I’m thinking about what I’ve learned from my Dad about health and fitness…and what I haven’t.
My Dad will be turning 80 in a couple months. I took this photo last summer. He’s wearing the “Super Dad” t-shirt I bought him in 1978. I posted this picture on Facebook on Father’s Day, and several people commented about how amazing it is that he still fits into a t-shirt he got over 30 years ago.
That detail had never occurred to me. My father’s “older fitness” is such a daily given, I forget that, for most people, aging doesn’t look like that. It doesn’t for me, and I’m a little less than half his age.
This is a man who has never joined a gym. He has never purchased fitness clothing except for a few pairs of inexpensive sneakers. He has never owned exercise gear except for a cheap set of hand weights someone bought him as a gift.
This is also a man who loves to cook and loves to eat. His hobbies include going to the grocery store and experimenting with different recipes. He can open anyone’s fridge and no matter what is in there, he can turn it into something delicious.
What you see here is the result of my father’s daily fitness habit. Daily exercise: a routine of his own design. When I was a kid, he rose at 4:30am to do his exercises and breathing work (including daily meditation). He was in a suit and tie and out the door to work before 7am. Now, as a retiree, his fitness routine starts later and is longer and more varied, but it’s still a daily affair.
A funny story: not long after he retired, we were visiting my parents. I’m an early riser and so was up at 6:30am. When my dad hadn’t emerged from my parents’ bedroom at 7am, 8am, 9am….I crept in there and woke him up because I was worried something was wrong. I asked him why he wasn’t up and doing his exercises, and he said “I’m retired, remember?”
That was when I realized that, throughout my childhood, he didn’t “naturally” rise at 4:30am to exercise. He made himself do it. It was a priority.
Despite this stellar modeling, I’ve struggled to make exercise a daily part of my life. Despite loving it (I really do), and jumping in with both feet for a time, there’s always been a “reason” I didn’t commit. The quote marks are intentional: I now know and accept that it’s about priorities, not reasoning.
My father and I are very different in how we operate, what motivates us, and how we relate to others. I’ve always stood in awe of my father’s self-discipline when it comes to his health. Frankly, I found it rather intimidating. But now that I’m older and am thinking about longevity, vitality, and my own kids’ habits, I’m coming around. Yes, it has been a 45-year learning trajectory so far, but I’m not giving up on myself. I may go about it differently than my Dad (and I definitely have some time to make up) but I’m getting there.
The moral of this story? You’re modeling your priorities and values to your kids, but they might not choose to demonstrate that learning until they’re adults, if at all. No matter: they are learning. If and when it becomes relevant to their lives, they’ll remember.
Moral #2: Time to stop thinking and start exercising.
Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.
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