Dad bod

Fatherhood has both inspired and encouraged this dad’s very practical, very strategic fitness routine

Jon Willing pulls his son Miles home on a sled at the end of a school day. Photo Credit Jon Willing

It was around Elgin Street when I gleefully realized my knees weren’t going to buckle after all.

I had trudged three long downtown blocks on the snowy sidewalks of Winterlude with my four-year-old son sitting on my shoulders. At the end of the first block, as drool from a taffy in Miles’ mouth collected on the arm of my parka, I accepted that it would be a painful five additional blocks to our destination.

But lo and behold, here I was feeling great. I felt mighty, like only a father in his mid-40s shoulder-carrying a sugar-infused kindergartener through two inches of slush can feel.

A test of endurance like this often weighs heavy on my mind as a somewhat older father. Can I keep up? What will it be like in 10 years?

Like almost everything in life, fatherhood informs how I approach exercise. It has become the dominant motivator.

I laugh at all those videos on social media of dads in the gym preparing for the punishing days ahead at a Disney theme park. They blast themselves with blow dryers while walking on a treadmill carrying a couple of kids. They run with heavy bags bouncing off their arms. They squat with a kid propped on their shoulders like a barbell.

There’s plenty of advice on the internet about what kind of exercises fathers should be doing simply to keep up with the daily demands of parenthood, but lately I’ve been concentrating on keeping my heart, legs and back strong.

Don’t take this as a strategy informed by a professional fitness guru. It just feels like those three areas are more at risk to give out the older we get.

With that in mind, I run at least once a week to increase (more like, maintain) a decent level of endurance. 

When it comes to my back, I figure that’s one part of the body that could seize up quickly without notice, even if it’s while getting out of bed (hello, age). I just want to stay limber to avoid dumb injuries. So, I concentrate on some back exercises as part of my weekly workout.

As it turns out, I really didn’t have to try hard to build endurance in my legs since the first four years of my child’s life (especially in that exhausting two- and three-year-old window) I was regularly running after him, or I was pushing him in a stroller or trike.

But now I’m thinking specifically about my knees and keeping those joints loose. I think I’ll need them for at least the next seven years of intense father activities. I was reminded several times over the winter, as the snow never seemed to stop falling, how handy it was having two working knees while pulling Miles on a plastic sled across a salted sidewalk.

For me, exercise is finding those functional fitness routines that prepare me for parenting action, whether it’s racing my boy across a soccer field or carrying him on my shoulders for eight slippery blocks in the dead of winter.

I haven’t found the perfect exercise for pulling my unawakened body off a hardwood floor after playing PJ Masks at 6:30 a.m., but I’m keen on finding it.