Let Me Tell You About My Dad

IMG_9593On this Father’s Day I thought I would take some time and tell you about my father. I wrote of my mother on Mother’s Day a month ago, it’s only fitting I give my father equal time.

John Henry Knaak, Jr., was born Dec. 26, 1935. Having a birthday the day after Christmas was a curse for the poor guy. He rarely got birthday cards let alone presents. He was born and raised in Scottsville, New York, just outside of Rochester. I don’t know which hospital. There’s actually quite a bit I don’t know about my father. For all that I do know, there is plenty he kept to himself.

He grew up with his older sister Carole in a home I have referenced previously with my grandparents, John Henry Knaak, Sr., and the former Elizabeth (Betty) Woods. There was an even older sister, my Aunt Joyce, but she died when she was toddler. Pneumonia took her if I recall the stories properly.

IMG_9591From the photos in the album my dad enjoyed his dog, played cowboy and liked to read. He loved music, but I have my own anecdotal evidence for that.

By all accounts, he was a high school legend at Scottsville High. He played basketball, baseball and soccer. His high school yearbook dedicated an entire section to his exploits in the senior edition. Dad graduated high school in 1954 and that’s when his history starts to get murky.

He went on to play college basketball at the State University of New York at Geneseo in Geneseo, New York. However, I have a 1954-55 yearbook from another college. Dad never spoke of a transfer. I do know he didn’t finish his college career at Geneseo or graduate from there. His degree in education came much later from Empire State College.

John Knaak, Sr., died in 1959 and Dad left school to take care of my grandmother. Eventually he found his way into the United States Army and stationed in Korea where he met my mother. They were married in 1962. My father never liked to tell the story of how they met and I didn’t know until after she died in 2006.

IMG_9592The story goes like this. Dad and an Army buddy were walking down the street in a South Korean village and they came upon two young women. Somehow they worked past the language barrier and went for coffee, tea, or whatever you did in a Korean village in the early 1960s. Dad’s buddy took a liking to Kim Yung Hi, and she didn’t care for him. She took to my dad instead and sidled up to him. Thus began the greatest love affair I’ve ever heard of, read about or seen dramatized on a screen.

My father transferred stateside and separated from the Army. He decided that he could not live without Yung Hi. He re-enlisted in the Army and shucked and jived his way back to Korea. Actually, that’s not accurate. He was passed from transport to transport without orders and was told his orders would catch up to him eventually. According to my father, Yung Hi was in shock when she was told he was back. They would eventually get married in 1962 with the help of a general or a colonel. My memory is fuzzy. Back then they didn’t like GIs marrying local girls with the thought being that the soldiers were a ticket out of Korea. My father convinced a senior officer that he was in love and that officer agreed to marry them. He said one of the biggest regrets in his life was that he never reached out to thank that officer who believed in them. When Mom died, they had been married for nearly 44 years. I’d say Dad’s motives were pure.

My folks moved back to the states and ended up in Erie, Pennsylvania. There were stories of living in Columbus, Georgia, and falling down an escalator in Chicago. There are great photos in the album of parties my parents attended. They were very attractive, made a great couple and seemed very cosmopolitan.

IMG_9589Dad became a disc jockey and radio newsman. He had a fantastic voice. In fact, when I tell long lost relatives about Dad or ask if they remember him, they all say, “the one with the voice.” He became best friends with the man who would become my Godfather, the young guy who read the sports.

After trying in vain to have children, my parents chose to adopt. I was three days old when they brought me home. All he could tell me about my birth mother was that she was a single school teacher. Pennsylvania remains Draconian in their efforts to protect privacy when it comes to adoptions. I’d have a better chance getting access to the Vatican’s archives.

We eventually moved back to Rochester when I was two and Dad’s time as a disc jockey unfortunately came to an end. He ended up working tool and die for Bernz-o-matic. When the company decided to relocate, they told Dad he had to move at his own expense if he wanted to keep his job. He declined and spent a long time out of work. He tried in vain to get back into radio. While at Bernz-o-matic, he worked crazy hours and I only seemed to see him when he came home for lunch. I have a soft spot in my heart for hash and eggs. When I’m feeling homesick or really down in the mouth, hash and eggs fits the bill.

