Father’s Day 2017

This is a hard one to write.  Ever since I was a boy, I’ve thought about being a father.  At most points if you’d have asked what I wanted most out of this world, I would’ve answered “to be a dad.”  There are a lot of reasons, I suppose–to pass along the things I treasured about my dad, to experience the particular joy of pride, to put strength and love out into the world and aim it at wide eyes and open ears.  To say “I am your dad, and I will always love you.”

The reality is considerably more complex.  We know this.  Thirty years hence, I think of how things have changed.  What are my memories?  They are not of a dad who could fix everything, who was all things to all people and possessed of a supernal ability to attend and document every lost tooth and dribbled single into right field.  My dad worked as often as not.  He coached some of my teams and others he watched from behind the fence.  When he was there, he was there.  Lots of times I played games without anyone in the crowd.  We all did.  And we all went home those days to tell our dads what happened.  (Sometimes we lied and said we threw 3 touchdowns instead of 1.  Oops.)

In the summer he took me to play basketball on Sundays, in the heat.  Hamilton School in Newton Highlands, Mills Field in Needham.  Usually we’d get a soda at Panella’s afterwards.  New York Seltzer or Snapples before Snapples were just fruit drinks.  Other weekends or afterschools, I’d be out in the yard playing by myself for hours.  Every house we ever lived in had an imaginary baseball field I invented.  They were mine, my fields.  I talked to myself and curated fantastical baseball leagues in my head, populated by my friends.  That was mine, my head.  My time.  My run of the yard.  And my dad let me have it.

It’s a hot Sunday as I write now, remembering my dad who was there when he was there.  Dad, you were always enough.   I love you.  Thank you.

And so the crippling thing, the thing I can’t possibly win, is the idea that each day’s enough isn’t enough.  That fatherhood is the stuff of checklists and signposts, a game to be won and a role to be inhabited.  That I am a father before I am myself, that I have to be something with my boys instead of just being with them.

In the name of fatherhood and under the cloud of expectation, I have made some awful mistakes.  We all have.  I’ve spun around in circles of self-laceration and allowed that whirl to skitter out into the world, unchecked and dangerous.  The thing is, what you want most in the world can’t be smothered or gripped too tightly.  You can’t choke your hold on fatherhood and you can’t do your job with an eye on all the things you thought you were supposed to do, or all the reportage from all the other fathers’ PR people.

When I fall into this pit, it is no one’s fault but my own.  It is not the world’s problem.  It is not social media’s problem.  It is not anyone’s to own but mine.  I am working on it, working on just being.  I have a beautiful wife and the two boys I love most.  I’m working on being instead of showing.  On listening instead of talking.  The father I want to be–gentle, strong, kind, present…he is the person I need to be first, and all the rest will follow in its own way.

This is raw and in truth I am only sharing for two reasons:
1) The dads I know out there who are struggling to make things work…you can be enough; you are enough.  Be the person you want a father to look like.  But for yourself first, and only then for your family.  All the rest will follow in its own way.

2) Bringing this back to my occupation…gosh, I see this stuff all the time.  Moms and dads beating themselves up under the weight of expectation.  I wasn’t supposed to feel this way at 35, I want to look like this person, if I don’t do x, y, and z in the gym I am a failure.   NO!  NO!  Stop keeping score.  This is your race.  For YOU.  Do the things that make you happy.  Do the things that make you scared.  Surround yourselves with people who support you but also give you the space to find your own way.  The tighter you cling to the scorecards–your own, your friends’, your feed’s–the quicker you’ll lose what you want most.  Nothing is more useless than a ten-mile sign without directions.  Follow the path and disengage from the destination and pretty soon you end up where you’re supposed to be.

And…squat on Mondays, deadlift on Fridays.  Okay?

How The Light Gets In

“There is a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen sings in Anthem.   “That’s how the light gets in.”

When things get rough, I like to focus on that line.  There will always be a crack in your everything; maybe you’ve gone too deep into yourself and are pushing out at the seams with your own air, or maybe you’ve been battered by the winds of life.

