Why being selfish makes me a better father

Can putting yourself first make you a more generous father and husband? This dad believes so.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Running a marathon is an accomplishment and so is writing a book. They take time. Will be painful. Require meticulous planning. And often prompt a finisher to declare they’ll never repeat the process, but then, later on, now addicted, for some reason we begin the entire endeavour again. It’s kind of like having a kid. People say congratulations and seem genuinely impressed. Regarding the first two things, however, that makes me feel a bit funny.

Read more: The six-week running challenge>

Earlier this month, I wore a tight borrowed suit and stood in front of a microphone and took in applause. I gathered my friends and family, Jian Ghomeshi and just about everyone I know, and signed autographs—autographs!—of my book. The book is about how to run a marathon and also an autobiography and it’s also jammed with music. It’s called Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now, and it’s basically 250 pages of my heart. It felt good to see it recognized, and felt great to bathe in the love.

Meanwhile, my wife, Julie, wrangled our two kids.

I maintain that running and writing are a part of my diet like water and food. That I function better, am more alert and more confident—and as any parent will tell you, you have to have confidence in order to exert authority over a two-year-old girl—when I train. I’m still not someone who can fix a leaky pipe or build a bobsled, mind you. It doesn’t do miracles.

Read more: Does your partner “get” running?>

I can run around the world or write The Corrections, and I’ll still resemble James Belushi as a husband in a lot of ways. I’ll never discover a hot tech stock and my research into French immersion pre-K is pretty lame. For better or worse, I’ll always be me—a newspaper reporter who writes about music and has problems with limits…the running just makes it a little less so.

When you’re going to be a father, you probably shouldn’t wake up in your shoes. The running helps me with boundaries. We’re not talking Rob Ford here. I never attracted police helicopters or needed to drink coffee with strangers and wait for my chance to speak. It’s just that one shameful morning Julie said to me: “Would you like your father to have seen you last night? Would you like your little girl?” “Ugh,” I answered. “No, I would not.” If I train, I don’t drink. (Well, not really). If I don’t drink, I’m not stupid. If I’m not stupid, my family functions—I’m the father the three of them deserves.

The running often requires a weekly six and a half hours. My son is eight weeks old. Our daughter is a little more than two. My wife rarely gets an hour to herself and, when she finally steals one, it’s often to sort out our bills, do laundry or else just take a shower and eat. Julie loves Matthew and it’s not like she really complains. I love Matthew. I complain all the time. It doesn’t feel like I’m the one who deserves congratulations. Certainly not for running a marathon or writing a book.

Read more: Barefoot running>

To run a marathon, you need a weekly “long run,” and in my book I recommend even trying the whole 42K once before the big race. That will take most people something like four and a half hours, and it’s not like you finish running that far and are ready to take the kids to the zoo. You need food. You need to shower. You need to get your stinking clothes in the wash. You really need a long nap. It’s hard to justify my hobby. And yet I maintain it’s a key part of my person. That I’m more loving, less lazy, more organized and more appreciative because of the time I spend on my own. I’m more patient because I like racing. I know how to be still because I love to go fast.

I know, sounds like BS. I don’t know. Maybe it is.

Julie, however, my wife, is no shrinking violet. She’s certainly not afraid to call BS. When our contractors rip us off, she corrects them. And when the guy at Best Buy looks at me during his windy record player explanation, Julie alerts him that it will probably be her that sets the stupid thing up. Frankly, the authority I struggle to maintain sometimes over Esme, she has no trouble exerting over me. She gives the running to me because I say I need it. And I do.

But I also know, so does she.

Ben Kaplan is a feature writer at the National Post and co-founder of eachcoach.com. His book, Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now, and information about all this stuff is available at benkaplan.ca

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