I’ve never been more tired than I’ve been over the past couple of years. Kids, right? I mean, even before Grand Finale, we still had four kids. And I always figured I was tired because I was chasing all of them around.
So, in January, I decided to do something about it by working out more. The good news is that I’ve kept it up throughout the entire year. The bad news? Unlike other times when I’ve upped the exercise, this time I’ve not noticed any increase in my energy level, or for that matter, any changes to my physique. And I’ve often wondered why.
A new study I read about late last night might have given me the answer, though I’m not so sure it’s the one I wanted to hear.
But there it was anyway, clear as day, right there in the first full paragraph of the New York Times article:
“Testosterone… takes a dive after a man becomes a parent. And the more he gets involved in caring for his children — changing diapers, jiggling the boy or girl on his knee, reading ‘Goodnight Moon’ for the umpteenth time — the lower his testosterone drops.”
It’s worth noting that not only am I a diaper-changing ninja who regularly engages in on-knee jiggling, but that I’ve also read “Goodnight Moon” umpteen times. This month.
So, is that the reason why I’m still tired all the time and that I’ve not noticed any significant changes to my physique? Because my testosterone level has dropped thanks to being an engaged father? I wondered as I emptied the contents of a snot sucker onto a burp cloth.
Grand Finale’s been quite congested, so from time to time we’ve had to unclog him by administering drops of saline into his tiny nostrils before sucking ‘em out with one of those plastic, needle-nose deals with the squeezy ball on the end of it. Once that pleasant task was behind us, it was time for his 2:00 am bottle.
While waiting for it to warm up, I ran across the Times article thanks to a tweet from a friend. But suddenly, my time-killing initiative had morphed into the answer to one of my life’s riddles, oddly enough, at a time in which I was engaged in the exact behavior that is the riddle’s answer.
The study measured testosterone levels in 600 men in the Cebu Province of the Philippines when they were 21 and single, then again several years later. Though testosterone levels drop in all men as they age, the men in this study who had children experienced falloffs more than two times that of the men who didn’t have children.
“And men who spent more than three hours a day caring for children — playing, feeding, bathing, toileting, reading or dressing them — had the lowest testosterone.”
I pondered this for a second, then considered all the stuff I (gladly) do every day for my four children under four, before coming to the conclusion that if the study quoted in this article were true, then my testosterone level was likely a Robert Downey, Jr. movie.
Less Than Zero.
And that hurt a bit. Because there was a time — not too long ago — when I was wild and unfettered. Dare I say, riddled with testosterone. Staying up late and waking up early was a piece of cake. Even if I’d been carousing a bit. I frequently engaged in “manly” endeavors — booze-fueled tailgates before a big game, five-day backpacking trips, or Poker Night to name but a few. And I always had plenty of energy to pull everything off. Even with a demanding work schedule.
Yet when I got married, I reeled that stuff in to make time for my new wife and stepdaughter. But I was still the same guy. And even with the advent of the triplets, then Grand Finale, sure, things got harder, and sure, I grew more weary, but it still never occurred to me that these rug rats were robbing me of my testosterone. My manliness.
I mean, hell, while sucking the snot out of my baby’s nose, I was literally watching the tail end of the west-coast Monday Night Football game (that I may or may not have had some action on). That’s manly (in a pathetic way), isn’t it? Sure, I’ve reeled it in, but mainly the carousing. I still love to hike the mountains and sleep in the woods. I still rock perfect steaks on the grill.
I’m tired. But I’ve not morphed into a woman, for crying out loud.
Then I pondered another question: why did the suggestion that my testosterone might have dropped on account of becoming a dad affect me so? Dr. Peter Ellison, a Harvard professor, gave me my answer.
“I think American males have been brainwashed” into believing that a drop in testosterone level means that “maybe you’re a wimp, that it’s because you’re not really a man.”
I thought about all of this as I gave Grand Finale his bottle (and watched the Raiders hang on for the win, thanks, in part, to a strong ground attack). I began to alter my knee-jerk reaction, and came to accept that it might well be true, all this testosterone-dropping nonsense. And that if so, it could help explain why my body isn’t reacting to exercise the way it once did. And why I’m more tired than I used to be.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m gonna stop exercising. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t love football. Or that I’m not money on the grill. Or that I won’t dust you up the mountain. Because I won’t, I do, I am and I will.
After all, as Emory University’s Carol Worthman said: “we’re not talking about changes that are going to take testosterone outside the range of having hairy chests, deep voices and big muscles and sperm counts. These are more subtle effects.”
Subtle effects, I thought as I wrapped my little man in an escape-proof swaddle. And that’s when it dawned on me. I’m still the same guy I’ve always prided myself on being…
But I’m also different. Only subtly so. But different nonetheless.
After all, I’m now armed with traits and talents I never had back in the day. Like the deftness with which I had just swaddled my baby. And how to placate a fussy toddler while still not giving in. And how I appreciate the difficulty of being a 10-year-old little girl. With a stepdad at that.
Once at Grand Finale’s crib, I brought his nose right up to mine, then turned my head ever so slightly back and forth, kissing him goodnight the way an Eskimo might, before gently laying him down. Between the triangle wedges. In the exact spot I know he loves most.
And all was well with me again as I climbed back into bed, next to the love of my life, my manhood no longer under attack.
Because the subtle difference between me now versus five years ago? It’s that I’m a better man. Not perfect, mind you. But better. Thanks to my kids. My wife. My life.
And if I had to trade a little testosterone to get there?
I’m good with that.
Image: eschipul‘s photostream via Creative Commons