I never knew we were poor. I always had Christmas, I always had birthdays. Eventually, Dad landed a job with the City of Rochester. Three years in he could’ve taken a test that would have made him THE Records Manager for the City of Rochester. He said he didn’t think he was ready, declined, and regretted it the rest of his life.

After getting the job, I was nine at the time, he bought a 1979 Ford Mustang. Dad loved Mustangs. This was the car that was used to teach me to drive. I thought my name was “Jesus Christ” while he was giving me driving lessons.

IMG_9586My folks came to my little league baseball games, what high school basketball and baseball games they could. Actually, I don’t think either saw me play high school baseball. Mom maybe. Oh well, I digress. The one and only high school basketball game Dad attended, I was on the Freshman team, was the one where I scored a basket for the other team. I was so embarrassed. The one game he comes to and I commit the biggest blunder imaginable. He didn’t exactly prop me up afterwards.

Dad provided invaluable counsel throughout high school even though I rarely listened. All the trouble I had with time management, girls, money and schoolwork, I only wish I listened. He co-signed a car loan and I made him regret it. My indulgences and mistakes cost my father a lot of money and I always intended to pay it back. I never got the chance.

I always thought Dad was cheap. I learned later he was frugal. And he did have expensive taste, he just never let it show. We were the last in the neighborhood to get a VCR, to get a microwave, to get all kinds of things. Dad explained that he waited to get what he wanted not just what he could afford at the time.

Anyone who knew my father knew he loved music. Frank Sinatra was his favorite. Until a new collection of Las Vegas was released recently, Dad owned everything Sinatra ever recorded. From jazz to Big Band to 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, his collection was very eclectic. There’s even some classical. I played my favorite Sinatra song after I delivered the eulogy at his funeral, It Was a Very Good Year, because I thought it was fitting.

He loved fire engines too. I never understood that one. He loved classic cars. I lost many hours of my childhood at car shows. He was also an artist. Dad loved drawing and painting wildlife, my favorite hangs in my office. He used his skills as an artist for numerous homemade Halloween costumes for me. He also loved photography.

Dad was a collector. He collected vinyl records, movies, die-cast metal model cars, sports figurines and model trains. It was with reluctance that I took possession of all these things after he died. I knew what they meant to him.

IMG_9590He was a quiet, almost stoic man, but he had a wry, dry sense of humor. Laughter around the dinner table was commonplace. He also had a temper, although it took a lot to bring it out. He read the local paper cover to cover ever day. Hell, you couldn’t get his attention until he was done reading it.

I can’t tell you how many days and hours Dad and I spent just playing catch or shooting hoops. I cherish those times with my own son now.

My father always blamed himself for my enlistment in the United States Navy. He felt like he didn’t do enough to send me to the college of my choice. I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for the world, I never blamed him for not having college money for me. I didn’t do enough to send myself.

During my time in the Navy and the years after I got out, I didn’t visit enough for my father’s taste. After he retired, he didn’t visit me enough for my taste. After Mom died, I flew Dad out to California. I’m glad I did. He died three weeks later. I have photos of him with his grandson I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise and at least I got to see him one more time.

My father rarely gave you his handshake. He shook my hand three times in the 37 years I had him. The first time was after I pitched and lost in an all-star game. I didn’t have any good stuff that day but I kept fighting and ended up losing a close game. The second was when I graduated high school and the third happened when I returned from Operation Desert Shield/Storm. You had to earn his handshake.

IMG_9587He didn’t keep many friends, but the ones he did keep, he kept for a long time.

