“There is no such thing as a recovery day in fatherhood.”
I remember thinking that during the initial weeks of my firstborn child’s life. The exact moment is foggy, shrouded amidst fits of daylight and darkness. Somewhere in the kitchen, a milk bottle warmer probably clicked and ticked, a maddening reminder that while my biological clock felt like years had suddenly past, the buzzer signaled precisely six minutes. No matter what time of day, it’s a certainty at that point I was wearing the same spit-up stained bathrobe.
Cycling kits remained on hangers. Running shoes gathered dust in the closet. Swim gear sulked in a corner. Bikes lingered on their garage racks. For months.
No, being a multiple Ironman finisher did not prepare me for parenthood. Only parenthood did that. It’s been exactly one year since my daughter was born. The experience has been exhausting, rewarding, incredibly frustrating, and completely surreal. BC, “before child,” I thought I would conveniently call upon my triathlon training – the discipline, mental toughness and ability to push through fatigue -- to guide me through some of the more challenging parenting moments. It’s been the other way around. Being a father has reformatted my views of triathlon.
Six years ago, I fell in love with this sport. I poured my soul into discovering whether I could achieve what then seemed impossible. I even chronicled every step here in this blog, as a future gift to my then-unborn child. A lesson in how to reach beyond what she might think possible. But then, the monster within grew. Gradually, a new question emerged, “Can I get faster?” Followed by, “Can I win?” As that transformation occurred, triathlon shifted from hobby to obsession. My self-identity shifted uncomfortably closer to “I am a triathlete,” not “I’m a man who happens to enjoy triathlon.” Sometimes everything else took a back seat.
Bringing a new person into the world has gradually helped me regain perspective in my own. The process was a painful one though, filled with symptoms that felt dangerously close to addiction withdrawal. It took weeks if not months of fighting, depression, anger and acceptance, but I finally have re-centered. Ultimately, it took having a baby to remind myself that there’s more to life than swim, bike, run. A first-world lesson indeed, but I believe it’s one that many of us often forget in our constant pursuit of faster, faster, faster.
Before Audra was born, I’d occasionally cry while riding on my trainer watching re-run after re-run of the Ironman World Championships broadcast. Because I knew how bad I wanted that to be me one day. That single-minded pursuit had me always looking ahead to the next workout, or the next race. Now, I cry at movie scenes like when Ant-Man flies into his daughter’s bedroom to kiss her before saving the world. Because I’m happy with everything I have right in front of me, and I can relate to that sentiment even more than the growling desire to race with the best in the world. Those Kona broadcasts haven’t been watched since.
I used to wonder why “average” middle-aged triathletes with kids showed up on race day when they knew they were probably going to finish towards the middle or back of the pack. Why put in all the effort? If you can’t fully commit to being the best, why waste so much time? I missed the point completely. Before kids, I cared about crossing the finish line because how cool that would look and feel. Now, I see that the true victory is getting out the door to exercise at all, let alone having the opportunity to toe the line happy and healthy surrounded by family. Those “average” age groupers I couldn’t relate to have it so much harder than I imagined. They’re my new heroes, and they’re anything but average.
Parenthood is so much more challenging than anyone could have ever made it seem. There are times – more often than not, I admit -- where I feel like I’m failing miserably as a father and husband. And nobody could have possibly prepared me for the crushing rejection when my daughter wants nothing to do with me and only prefers her momma. Friends are quick to say, “It’ll get better, trust me.” But that doesn’t really help in the moment. I yearned to be a parent for 41 years and when the Hallmark-quality script in my mind didn’t match reality…I struggled.
Still, I wouldn’t rewind time back to “BC” even if I could. I feel like a richer, better, wiser person with Audra in my life. The all-too-fleeting moments where I catch a loving look with eyes that match my own, an eerily familiar wrinkled brow expression, or a giggle when she looks at me after a fart make my constant state of bewilderment and confusion worthwhile.