Whatever the case, here it is and here you are–cracked.  You are an assemblage of unguarded entries.  But what do you let in?  The light or the dark?

The person who says nice job and smiles at you, or the ten friends of friends whose pages you creep to mine resentment?  The sense of accomplishment at a job well done or the ways you feel you should’ve been better?  The clean or the convoluted?

Things aren’t always that simple, of course.  Sometimes there is no accounting for circumstance.  But sometimes when you don’t attend to the cracks, they become caverns.  Black, vorticious nightmares.  Those aren’t so easily remedied.

So here you are–cracked.  What do you let in?  The light or the dark?

When Once I Am Convinced

Sometimes before I close the gym, usually at night or on a Sunday morning, I stand in front of this poster and I think about what I know, what I’m convinced of, and what’s worth hanging onto so hard I never want to let go.

Unfortunately, in the fitness industry this usually leaves me feeling like Lear’s Cordelia.  (At another time we can unpack why she is the fictional character I most often identify with.)  I am unwilling to say we can change your life and fix an entirety in four weeks.  I’m sorry but it takes longer, and we would be dishonest to tell you otherwise.  We look at the long game.  It is about a lifetime of strength.

I am unwilling to say that you are brave for trying hard and making a fuss in a room where everyone else is trying hard.  I’m sorry, but cancer patients are brave.  First responders are brave.  People who fight their fears to show up every day are brave.  Working out itself is a fait accompli most of the time.  When you can’t work out and you have to move, when you have to just get off the toilet without a crowd yelling hosanna in the highest…will you show up?  Can you be brave then?  That’s the endgame.   This is a lifetime of strength.  We look at everyone who walks into our gym through those lenses–how can we help you stay active and be strong and move well for 40 years, 50 years?  It’s not about the workouts, it’s about the work.

I won’t place your success in the context of what the halest can achieve.  It matters that you get up and down, not that you back squat or front squat.  The goal is for you to load up and move your hips, not to chase someone else’s numbers.  You are strong and powerful because you show up and move and listen to your coaches.  This is a lifetime of strength.  This is something we can build upon, always.  When you allow yourself to be motivated by success and not cozened by sweat, you can win every single day.

That is what convinces me.  And that’s what we won’t ever let go.

It’s Not A Hobby

It’s something I do 3 or 4 times a week.  Sometimes 5 or 6.  Other times 2.  When things are bad, it’s bad and it’s none.  7 is a magic number but I only get there during certain, penitent seasons.

It’s a hobby.  But it’s not a hobby.   Hobbies take you to the door of the meeting hall.  They put a mint on your pillow, straighten your tie, and drive you in a well-appointed sedan to the destination of your choice.  But you need to turn the doorknob, and then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

When I stop at 4 and could have done 7 but won’t do 1 next week if I’d tried to do 6, it teaches me to value process in service of goal.  If this is a hobby, it’s a valuable one.

When I put the bar down without screaming, when I nod my head and tell myself one thing is done and now it’s the next, it teaches me to live one moment at a time.  If this is a hobby, it’s an instructive one.

When I get deep down in the guts of a thing, when I wonder if I have what it takes to do thing two, no words will suffice.  Nothing anyone else has told me about myself will carry the day.  No nicknames, no flattery.  No nothing.  It is only what I know I have done and that I know I have continued to move.  If this is a hobby, it is congruent with the idea that you keep moving.  That you stay hungry.  You don’t accept that throwing a heavy stone into an ocean is enough because it was so heavy.  You stay hungry and you figure out how to make yourself stronger and you stop talking about how heavy the rock is.

It’s not a hobby, but if it is then it’s a good one.

You’re Good With The Comments Section, But How About Real Life?

