We inherit unique traits from our parents. I inherited my father's eating disorder
My dad became a vegetarian in his forties. His law practice was taking off, my mom had just given birth to my little brother, and we had just moved to a new house in a better neighborhood. It’s obvious dad started the diet as a way to become healthier since he had his entire life ahead of himself. The family was supportive and we even laughed when he’d joked about us eating meat at the dining table.
However, over the years, his diet became an obsession. He just stopped eating. We’d go out to restaurants and he’d barley touch the side salad he ordered. His jokes also became less funny and more vulgar. We’d be driving through the neighborhood and he’d angrily shout to joggers, “Stop eating dead animals if you want to lose weight!” He became so gaunt and frail that by the time I was in high school, strangers would stop my mother to ask if he was dying.
Like all boys, I looked up to my dad. He had come to America on a tiny boat from Cuba when he was only fifteen years old.
“When people spoke about America, I thought about Steve McQueen,” he once told me. “A real good-looking and cool guy.”
Dad learned English, went to law school in Iowa, and founded his own practice in Miami. He was legendary in my eyes. He crossed oceans and conquered foreign lands. There was nothing he couldn’t do and when I’d see the poster of Steve McQueen hanging in the garage, I thought this guy had nothing on my dad. Sure, he was fashionable and drove a kick ass car. But even as a kid I knew “Steve McQueen” was an image conjured up by Hollywood magic. My dad was the real deal.
We eventually stopped calling dad a vegetarian and began using the word “anorexic.” I’d heard the word before but never in reference to a man. Anorexia was something DJ Tanner on Full House suffered from, and she was a fourteen-year-old girl.
Dad began eating again after he was diagnosed with anemia. He just woke up one morning and started keeping a well-balanced diet. He triumphed over anorexia like some mythical hero.
“He’s done with it,” my mom rejoiced one day when we saw dad coming in from a jog, looking strong and healthy. As though he had completed a level in some video game. Just like that. My family thought we were done with anorexia once and for all, but we weren’t.
You see, in my 20s, when I was a junior in college, I too became anorexic.
My story with anorexia is a bit different from my dad’s but there are a few common denominators. All my life, I was the skinny kid who was always picked last for sports. I was relentlessly teased for being so naturally slim. Even my abuela thought my svelte frame was worrisome.
“Mi flacito,” she’d say to me. “You’re so skinny. You need to become stronger otherwise you’ll never find a wife when you grow up.”
In college I started hitting the gym religiously, determined not to be that scrawny kid anymore. I took creatine and really packed on the muscles. My family and friends all told me I was finally becoming a man, except I wasn’t looking for a wife. I was gay, and the guys I dated liked me because I was tall and lanky. Now when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who wasn’t me. I feared my growing body would make me unattractive.
I ate ten dry roasted peanuts a day for weeks to lose the extra weight, and made several visits to a pro-anorexic message board. The pro-ana community I partook in was this online group where we gave each other tips on how to starve and discussed our thinspirations.
“Water weight is for fatties,” one poster wrote. “Drink as little water as possible if you want to look like Nicole Richie.”
I weighed myself before and after a cup of water, and the poster was right. Those two ounces of water weight were the difference between feeling like a celebrity and feeling obese.
I’m 6 feet tall and I withered away to 118.3 pounds in a matter of months. Like my dad, people would stop and ask if I was dying and in my sick twisted perspective, I saw this as a compliment.
Finally, on a weekend trip home from college, my dad pulled me aside to ask the question that had been haunting him: “Are you anorexic ’cause of me?”
Also like my dad, I too just started eating again after a health scare. However, eating again was the easy part. I wish my mom was right when she said my dad was done with the disease, because anorexia does not vanish, no matter how much you feed it. And though it’s a journey I struggle with daily, I fully understand the importance of keeping a balanced diet and exercising.
Did I inherit anorexia from my dad? The answer is obvious. Anorexia is a terrifying and cunning disease that does not discriminate against age or gender. Everyone has body issues, even dads and sons. There are things we inherit from our parents, some good and some bad, that we have to accept and be proud of. And though my dad and I have both had our hardships with anorexia, it has formed a rapport between us that is impenetrable. We know we aren’t alone in our struggle and will always have each other.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice Magazine, Queerty, and The Advocate. In 2013, he cofounded an online literary journal called The Ink and Code, where he publishes awesome writers. You can follow his misadventures over on Twitter @mrpaulflorez.