As for family, well, this is where it got confusing. Dad was great at taking us “visiting.” That’s what you did back then. You got in the car and you just went. Sometimes there was an advance phone call, sometimes not. But I remember just showing up at a random relative’s house and Dad saying, “this is your aunt and uncle…” He was terrible at explaining how you were related to these people. About six years ago I became the keeper of the family tree. I learned that my grandfather was one of 12 kids, and that my grandmother was one of 12 kids. Twenty-four siblings. I don’t have a family tree, it’s a freaking bush. I didn’t learn the names of my Korean grandparents until after Mom died.

That was just it. As much as I know about my father, there’s a lot I don’t know. Or, there was a lot I learned after Mom died and still more after Dad died. I was raised on the fringes of the Catholic church but I was never required to participate in anything. When I told him I didn’t want to go to church anymore, he said, “so, don’t.” Dad was a devout Catholic, I have paperwork to prove it, although he died an agnostic. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree on that one. In fact, my mother went through a period where she really embraced Christianity. These are the only times my parents fought – when Mom wanted us to go to church and Dad resisted. Dad and I would go see a movie on New Year’s Eve while Mom rang in the New Year in church.

13428426_1112212272158463_3181607805996718069_nThere is so much about my father I don’t know. What was he like in elementary school? Did he have other girlfriends before my mom? I learned he spent time in the hospital after hurting himself in a baseball game. He was very popular as evidenced by the letters from classmates I found.

As much as he did earlier in his life, Army, radio, he never indicated he was unhappy with his station in life later on. He was entrenched in the American middle class. He owned a home in what can now only be described as a rundown neighborhood. It was getting bad when he passed away, it’s even worse now. This was the neighborhood where I grew up and it saddens me.

These 2,000 words or so don’t even come close to explaining who John Henry Knaak, Jr., was. I was so angry when I was told he died. Angry because he left me. I have no one to call when I need parental advice, not that I ever took it when he was alive. But I know he visits me. He’s visited three times. That’s a different blog for a different day.

Many young people look up to movie stars or athletes. My dad, John Henry Knaak, Jr., for all his secrets and flaws, is my hero.

Milestone Achieved

IMG_9531.PNGMade you look!

I cracked 1,000 miles running/walking since Feb. 27, 2013.

I know it may not seem to much to some, I know people who have exceeded 1,000 or 1,500 miles in just one year. They don’t have my schedule, commute or medical issues, so my 1,000 miles running/walking in the just over three years since I started using the Nike+ Running app will have to do. I was out for a run yesterday, finished just under ¾ of a mile from 1,000 and went back out and ran another ¾ of a mile to hit that number plus give me four miles for the day. It was my best run in weeks.

I have been experiencing a knee problem that I was told was left knee patellar tendinitis. The pain has migrated to different parts of the knee so I have no idea what it actually is. Well, this whole thing with my knee has caused an alignment problem or imbalance with my back. If you’ve been reading the blog on the regular, you know how bad my back is. In fact, two medical professionals have told me to quit running.

Running hasn’t been pleasurable or therapeutic in more than a month. I’ve continued my weight-lifting sessions, spent time in the pool and played more than my fair share of basketball. Running just happens to be my chosen form of cardio.

I’m not sure at what point it became “running.” When I was a kid it was called “jogging.” I’m not sure if what I do can be classified as running. But, whatever it is, it helps me relieve stress, clears my head and solutions to problems present themselves. In fact, your humble narrator is working on a novel and the ending came to me during a run.

13450151_1107595859286771_2895690082547379467_nI don’t mind weather either. I enjoy running in weather – nothing crazy mind you – but mist/drizzle, light snow and cold, heat…I almost prefer weather to perfect conditions. Last year, I ran in Denver and Kansas City in the winter, in blistering heat here in Northern California, cold and wind in Chicago.

Since I started walking and then running for exercise, I have battled a variety of injuries, some minor and a few very serious. From shin splints to back surgery, I’ve been through the ringer but each time I am determined to come back even stronger.

This past week was rough though. Fatigue got the better of me and I didn’t get all of my usual workouts in. I tried a run Monday afternoon but my knee just didn’t want to cooperate. What I accomplished yesterday was encouraging. Four miles and no real knee pain made me feel good. I still have fitness goals and I don’t think I am going to achieve them without running in my life.

