The Byford Files

What Being a Runner Taught Me About Being a Daddy

I went for a run with Canode last night…a fiver. This on the heels of apparently a horrible day for Ellison where she screamed, cried, fussed and fought all day. When I got home from work, my lovely wife looked at me completely exhausted. Shar Shar gave a half-smile. I knew Ellison gave ’em hell all day. They were trying everything thing and by the time I got home, they were out of options except just sit there and take it. I saw in their faces true exhaustion and desperation. In one of the few quiet moments of the evening, my lovely wife said to me, “Remember when I said that I don’t like doing things that I suck at?” We’ve always joked about how she quits anything that she can’t do. It’s like most kiddos. You try. You fail. You stop. Trying again is the hardest part, sometimes. “I might suck at being a mom, but this is the first time that quitting isn’t really an option.” I said that some days I think that I suck as a dad but she’s right. You just get right back up and try again. Try something different. But you can’t quit this game.

Last night, I fed Ellison at her 8:30/9:00 feeding and I sang her Simon and Garfunkel while we rocked and, for the first time in about 24 hours, she was silent. Still. Peaceful. I kissed her on her forehead and then I went for a killer 5.01-mile, 9:31-pace run.

While I ran, I thought of Ellison. I thought of my lovely wife and her comment. I think that every parent goes through self-doubt, the belief that you can’t handle it. You’re never alone in that. In June 2009, I took my very first steps as a runner and now 16 months later, I’ve become reflective and sometimes deeply contemplative while running about what I’ve learned from being a runner. Last night, I thought about how lessons learned in running apply to my new sport…fatherhood. This is what I came up with. Sure there are more, but these were the prominent five.

Some days are good days, some days are bad days. Some days are just some days.

You can’t every day to be glorious. Some days are like “Ob La Di Ob La Da” and other days are freaking “Revolution 9” leaving you in a moment of deranged madness. You don’t know down from up, left from right and your dog from a houseplant. Some days you just get through. There’s the thought that everyday is going to be a groundbreaking day in parenthood. Your baby opens her eyes on Monday, looks at you on Tuesday, walks on Wednesday, says your first and middle name on Thursday and then works her first story problem on Friday. Some days it’s like taking care of a potted plant. In running, you hit a couple of ceilings. You get used to the feeling of accomplishment when you’re running new distances everyday and every week and then you truly plateau. It becomes an absolute drag. You start wondering what in the hell you’re doing and why in the hell you’re doing it. No one cares about you and your stupid marathon training. No one thinks it’s as cool as you do. Then, what’s even worse is when you have a bad run at a distance that comes relatively easy to you. You go through periods of doubt. You beat yourself up. I remember one day I set out to do five miles just like I had many Wednesdays prior and I only made it a mile and a half up the road and my body gave out on me. I had to call my lovely wife in defeat and have her pick me up. It happens. That brings me to the second lesson.

You need a partner.

For me, there’s no way around it. A partner builds support. It’s someone to help you through those hard hours or those dark days. Most commonly, this partner is a spouse, but realizing how humans are flawed and sometimes horrible at relationships, that spouse might not be around. Maybe it’s a friend, an auntie, grandmother, neighbor. You’re gonna need a running partner for raising a child. That support can be making bottles, taking some of the late night feeds (thanks, Shar Shar), emptying the dishwasher, taking the baby while you ball your eyes out, picking up Similac, making the morning coffee…the list is endless, but this is definitely a team sport. A partner also builds accountability. They’ll keep you on schedule and in line. They’ll tell you when you’re not having your best day and need a shift change. They’ll let you know when you’re doing it wrong. They’ll tell you when they disagree. Lastly, a partner makes little things enjoyable because it’s someone to share the celebrations and happiness of fatherhood with. The first time they react to sounds, the first solid turd (we had one the other day…still a little too early, but it was definitely cool to see), the first time they soil your shirt with that projectile milky biz. They’re a witness to all the wonders of fatherhood and will be who you laugh about it with later.

It’s a lot easier when you’re relaxed.

Hands down. First thing I tell myself when I’m sore or having breathing issues on a long run is to relax. When you relax, it makes everything easier. I don’t meditate, I don’t do self-affirmations. I just take five really deep breaths. Really…deep…breaths. I pace myself. I think of it as if you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean. You can panic and drown your dumb ass in only a matter of seconds or you can relax, start kicking, breathe and turn those ten seconds into ten minutes. Ten minutes into two hours. You’re not going anywhere. You’re in the middle of the ocean. You can choose to die or choose to live a little longer. Not much of a decision to make when you slice it down the middle. When you panic or hit a tolerance level for frustration, doing simple tasks or, like running, just putting one foot in front of the other, becomes tasking. It turns into one helluva struggle. Relax. Breathe. It’s tons easier. I know when I’ve looked a screaming baby in the face at point blank range, relaxation feels seemingly impossible. But it’s not. You have to reach for it, but it’s there. Once you achieve relaxation, it’s smooth sailing from there.

Even when you got nothing in the tank, you can still go for an hour more.

Even I’m sometimes surprised when you have no energy left, how much further you can run. I’ve said before on a run that I can’t go any further and still manage to pull two to three miles more. When you’re at the end of your rope, there’s still something left. It’s a survival skill. Think of how far you can run and then think another block past that. And then another block past that. And then even another block past that. You can do that probably ten or fifteen more times. With a kiddo, you’ll feel empty. Exhausted. Like you can’t do it any longer. Then survival skills kick in. Maybe you jump into “might as well make the most of it” mode. Either way, there’s never an “empty” as a parent.

Practice makes perfect. Talking about it doesn’t accomplish anything.

When I first started training, I had something that I told myself before I started every run. It was like a Stuart Smalley positive affirmation. It sounded like a really bad Nike commercial, but it included the words, “While I wasn’t born to do this, I can train myself to do anything and nothing can stand in my way from accomplishing it.” Yeah, I know…pretty corny. But it was a reminder of that old adage that your grandmother used to hit you with when you were a complete failure. Sometimes that was enough to get me through runs. It’s the same with fatherhood. I know that I don’t know everything about fatherhood and most of it doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it. Read about it. Take advice from others. Practice, practice, practice. But just sitting around giving yourself positive affirmations doesn’t achieve anything. Get your hands dirty. Get pee’d on. Jump in there. Fearless fatherhood.

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One thought on “What Being a Runner Taught Me About Being a Daddy

  1. pam says:

    So far…your train of thought seems to b dead on. Just wait til she’s a thinking hormonal teenager. Love is harder..but like can be almost impossible ….but each phase is shorter than it appears. Celebrate each milestone ..you’re raising them to be independent and hopefully happy.

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