LikeNotLikeMyFather

Every day I look more like my father with one major exception. He was obsessed with his looks, particularly his weight. 

His man at Gucci dressed him in snazzy Italian tweed, buckled loafers and the branded red, green and tan striped garters to hold his cashmere socks in place.

Every time he lost weight he’d preen before the store mirror as the tailor tucked a little in here, a little in there. He delighted in the Gucci salesmen fussing over him like clucking hens admiring their brood. When I accompanied him on these shopping trips, I wished for a fashion shield to surround my rainbow-colored, unstructured and untailored wardrobe. Funds from my part-time receptionist job required me to shop in Marshall Field’s “Last Chance” room.

An avid devotee of the Dr. Atkins’ low-carbohydrate diet, he packed his fifty-seventh-floor fridge with white protein—cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, chicken, tuna salad—plus sugar-free Vernor’s ginger ale. He disdained calorie counting and instead tracked protein grams and carbohydrates.

His favorite topic of conversation was his diet. When I didn’t change the subject fast enough, my food intake brought on unwanted rhetorical questions. “What’s in that bowl?” He’d ask already knowing it was carb-forbidden spaghetti or ice cream.

The Atkins diet was all the rage in Alcoholics Anonymous. My father cornered newcomers and hammered a Dr. Atkins wedge into their soggy brains before jotting down his phone number and saying, “Call me anytime.” Whenever he saw someone at an AA meeting holding a donut, he’d explain that a no-sugar low-carb diet keeps the blood sugar regulated and, in turn, reduces the craving for alcohol. Beginners were known to eat all-protein tuna fish right out of the can, in accordance with his dictates. 

The grocery store on the second floor of his building had a deli counter with a superior version of my favorite food, cole slaw. I once purchased a pint. He caught me at his kitchen counter about to take a forkful.

“You’re not going to eat those carbs here, are you?” 

His kitchen counter was strewn with the maniacal makings of a high protein drink. Next to the bartender-grade electric mixer stood pricey containers from Sherwyn’s Health Foods: powdered desiccated liver, brewer’s yeast, magnesium, Vitamin C, flax seed, liquid amino acids, sunflower oil, and liquid lecithin, a brown goo that could lubricate a car. My kitchen had potato chips hidden in cabinets and Hershey bars squirreled away in the freezer. 

For a few years in the 1980s I spent weekends at the three-acre garden on the third floor of his building, Lake Point Tower. I’d spend time peering through binoculars spotting gulls, hawks and bufflehead ducks at the confluence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. My father, clad only in Gucci swimming trunks, would strike a favorite yoga pose—standing on his head—within sight of all the bathers and sun worshipers around the nearby pool. 

As much as he tried, he couldn’t escape hangdog jowls and double chins as he aged. 

Nor can I.

Prostitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

Prostitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

From Lake Point Tower’s third floor 3-acre resident-only garden, I peered through my binoculars out past Navy Pier to the Harbor Lighthouse by the locks at the mouth of the Chicago River. My father’s latest girlfriend pitter-pattered up beside me in her high-heeled sandals and gossamer brown bikini and said, “I fucked someone out there once.” My father, clad in Gucci swimming trunks, was striking a favorite yoga pose—standing th-4on his head within sight of all the bathers and sun worshipers around the pool. I sensed, in that instant, that this, my favorite spot in all Chicago, would be tainted for the rest of my life.

He prided himself on choosing a reformed prostitute matriculating at the University of Chicago to move in with him. We were both around 33 and I was celebrating the yearly anniversary of my last drink at AA meetings. She celebrated her reformation announcing milestones like,“It’s been 90 days since my last trick.” They had a few things in common including their food intake which they discussed constantly. Avid devotees of the Dr. Atkins Diet, they packed their 57th floor fridge with a lot of white protein—cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, chicken and tuna salad and sugar-free Vernor’s ginger ale. They disdained calorie counting (though she kept a chart) and instead tracked protein grams and carbohydrates.

In the early 1980’s Dr. Atkins’ high-protein low-carbohydrate diet bubbled up everywhere in Alcoholics Anonymous. My father cornered newcomers and hammered a Dr. Atkins wedge into their soggy brains as he handed over his phone number and said, “Call me anytime.” Whenever he saw someone at an AA meeting holding a donut he’d explain that a no-sugar low-carb diet keeps the blood sugar regulated and in turn, reduces the craving for alcohol. Beginners were known to eat all-protein tuna fish right out of the can to follow his dictates.

The grocery store on the second floor had a deli counter with a superior version of my favorite food, cole slaw. After the day on the terrace, I purchased a pint each of cole slaw and tuna fish salad, rode up to their apartment and faced the former prostitute in the kitchen.

“Don’t let your father see you eating that cole slaw. It’s loaded with carbs.”

I’m pretty sure I knew cole slaw was not loaded with carbs, but she scared me so much I hid the offensive food in the closet until I left for home.

The kitchen counter groaned with the makings for a maniacal high protein drink. The bartender-grade electric mixer stood over pricey containers from Sherwyn’s Health Foods. Powdered desiccated liver, brewer’s yeast, magnesium, Vitamin C and flax seed were carefully measured and poured into the glass jar with liquid amino acids,

th-1
Liquid Lecithin

sunflower oil and liquid lecithin, a brown substance that could lubricate a car. The concoction reached digestive jubilation when blended together with ice cubes and water.

She, like those before and after her, looted the towels when she split, but left the kitchen counter intact. He binged on coffee Haagen-Das for a few days before resuming his sociopathic eating habits.