I’m nothing spectacular on the running trail. My average per mile time continues to rise despite my best efforts. Every time I take a little time off from running my cardio-vascular system seems to take an inordinate amount of time to rebound. I blame it on 18 years of smoking cigarettes. Although I quit eight years ago, I know I am still paying for it. I’m carrying 10 pounds more than I’d like right now and the extra weight doesn’t help.

In the past few weeks I have made some mental notes and decisions about what I want to do and how I want to do it to achieve my fitness goals. The problem is sticking to the plan. From the protein and creatine to the lifting and the running. I just haven’t had the energy for it all the past week or so. If I want to lose these 10 pounds I am going to have to cut my calories back down to about 1,200 per day. I’ve done it before, that’s part of how I lost 60 pounds. But, I forgot how difficult it is and how diligent you have to be. If you read my last entry you’ll know that I now understand how difficult it is to keep the weight off once you’ve lost it. I am just thankful I didn’t let it get out of hand. I went back to a few old, bad habits but I eat so much less and so much better than I used to. That, and exercise is part of my daily life. Even on the days I don’t actually “work out,” I’m tossing the football around, swimming or shooting hoops.

Hopefully yesterday’s run is a preamble to being able to go back to it on a regular basis. Three runs a week was my normal schedule about six weeks ago. I’d like to get back to that. I’ll give a go tomorrow afternoon and see what happens. I enjoy it too much to give it up. I’m just too impatient to let these nagging injuries heal and it always seems like I don’t have the time, or don’t take the time to do the things to treat and recover from them.

So, as I mentioned, I’ll get back out tomorrow and hopefully I can start working on my fitness and times and finally get rid of this belly fat once and for all.

The Struggle is Real

F16882_880512648661761_9057451408468084000_nirst of all, thank you all for reading my last blog and for the kind words and well wishes with regard to my mom. She was a beautiful, special lady and I miss her very much. It was an honor to remember her here on my blog.

Another quick update – I am now on Twitter (@GetTheKnaak) and Instagram (jerryknaak). Of course, my second personal Tweet ever (after the obligatory, “hey, I’m here Tweet”), was fitness related.


On to the topic at hand.

I am a constant work in progress, hence the theme of the blog – mental, physical, spiritual. This installment is going to focus on purely physical aspects of my journey.

I have often been envious of the contestants on The Biggest Loser and the people chosen for Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition and Extreme Weight Loss. They get coached on exercise and nutrition, receive custom diet plans and get to work out six hours a day. I have also hated the trainers and concept of The Biggest Loser in the same moment. They treat the contests like gum on the bottom of their shoe if they don’t lose enough weight in a week. I have never seen such condescension. I’ve never liked the body shaming this show engages in on a weekly basis. I’m sure it’s part of the process and methodology but I find so much of it unnecessary.

I was obese. I am still technically overweight. At 5’10” tall and almost 47 years old, I probably should weigh 170-175 pounds. My BMI is just a shade north of 25. My body fat is right around 25%. I vary between 183-190 pounds right now. I lost a total of 60 pounds before putting 10 or so back on. Everything I have been reading lately says I need to lose weight and I am finally, 100 percent, unequivocally convinced that I should. I have developed a pretty aggressive exercise program (for me anyway), and although I haven’t been able to run much due to a nagging knee problem, I exercise four-six days a week and I am not achieving the results I want.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.33.45 PMThe Men’s Fitness chest and arms workouts I’ve been doing are phenomenal. Last night I was able to complete a leg workout I haven’t been able to do in weeks. I’ll get back to running soon. I got a decent three-miler in the other day in 85-degree heat. I sure do miss running.

What’s my point? What’s the analogy?

Many people have complimented me over the past couple of years after I lost the bulk of my weight. One of the most common I get involves keeping the weight off. I am very proud of myself for managing to keep it off over time. I got to 180 pounds and stayed there for several months. I couldn’t maintain my lowest, 176. The key to my success has been adopting a lifestyle of exercise and better nutrition. I had high cholesterol and triglycerides when I started. Medication took care of that after three months (more on that in a moment).