I read a post on FB recently concerning a celebrity who’s been suffering from an agorophobic type of disorder.  To read the comments section, you’d believe we are all Mother Theresas on the road to Calcutta.  (Actually Mother Theresa wasn’t Mother Theresa, thanks Hitch, but that’s a little farther afield…)  Oh my goodness, you poor thing, oh my goodness, you are so brave Celebrity A, oh my goodness Beyonce you are the Queen.  (Okay no one said that today, but they will tomorrow.)  We are all wonderful counselors in theory.

But at the risk of sounding…I don’t know…like a scold…there are people here in the actual real world who could use your support and your help.  I see people struggle every day, and they don’t call attention to themselves, so they don’t get the pats on the back and the offers of an ear.  I guess that’s on them, and I guess we all live in the world we create but goddamn, how about we up our game and treat everyone the way we say we’d treat a celebrity if he or she were magically deposited on our doorstep?  It’s a little more involved than a sad face emoji, but it’s probably worth it in the end.  You learn a lot when you humble yourself to be a helper.

Up Your Game.

I’ve been training a young kid for the past couple of weeks.  Like many kids of his age, he’s self-conscious about his appearance, despite being of perfectly normal size, shape, and whatever.   A great kid.

And I wish I could tell him that people stop talking about the way you look as you walk further on down the road, start a family, build a business, do things that you’re proud of.  But they don’t.

I have a beard, a belly, and I lift weights.  Over the last three months, I’ve heard the following things about my appearance, unbidden:
“most people think child molesters look like you”
“fat”
“old, haggard.”
“scary”–this is an all time favorite.
“someone kids wouldn’t want to play with”
“ugly”–I didn’t think that old chestnut would make a comeback but hey, it’s 2017.

This isn’t to make anyone feel sorry for me.  First because I’m awesome.  And second because I dust that stuff off and I laugh about it because most of it comes from people who have very strict rules about what government and social media should do but apparently ignore the very real ways you can actually just intend to be a nicer person to the actual people you encounter every day in your actual real life.

But it does piss me off.  I don’t want to hear bromides about kids being mean to other kids from adults who spend their lives talking shit about other people.  Fucking up your game.  The stuff the kids say doesn’t come out of a vacuum.  When a perfectly awesome kid tells me he’s worried about the way he looks, I wonder where the fuck that shit comes from.  And then I remember…we’re all really good about making speeches, not as good at actually putting the cotton in our mouths when it comes to the way people look.

Here’s To The Triers

Today I read something on Facebook that, admittedly, was poorly written.  The subject matter was difficult, pretty personal, and the writer didn’t handle it as well as it could have been handled.  The bloodbath in the comments section (yeah, don’t read the comments) was as predictable as it was depressing.

The easiest thing to do is nothing.  To not try.  To never put yourself out on a limb and show your ass.

From that vantage, you get to proctor life.  You and your monocle.  Nothing’s cooler than the dude who sits at the back of class and doesn’t do anything but take shots at others.  No thought, no kindness, no nothing.  No risk.  Just scorn.  You get to be a hero in the comments section of life.  You and your monocle.  That’s the thing about looking at life from thirty degrees–when you don’t care, you’re in third dimension and the people coming at you on the level might as well be Ward and June Cleaver.

The flip side of the coin is that you get to play the victim if you want to.  Everything anyone else tries and is brave enough to care for at length, well, that’s a personal shot at Y-O-U, and you should cluck your tongue accordingly.  You don’t have to try because everything is an attack.  There is this weird thing in American culture where someone else’s success and happiness or even their fucking opinion, all of which have nothing to do with you…well, they’re actually all about you.   I’m in the gym business and I see this all the time. Workout plan does wonders for someone else?  It was written and enacted to spite you.  Couple of simple diet tricks that help people get closer to their goals?  If they don’t work for you, they’re daggers.  Take cover.

My screen is turning pink so I should stop typing.  Every now and again this shit really gets to me and I wonder what sort of a world I’m sending my kids into where everyday sincerity is mocked and feared more often than not.  And now my screen is really turning pink.  Anyhow, here’s to the people who try.  Keep trying.