A Fat Dad Election

This post was originally published on this site

It was 1972, and George McGovern was running against Richard Nixon for president.

I had just moved from a suburban area of Chicago to a bohemian neighborhood of Manhattan, and starting fourth grade in a new school felt akin to entering a foreign land. All the girls had long, straggly hair; the boys didn’t look much different.

My peers, sporting provocative buttons and stickers on their rainbow-colored backpacks and T-shirts, looked like billboards for the Democratic campaign. Most had walked with their parents in Vietnam War protests and raised money to save the planet. Our homeroom teacher, with his braided, silver beard, guided us on our school projects but also spoke about activism and was not shy about expressing his choice for the next president. The heartsick feeling I’d had about leaving Chicago, where every day for a snack we’d have Manischewitz grape juice and Tam Tam crackers, was quickly replaced by the excitement of the antiwar movement, granola bars and the coming election.

My 450-pound dad, who worked in advertising and was always in search of the perfect diet or slogan, creating famous tag lines like “Leggo my Eggo and “Go for the Gusto,” was spending his free time making phone calls for the cause or putting up McGovern posters that we bought on St. Marks Place from a man with a six-inch Afro, mutton-chop sideburns, silk pajamas and a neck full of beads. And for the first time ever, he made no mention of being on a special diet.

Until that election, most of our conversations centered around food: what he was going to eat, or not going to eat, or the diet du jour. By the time I was 9 — halfway to voting age — I had lived on every miracle plan that my dad believed would make him thin and keep him thin. I even prayed beside him while he read “I Prayed Myself Slim,” and ate seven to 10 apples a day when he was on the “Israeli Army Diet.”

But now his filing cabinets, usually stocked with emergency stashes of Yodels, Twinkies and Devil Dogs, were stuffed with McGovern for President bumper stickers and newspaper clippings. He nonchalantly munched on the carob cookies that I made for my bake sale, not even noticing the elimination of chocolate, sugar or butter.

At work his creative team, trying to come up with a new jingle for Miller beer, drew their inspiration from John Lennon and Joni Mitchell, whose music blasted from my dad’s transistor radio. I loved visiting his office at McCann Erickson, mesmerized by the multicolored walls and all the photos from their recent ad campaigns — Exxon, Nestle, GM and my favorite, from Coca-Cola: “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

My dad, a former disc jockey at Northwestern University, where, he boasted, McGovern also went to school, was an expert at converting undecided voters. “McGovern is going to bring our boys home,” he’d say, announcing his pride for the candidate he wholeheartedly believed in. My dad had not been drafted because of his extra-large size, but he always felt guilty about it. Many of his friends, many of them first-generation Americans like him, went to fight for the country they loved but never returned home.

A couple of days before the election, my dad and I walked hand in hand across town to the garment district for a rally where McGovern was going to speak. On the way, we didn’t even stop for his favorite soft, salted pretzels or the warm, roasted chestnuts that usually called his name from blocks away.

Melting into the sea of supporters waving their blue banner and signs: “McGovern — We Love You,” “Come Home America — McGovern,” “Four More Years — No Thanks,” my dad scooped me up in his arms, lifting me high above the crowds. I could see the masses of people in all directions cheering and rocking with excitement, could hear them singing “Give Peace a Chance.”

Putting me down, my dad tried to coerce me to shout at the top of my lungs, “No More Tricky Dicky,” which I found impossible to scream without bursting out in giggles. Chanting for change alongside my dad felt exhilarating. I was proud to be with him, and he happily noted how proud he was to be an American, shouting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”

Rallying for a new president, my dad seemed to be fed by something other than his usual sausage pizza with extra cheese and triple-decker chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. His passion to make the world a better place — one he wanted me to grow up in — appeared to end his cravings for sugar, salt and fat.

And on election night, in the moments before Walter Cronkite announced the crushing results, I learned that the best strategies for weight loss aren’t necessarily found in the pages of a diet book. They’re achieved when we seek to fill the real hunger in our hearts.