How I got my 74 Year-Old-Dad to Go to the Gym for the First time in his Life

Me (left) and my brother (right) with our dad as kids.

For most of the 74 years of my dad’s life, he never took his health seriously.

Due to poor diet, he was obese and diabetic for decades. He never went to the gym. He never played any sports. All he did since retiring years ago was read books and watch TV on the living room couch.

As my dad approached 70, he started to pay the price for his unhealthy lifestyle.

Once he had an asthma attack on an airplane, which caused him to develop a fear of flying. Another time, he injured his throat and lost the ability to swallow solid food for months. After that, he developed neuropathic pain in his leg, and he had to undergo back surgery to restore his ability to walk.

Then one time while I was visiting home, my dad fell head-first down an entire flight of stairs.

I was watching a movie in the living room one evening when suddenly, I heard a thunderous crash from the corridor behind me. When I spun around to see what had fallen, my eyes took in an image that will live with me forever:

My dad was lying face-down on the hard-tile floor, twitching and grumbling like a wounded bear.

I leapt across the room to his aid while screaming for my mom to call 911. On the floor next to his head a pool of blood was forming. The top of his skull had cut open, and blood was flowing from it like a stream.

As we waited for the ambulance to come, a feeling started to well up in my stomach, and a dark thought emerged in my mind:

This is the last time that I see my father alive…

In the end, that thought proved to be untrue.

My dad walked away from that fall with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises. We were only in the hospital for an hour before I drove him back home to sleep in his own bed.

Somehow, dad kept walking away unscathed from these near-death experiences. But I knew his luck couldn’t last forever.

He needed to get his act together when it came to his health habits. But whenever I broached the subject with him, he dismissed it with black humor:

“Give up my croissants? I’ll be food for the worms soon enough, might as well give them something tasty to chow on!”

Our doctor told us his cynicism was a sign of old-age depression. When I learned this, the problem appeared even more intractable to me. Not only did we have to clean up his eating and exercise habits, we also had to clean up his thinking and feeling habits.

How could you possibly change the lifelong habits of a curmudgeonly septuagenarian old man?

Over time, I began to grow numb to it all, and I slid into a fatalistic belief:

My dad makes his own decisions, so all I can do is accept whatever happens.

I say I “slid” into this belief because it wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just the assumption operating in the background of my action (or more precisely, inaction) at the time.

Then in April of this year, I had a profound experience, and my fundamental beliefs shifted.

Ever since this shift, my new belief has been as follows:

My dad’s health is MY responsibility, so I must do everything I can imagine to help him be better.

Six months after I started acting out this belief, my mother sends me this message:

After a lifetime of inactivity, my 74 year old father now goes to the gym every morning and eats healthy every day.

In the past month alone, he’s lost over 25 pounds and reduced his insulin intake substantially. What’s more is he isn’t depressed anymore. When I listen to him now, I don’t hear cynicism in his voice anymore. He’s cheerful and optimistic about the future.

My father’s health transformation has been an overwhelming source of joy and meaning for me and my family.

At the end of this essay, I will describe the experience that led to my shift in belief and all these amazing results. But first, I want to describe the actual actions I took to help my dad solve his health issues.

As you read, I hope you take away the same lesson I took from this experience:

Your beliefs sets the boundaries of your imagination.

Here’s what I mean:

The Belief in Exercise Change

A few years ago, my dad had surgery on his foot. As part of the post-op recovery process, he had to attend physical therapy clinic twice a week.

After a few weeks, he was able to walk normal again, and he didn’t need the physical therapy anymore. But because he enjoyed the socialization at the clinic so much, and since it was still free with his Medicare, he continued to go twice a week.

This thrilled me, because it meant my dad was finally doing something other than sitting on the couch every day. But then one day, while I was on the phone with him, he told me that he had to stop going to physical therapy because the health insurance ran out.

When he first told me this, my stomach seized up with fear, and a memory of a podcast I heard once flashed to mind.

A fitness coach trains an elderly woman. Despite being in her 70s, the woman’s as sharp and lively as ever. But her children think she is too old to workout, so they force her to stop.