A scathing New York Times article tore The Biggest Loser apart after studying the after effects of appearing on the show. A group of contests were studied over and time and all those observed regained their weight, some weigh heavier now than their starting weight on the show. Apparently these folks couldn’t maintain the lifestyle, the amount of exercise and the dietary restrictions to keep their weight down.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.34.05 PMI wasn’t ever 400 pounds, I didn’t have to slash my calories THAT drastically, and I didn’t have to exercise six hours a day. I was 236, dropped about 1,000 calories a day (not 10,000) and managed 60-90 minutes of exercise per day to lose my 60 pounds. Maybe that’s what made it possible for me to keep the weight off (for the most part).

I have envied those who got the coaching and the nutrition plans. I was jealous of those who were afforded the opportunity to do nothing but exercise for weeks and months on end. All my research and my conversations with people in the know said I was doing it the right way. Slow and steady and trust the process. The rapid weight loss, no matter how you did it, wasn’t sustainable. Well, science has weighed in and that is pretty much the case. I’d like to know if the folks on cable’s Extreme Weight Loss show are able to keep their weight off. The stories are inspirational but I’d love to know the long-term success rate.

I have been watching another show as of late, Fit to Fat to Fit. Trainers all over the country gain an obscene amount of weight so they can go through the weight loss journey with their clients. Initially, the trainer enjoys eating “comfort” food and putting a few pounds on. Once they head toward obesity though, a switch flips and they can’t wait to get back to their former selves. What makes me sick is that these trainers go back to looking fantastic at or near their original weight. I’ve only seen one episode where the trainer couldn’t get back to his original weight and had to live with it and make his peace with it.

Why don’t I look as good? I weigh what they weigh for the most part. Where’s my definition? Where’s my physique?

Well, after having blood work done recently and finding out that cholesterol and triglycerides are through the roof (back on the medication and fish oil) and testosterone is low, no wonder why I can’t get lean.

I know that building muscle and having more muscle helps burn fat. And I have been focused on this aspect of the process. I am sure some of the weight I have put back on is actually muscle. Muscle does weigh more than fat. Muscle is denser than fat. Looks better than fat. Its healthier than fat. But a pound is a pound is a pound.*

nt-12-20-ceBut, the more I read and research the more confused I get. I have a pretty good idea how many calories to eat each day but I don’t know what to eat. Oh sure, everyone says eat clean, get your macro nutrients from real food, cut carbs, lots of protein. But I can’t get the protein I need every day without whey protein shakes. If I tried that with real food, I’d blow my calories for the day by lunch. Other things I read say “oh yeah, you can eat carbs if you’re eating the right ones.” And don’t forget the fat, fat really isn’t bad for you. It’s enough to make my head hurt.

I know people who have dropped a lot of weight only to gain it back. Some of those folks try again and again, while others just quit. I get it. I didn’t get it before but I get it. Science explains it. This makes me grateful for what I have been able to accomplish. But I also know there are reasons why I haven’t been able to achieve my fitness goals. Some are totally me. I like my alcohol and confections (in moderation of course). I find it difficult, a chore even to drink enough water and get enough protein every day. I need more cardio in my life. My favorite form of cardio is very difficult on my body but I would rather run than use a machine and be indoors.

For as much as I exercise and taking my diet into consideration, you’d think I’d look a helluva lot better than I do.

I’m either driven by self-loathing or a dogged determination to achieve some body image ideal. I do feel like I have a purpose but my plan is in a constant state of flux. Maybe it’s time to just suck it up and consult a nutritionist and figure this whole nutrition thing out. I do know I’m better off than those poor folks on those TV shows who couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain the lifestyle. I’ll stick to the diet and exercise and keeping the bulk of the weight off. I feel bad for those people and those like them. I guess I caught my issues in time.

I’ll never say that losing weight was easy, but now I understand why it was so damn hard.

*Got a physics lesson in the comments and corrected my mistake.