I’ve never been the most limber person. During the presidential fitness challenge in middle school, I wasn’t bad with pull-ups or running the mile, but it was the sit-and-reach that kicked my ass. I could never really touch my toes, even as a kid. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a dancer, martial artist, acrobat, or yogi. Someone who can twist and contort his body with the greatest of ease. Someone who can embody fluidity and grace in his movements. But that’s never been me. I’m like a wound-up ball of rubber bands, tightening with each passing year.
In the past dozen years, since entering the workforce and having a child, the dilemma of how to maintain my physical health has been a tough one. Early on, I tried to do the same things I always did to keep myself healthy. I worked out at the gym a few times a week, mostly with weight training, along with some light (reluctant) cardio. Work got harder, and it became more of a challenge to keep in shape, especially living in a city with bad parking and convoluted public transportation. Getting to the YMCA felt like an insurmountable ordeal. My light, infrequent workouts maintained the facade of fitness. Sure, I still couldn’t touch my toes, but I could still grunt and sweat, and lift some weights, so I felt okay.
Then we had our child, and general health went out the window. Having a baby is about survival. Making it through the night alive and not collapsing at work the next day is a triumph in itself, so there’s little time for anything as frivolous as working out. Over that time period, I–like any new parent–was on automatic pilot, with very little sleep. I could feel my entire body tightening up. When getting out of bed, I grunted and wheezed like an old man. I sat like a miser at work, hunched over my computer. I went to a doctor to complain about the way I felt and he showed me a BMI chart, pointing out that I was now in the overweight category and should shed a few pounds.
This realization, and time, helped me get back to the gym. As my son got older, I was able to make some time for working out, typically very early before work. This meant getting up and out of the house super early, to the point that I felt completely drained by the end of the work day. Plus, I don’t think it really ever got me in shape. I just added a bit of activity to my day.
Then about three years ago, writing happened. I got serious about my writing. If I was going to see my writing though, it meant taking every second of free time and pouring it into my writing (see my previous tortured post). I dropped my gym membership and traded the treadmill for the coffee house chair. I might go on a walk or even a run every now and then, but I totally neglected my body.
That’s when the back pain hit hard. I’ve always had back problems, but they crept up on me a lot more frequently as my lethargy tightened the knot of rubber bands in my back. It came to the point where I actually seized up at work….twice. At one in-service training, someone made me laugh and I collapsed on the ground, unable to get up without the help of two bulky guys who carried me into an office. The second time was less dramatic, with my back slowly seizing up over the course of the day, trapping me in my office chair, until the school secretary had to pull my car up to the side door so that I could exit without falling down. I finally went to see a chiropractor who ordered x-rays of my spine. The frontal shots looked as though I was standing sideways, with my hips shifted and my back curved. Somehow, my complete disregard for my own health had contorted my spine so that it doesn’t straighten naturally.
Here I am, in my late 30’s trying to rescue my health. It’s unfair of me to pin this all on fatherhood. It’s not fatherhood, but the general pains of life: work, time, responsibility, etc. Fatherhood may not be the definitive cause, but it’s definitely the casualty. When your son wants to engage you in lightsabre battle and you’d rather watch his moves from the front porch, your fatherhood suffers. When your wife and son have a race outside and you opt to film it instead of competing, your fatherhood suffers. When your weekend is shot because you’re slumped over a therapy ball moaning in pain, your fatherhood suffers.
I’m still trying to strike that balance. I’d like to be able to feel fulfilled in my work, take pride in my health and body, engage in my spiritual practice, improve upon my writing. But ultimately, I want to be around for a long time to see my son grow up, and engage in the moment. It’s up to me to take the time to get healthy.