New dads who strive to be great athletes, career professionals, and father figures will ultimately hit a wall physically, cognitively, or emotionally. Here’s how to find the proper balance.
Play sports with any man who’s been baptized as a new father in the recent past, and you’ll witness someone turn into a grump.
This happened several weeks ago when I played singles with a great tennis player… or rather, someone who used to play like Federer before becoming a parent four-years prior. With another on the way, this dad expressed frustration with his game. Whether it was an open cross-court shot or a deluge of double serves, he was not the tennis star he used to be.
He was hard on himself, which I respected. When you compete athletically, you want your opponent to play with 100%. That’s how the professionals play, and as an amateur tennis player, getting a taste of that experience, giving it your all, and coming out on top…. There’s a high, per se’, from experiencing it. Those who love to compete often feel the same.
One exception was an older man I used to play, who we affectionately dubbed, ‘The Geezer,’ who loved to play weaker opponents. A story for another time.
Compared to the guy I recently played tennis with, I felt the same way a year after my son was born. My lack of play in my first year as a parent, coupled with weight gain, resulted in playing like a lumpy and washed up bagel. I was furious with myself. I saw the dad I played against exude the same kind of emotion.
But I knew in my heart the man I played was a great dad. From his involvement in his children’s sports leagues to being there for his pregnant wife, coupled with the commitment he had to his profession, he had a lot on his plate.
Dads everywhere need to give themselves a break. You can’t have it all after you become a dad, and competing at a modest level can provide some rewards, but there’s no excuse for shortchanging your child in the process.
I fondly recall the days I competed in the USTA leagues, battling in playoffs and striving to get to national tournaments. Mind you, this was intermediate play, but I loved every moment of it. The time I used to have working on my game, and giving thought to how I can improve and compete, were limitless compared to the time I have now as a fulltime father. It begs the question, why do guys get so hung up on reliving their youth?
Perhaps it’s part of the human spirit.
To modify this circumstance, this endless pursuit of greatness, I have three suggestions on how to overcome one’s anxiety about competing as a weekend warrior:
After your last child is born, take one year off: This is the final sabbatical you will take from sports and taking care of yourself physically. Give everything you have to your newborn and wife, then afterwards, carve time out for yourself.
Schedule time in your calendar for physical activity: Forget the sport, focus on your endurance. Start exercising in 45-minute increments three times a week. Then, step it up to four days a week. Dial back the alcohol and let nothing stand between you and getting back in shape. Working from home saves the average commuter four to eight hours per week – use those free hours to get fit.
Commit to your comeback: Start by playing with friends, patient ones who won’t bust your tennis balls, per se. If that includes dialing back high-impact sports, and restarting an interest in golf, tennis, cycling, or a less intense sport, embrace it. You’re not playing rugby when you’re 45, less so when you’re 50 – find an alternative you can stick to until your hair turns grey. Then, commit to it 1-2x per week, and exercise 2-3x on off days.
And speaking on behalf of your quads, ACLs, your not-so-sturdy triceps, and ankles, they are just as old as the rest of you. Mentally, you are not 24 years old and able to leap tall buildings or linemen 75 pounds bigger than you in flag football. I speak from experience… and it was a humbling one!
Your number one job, profession, and endeavor is being there for your kids. Provide yourself the means to kickstart your athleticism when the time is right. And if you’re not Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, or Usain Bolt, that’s okay. Your commitment to fatherhood trumps everything else.