After weeks without seeing her, the trainer runs into the woman at the supermarket. He is shocked to see how much she has aged in such a short period of time. She used to be fit and spry, but now she is hunched over, sickly-looking and frail.

The coach greets the old lady, but she has no idea who he is. Just like her body, her mind had degenerated precipitously. This is what happens to old people when they stop exercising….

As I recalled this story, I could feel the cold chill of despair crawling up my spine. But then I remembered:

My dad’s health is MY responsibility, so I must do everything I can imagine to help him be better.

With this belief fresh in mind, the cold despair receded, and red hot resolve took its place. There was no way I was going to let my dad suffer the same fate as that old lady.

Soon as I ended the call with him, I called up my mom and came up with a plan with her. We arranged for him to meet a personal trainer, and my mom agreed to drive my dad to the gym.

We knew my dad, being the stubborn old man that he is, would object to going to gym. He hadn’t been to the gym once in his life, and he didn’t want to be the old fogey sitting around while the young buffs slammed weights around.

So I phoned him up, and anticipating his objections, I spoke to him straight from the heart:

Dad, I plan to have a wife and kids someday, and I want you to live as long and healthy a life as possible so you can see them. So please do me a favor and just go with mom to the gym to try it out. If you don’t like it, we can try something else.

I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he begrudingly accepted it.

I expected him to come back the next day with a bunch of reasons why the gym was a terrible place and he never wanted to go again. So I was already drafting up a plan B.

But then a day later my mom sends me a text saying:

“Idahosa, you won’t believe it but your dad LOVES the gym. He walked in and said ‘This place is amazing’, and now he is driving there by himself!”

She then sent me a series of photos of my dad at the gym, and I was astonished.

This whole time, I assumed getting my dad to the gym would be close to impossible.

But as it turns out, all I had to do was give him a little push.

I didn’t see my dad exercising daily at the gym as a possibility before. But soon as I shifted my belief, I was able to imagine a world we he went to the gym every day.

Then miraculously, not long after this vision entered my imagination, my dad did the work to make that vision a reality.

The Belief in Diet Change

I was excited about my dad’s new exercise habit. But when I saw him in person for the first time that year, he didn’t look good.

In fact, he was more overweight than I had ever seen him in years, and I was quite alarmed by this. When I spoke to my mom about it, she told me he had gotten into the habit of eating cereal, croissants, candy bars and microwave dinners on a daily basis. I couldn’t imagine a less healthy diet for a diabetic person.

I tried to tell this to my dad, but he wasn’t listening to me. I realized from his words that he actually he was woefully ignorant on what constituted a healthy diet. At one point, he tried to convince me that avocados were unhealthy because they’re “high in fat.” Meanwhile, he’s chomping down sugary cereals for dinner every night and sending his blood sugar on a roller coaster ride before bed.

How could I change the diet of a man who didn’t even know what a good diet is?

If he was going to eat healthy, he would have to learn how to cook healthy food. And how can I convince him to start cooking healthy food when he didn’t even believe me on what healthy food actually was?

The exercise victory suddenly seemed meaningless. Who cares if he’s burning off a few calories on the incumbent bike if his post workout meal is Captain crunch and Pillsbury croissants?

If he keeps eating like this, his heart will give out from the stress of his weight and glucose fluctuations. All I could do was wait for the inevitable…

But then my belief returned to mind again:

My dad’s health is MY responsibility, so I must do everything I can imagine to help him be better.

What can I do personally to help my dad eat properly? Soon as I looked for an answer, one was delivered to me instantaneously — Pre-made meal delivery.

I tried one a year earlier in Australia and found it super convenient. So I did some research for services that delivered to my parent’s zip code, found an option that catered specifically to diabetics and paid for the first week.

Again, I get my dad up on the phone:

“Listen dad, your diet is garbage, but I’m not gonna try to convince you. I just paid for a meal delivery service. Promise me that you’ll give up croissants, candy, cereal and TV dinners for at least a week and eat nothing but what these people deliver you. Then if you don’t like it, we can quit.”

