By Theresa K. Jackson, Public Health Scientist
U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)
"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." – Clarence Buddington Kelland (1881-1964)
This statement is certainly true in the Army. If you ask a sample of Soldiers why they chose to join the military, many say they wanted to serve their country or protect our freedoms. Others suggest it was because one or both of their parents were in the military. Given that nearly 50 percent of military children enter or consider entering the military, we know that children of Soldiers learn from their parents about a potential career and commitment to their country. But what are they learning from their parents, and particularly their fathers, about health?
Think back. When you were a child, who made your doctor’s appointments and took you to the doctor? Who ensured you had your immunizations? Who encouraged you to eat your broccoli and prevented you from eating french fries at every meal?
For some, it was Dad. For most, it was Mom. The Men’s Health Network suggests there is a silent health crisis today among U.S. men, which begins in childhood. Our society often discourages healthy behaviors in men and boys. Men are told to “suck it up,” or “take it like a man.” If something hurts, we tell our males to push through the pain. We reward men for being tough and ignoring their aches, pains and feelings.
These norms begin early, when our young men receive these messages from their families, peers and the media; and they are perpetuated further when we are taught that health is a mother’s — and hence a woman’s—role. It may not be surprising, then, that once they are adults men make half as many appointments as women with healthcare professionals for prevention.
They are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors like tobacco use and alcohol abuse than women and are less likely to seek help if something is bothering them. Sadly, this leads to negative health outcomes later in life.
Men live five years less than women, on average, and are more likely than women to die of heart disease, cancer, injuries, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, HIV, suicide and homicide—just to name a few. We need to help our children, and especially our boys, learn that health is everyone’s issue. Therefore, this Father’s Day and every day, we encourage all Army dads to lead by example.
Let our 570,000 Army children see our men in uniform take charge of health by remembering the acronym F.A.T.H.E.R.:
· Fight the silent men’s health crisis. Talk to your buddies about health issues, and advocate for your health and your friends’ health. Challenge the norms suggesting that manly men push through anything that bothers them.
· Always take care of yourself. Pay attention to your body. When you don’t feel well, go to the doctor. If something is worrying you, talk to someone.
· Talk to your kids. Communication is key between fathers and children. Strong emotional bonds are important to child development and family cohesion. Talking with your kids fosters a family unit that is safe, supportive and loving. Encourage your male children, in particular, to talk with you when they need to.
· Have fun with health. Show your kids that health can be fun — for you and for them. Play catch, ride your bikes together, jump waves in the ocean or visit a farmer’s market. This doesn’t just keep your family active, it also allows you to spend time together and make positive memories.
· Encourage and engage in healthy behaviors. Sometimes what we say and do are two different things. How many of us tell the children around us not to smoke or drink alcohol when we ourselves cannot follow that advice? Do your best to live a healthy lifestyle—exercise, get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, limit your alcohol intake, avoid tobacco and practice what you preach. Doing these things keeps you happier and healthier—which is good for you and your kids.
· Remember you’re their role model. By making your own health appointments and attending theirs when you are home, you will teach your children that health is a man’s responsibility too. By remaining physically fit, you teach your children that taking care of their bodies is important. Healthy children start with healthy parents.
There are nearly one million men in today’s Army and more than four out of 10 male Soldiers are parents. We encourage all our dads to live as F.A.T.H.E.R.s—and let your children watch you do it. The Army Family, and yours, will be stronger because of it.
For more information on being a healthy father: Armed Forces Press Service, http://www.military.com/news/article/dod-combats-childhood-obesity.html
Men’s Health Network, http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/silenthealthcrisis.pdf
Department of the Army, http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/docs/demographics/FY10_Army_Profile.pdf
Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, http://www.deomi.org/contribute/DiversityMgmt/documents/AmericasMilitaryPopulation2004.pdf