up the phone. Ask the men in your life if they have had a check up in the last year. Offer to help them get an appointment set up. Ask your dad if he would mind you coming along to one of his appointments so that you can get a sense of how he is handling any medical conditions and what you can do to help. Here are some tips on how to do this. I know it's hard, especially when we start worrying about our loved ones, but try not to brow beat him. I can still hear my dad's voice in annoyance "I don't need you admonishing me!" Let him know how much you love and care about him and that you want him to be present and healthy for every grandchild, graduation, wedding, etc to come. This Father's Day, let the men in your life know you really care. Redo your fridge & pantry to contain food choices that prolong life and encourage men to make their health a priority.
Peace & health,