Again, my dad couldn’t refuse the terms. Also, since his success with the exercise, he was starting to trust me more with these decisions.

Then once again- instant success.

He writes me after the first meal to tell me it tastes great. Then after the first week, he loses 9 pounds. This motivates him to keep going, and he agrees to pay for the meal plan himself. A month later, he’s down 25 pounds and counting, and his blood sugar stabilized to the point where our doctor down prescribed his insulin.

I can’t begin to describe to you how amazing this has been for all of us, especially for my dad.

The Belief in Psychological Change

Before any of the things I describe above happened, and before I had any shift in my beliefs, I was talking to my parents on the phone about plane tickets. My cousin was getting married to a Portuguese girl, and the wedding was set for August in the Algarves.

August is the one of the most expensive months for airfare to Europe, so I did my best to find my parents the cheapest tickets I could find. But when I explained the itinerary to my dad on the phone, he kept complaining about the size of the plane seats.

“Coach class seats are too small and I get claustrophobic. I can’t do that anymore, I need big seats.”

Problem was, I couldn’t find any airlines with economy plus flying to Portugal, and business class prices were expensive.

“I’m not gonna pay that much for a business class ticket — that’s absurd!”

My mom was on the phone and got frustrated with the back and forth, so after a mini-fight with my dad, she stomped out the house to do errands. I too ended the call frustrated with both my parents, resolving to let them deal with the issue on their own.

But then my dad called back a few minutes later:

“Hey. I’m sorry I was being so difficult on the phone. It’s just that I’m getting old, and I’m really scared about it. I feel weak, and I’m nervous about flying and having something go wrong again.”

I remembered his airplane asthma attack from years ago, and I realized he had developed an anxiety disorder around that event. My dad doesn’t speak about his emotions often, so this hit me someplace deep.

I never heard my dad be so vulnerable.

I told him I understood him and I understand if he doesn’t feel comfortable coming to Portugal. We’ll just see how it plays out.

He thanked me and we hung up the phone, but the whole conversation left me with a disturbing feeling that lingered for several days.

I couldn’t make out why the conversation had disturbed me so much. But I didn’t see anything I could do about it, so I just pushed it to back of my mind.

Then I turned 30…

The Shift in Perspective

In March of this year, I turned 30, and I didn’t feel good about it.

I can’t say that I haven’t lived a good life so far. I’ve traveled lots of place, I’ve built up my own enterprise, I’ve experienced lots of amazing things.

The rational part of my brain tried to tell me that nothing real had changed — after all “age is just a number.”

But a deeper part of my being was telling me something was wrong.

I had a feeling that I was fundamental orientation in life was off in some dangerous way, and I would pay the price for it soon if I didn’t straighten myself out.

When I stayed out late at nightclubs, I felt foolish and self-conscious. When I slept in late or had an unproductive day, I felt guilty and ashamed.

I didn’t know what bothered me about these things, but I knew there was something there that I needed to confront.

Then a few weeks after my birthday, I had a profound experience.

I’m lying down in complete darkness with my Bose headphones on, listening to J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for unaccompanied violin.

As a teenage violinist, I spent endless hours learning to play these songs. So when I listen to them now, I can’t help but fall into a deep trance.

So after several minutes listening, I find myself falling completely. Then as the harmonic tension starts to build midway through the G minor Fugue, I feel myself ascending upward with the rising arpeggios.

And now I’ve transported to a 17th century office study. There is a fireplace in the corner, and a desk covered in musical scores. In front of the desk, I see Bach himself hunched over a piece of parchment, furiously scribbling the very song I was listening to that very moment. He’s humming the notes out loud while violently batting his free hand back and forth like a metronome. I can feel him striving with all his might to liberate the music trapped inside of him. He wanted desperately for that music to be free, so it could transcend the centuries and one day reach my fingertips and ears…

Then without skipping a note, the study transforms to a dark and empty music hall. There is a single spotlight shining onto the stage, and standing in it is Itzhak Perlman, the legendary violin virtuoso. He’s the one who performance had been captured on the recording I was listening to, and now he’s here, performing the song for me live. Though I’m the only one listening, he’s bleeding his heart into each note as if it were the last performance of his life.

Then the scene changes again, this time to a high tech laboratory at Bose headquarters. There I see the late Dr. Amar Bose, tinkering away on a pair of headphones. He wanted me to hear the music clearly, so he toiled endlessly to perfect the science of noise-cancellation. He turns to me with a smile and repeats the quote he once famously told his students at MIT: “You can never make any more progress than what you can imagine…”

As I lied there in the darkness, feeling the spirits of these great men working through me, I finally heard the narrative of my life with ultimate fidelity.

The only reason I played the violin is because my father bought me one and drove me to lessons. And the only reason I got good at it was because my mother made me practice that violin every day even when I didn’t want to.

My language-learning business is based on my experience playing violin as a child, and it was with this business that I was able to travel the world, build a career, and live an extraordinary life in my 20s.

For all these good things in my life, I have my mother, my father, and my culture to thank.

When I realized this, I became overwhelmed with gratitude, and I started to cry like a baby.

The feeling I felt since my 30th birthday had cleared and sprung forth, and now it was integrating with my soul as lived Truth.

I am no longer the child my parents take care of, I am the man who takes care of my parents.

Mom and dad did their duty, and they succeeded. Now, it’s time for me to take up my duty, and ensure they they live out their golden years with dignity.

Now I truly believe.

My dad’s health is my responsibility, so I must do everything I can imagine to take care of him.

In that moment, my mind returned to the phone conversation where he confessed his anxiety, and I knew what I had to do with absolute certainty.

I must buy my father’s business class flight to Portugal.

The thought never occurred to me before, because the prices were so high. But in that moment, I realized that I could afford the prices, and the reason I could afford those prices, is because my parents prepared me in life well enough to afford those prices.

So the same night I had these visions, I spent the most money I’ve ever spent on a single purchase, and bought both of my parent’s two business class flights to Portugal.

Days later, I call up my dad and tell him:

“Dad, don’t worry about the Portugal flight. I took care of it, and you will be flying out with all the space you need in business class.”

He was speechless and didn’t know what to say. He ended the call with a “thank you,” but the real thank you didn’t come until months later…

Me, my mom, my brother and my dad outside the church of the wedding in Portugal.

It’s the final day of one of the loveliest weddings I had ever been to. My dad and I are standing on the cliffside outside the reception venue, staring off in to the Atlantic.

Before he flew to Portugal, dad was nervous about overexerting himself with too much walking. He was afraid something would go wrong and he would get sick again.

But as each day went on, and walked more and more, his confidence grew steadily. Everyone was delighted to have him at the wedding — some of our extended family hadn’t seen him in over ten years.

At the base of the cliff was a beautiful beach, and everyone had walked down to enjoy the waves. I’d been pushing my dad to walk a little more beyond his comfort throughout the trip. But there was no way I was going to suggest him to walk down the cliffside. Some parts had no steps, and it was way too treacherous for a person with unsure footing.

But to my surprise, dad suggested himself that we walk down together. With his cane in hand, and with me and my cousin walking with him, he scaled the cliffside safely one step at a time. Then after a long and pleasant sit at the beach, we made our way back up again.

At the top of the cliff, my dad says to me:

“Thank you for this trip. It made me realize that I’m much stronger than I thought I am.”

Later on, after my parents returned home to Pennsylvania, my mom writes me this:

To end this essay, I would like to share with you the video my mom refers to in this message.

I consider the moment captured in this video one of the best moments of my life.

The reason is, even though I imagined my dad going to the gym, eating healthy, and scaling cliffsides with confidence…

I NEVER imagined I’d see my dad dance.

So if you find yourself limiting your imagination for what’s possible for your loved ones, let this video be an inspiration for you:

My 74 year old dad doing the unimaginable

Entrepreneur, Hyperglot, and Educator. Founder at Mindkeepers.io and Mimicmethod.com

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