Tag Archives: getting your dad to workout

The 1954 Model – Adventures in Father-Son-Son Fitness

11 Feb

“Dad, you need to start working out,” I pleaded for the seventeenth time.  (Ok, I don’t know exactly how many times I begged..) “I’m in great shape, my weight is 135 pounds, it always has been, always will be,” my father proudly, and predictably responded. “Plus, I brisk walk!”  Per our routine, I rolled my eyes, laughed into the phone, and changed the subject to his and mom’s plan for their trip to India.

Despite his insistence, Dad is not 135 pounds, and he hasn’t been since I was 15 years old.  The real weight on his 5’3″ frame is closer to 148 or 150.  His cholesterol isn’t terribly high, his blood sugar is pretty balanced as well,  and his resting heart rate is freakishly low–like 53 beats a minute low. Dad’s boyish face is his pride, and he takes special pleasure in reminding me of just how young he looks.  And it’s absolutely true, he doesn’t look a day over 46 or 47.  To the extent that you might pay attention to his pot belly to begin with, his big and broad smile make you completely forget that he’s not the healthiest person out there.  Or at least it makes you feel bad to be bothering him at all!

As far as the eyes, and the blood work tell us, he’s borderline unhealthy–so what’s the fuss? Well, if you’re a 28 year old male that admires and adores his father, you want him to be a lean, mean fighting machine.  You don’t want to consistently be saying a version of  “dad, we have a family history of diabetes and heart disease, stop eating that fried onion….”

Building Junior Roger Federer’s? 

There he his, my father moving backward, almost as if in slow-motion, with racket chopping upwards to give the ball an imprecise but architecturally sound arc.  With an enormous smile on my face, I’m backing up three or four feet behind the baseline, waiting for it to reach my nose so that I can whack it back to him.  My brother, four or five at the time, is cheering us on.  He loves seeing us run back and forth, and we love putting on a show.  He has his own junior tennis racket and he’s swinging it, mimicking our every move.

That was father-son-son fitness in the 90s and we played almost every day.  Dad’s insistence that we play sports–that I take lessons, that Rishi (my kid brother) play soccer–formed the basis not only of our incredibly strong bonds but for the way we live today.

When I look back on running the bases as fast as I could, or chasing tennis balls, or doing very slow (and inelegant?) Hakeem Olajuwon “dream shakes,”  I think I begin to understand the nature of what Dad taught me.  It isn’t passion, or even commitment, it is sheer immersion in the physical world.  And maybe as I type this, that one-ness is more important than ever.

The Brilliant Plan

If you’re incredibly lucky, you can simply drive over to your parent’s house and start a workout program with your dad. If you’re (somewhat) unlucky, you already live at home and so all you have to do is get off the couch! For those of us in between, we’re trying to coach dad with phone calls, videochats, and articles on the benefits of being lean.  Or maybe, you’re like me and you’re using your younger brother’s visits home to create commitment on dad’s part.  No matter, it often still doesn’t work.

Luckily, I was scheduled to go to visit my parents in Saudi Arabia and I let dad know in advance that we were going to create an effective and tough workout.  Ever optimistic and willing, dad was “ready to go the day after you recover from jet lag!”

The town where my parents live is a playground for the active.  Our home is less than 5 minutes walk from a golf course, a soccer field, a 25meter swimming pool, a full gym, and several tennis courts.

But dad basically stopped playing sports.  I couldn’t get him started on a routine that might stop when we were done.  My first instinct was to create a social atmosphere for him but to do that was to rely on the intensity of others. And I suspected that his friends and co-workers were more docile than anything else. What to do?
In the middle of my trip (so many days after the jet lag wore off), we finally got to the business of putting dad on a workout routine.  In Austin, I’ve been experimenting with interval training and I decided to introduce dad to my methods.  “Dad, we’re going running today.”  My dad got a quizzical look on his face and immediately said “I don’t run, but I’ll do a brisk walk, it is just like running.”  My brother, suspecting that this was about to become a common debate, cut dad off and said “dad, you are running today.”

The fall, winter, and early spring are absolutely gorgeous in Saudi Arabia.  The affectionately cookie-cutter houses gleam in the sun.  The flowers, bold and bright from carefree watering, sway from side to side.  Even the rattle of the bushes makes you feel like you’re in a suburban community outside of San Francisco.  At night, the fake Christmas trees twinkle–if you didn’t pay attention to the walled compounds, you would feel like you were just in America.

Good fortune smiled upon us early.  As we got to the soccer field, my dad noticed my Vibram FiveFingers and started asking me about the benefits of barefoot running.  He had heard me talk about it before but was for the first time actually interested in why I had chosen to wear them.  “Dad, these Vibram FiveFingers are great, I don’t have back pain anymore, I don’t have knee pain, plus it just feels so good to actually feel the grass, or the dirt, or whatever it is you are running on,” I exclaimed.

Being on the soccer field excited my father.  He kicked off his shoes and said “ok, I’m going to run barefoot first.”  For being in a desert, the grass on this soccer field was particularly lush–even moist.  We stood in the middle of the field and my brother said “dad, let’s sprint, let’s run as fast as we can down this field!”  I joined in, “dad, come on its like a couple hundred feet, let’s just see what we can do.”

Seconds later, my brother took off. Immediately, I started chasing after him.  I’m not sure if my dad laughed, sighed, or had no emotional reaction but next thing I knew I could hear his feet thumping behind us.  I slowed down to let him catch up to me and before I knew it, he had passed me.  I was watching his shirt flail in the wind before I gunned it.

A few moments later, our first sprint was over.  Dad was breathing hard but smiling big.  Sweat coming down his face, I could see the pride in his smile.  Almost immediately, he said “let’s race, but let’s do the entire soccer field this time.”  Needless to say, his joy was not something either my brother or I had predicted.  Instantly, he had turned from the reluctant warrior to the challenged father who wasn’t about to let his kids outrun him.

This time, dad took off, and without giving us any notice! I won’t tell you who ended up winning (hint: my brother runs like a gazelle) but at the end, I knew we had built a fitness habit in him.  As we left the field after 30 minutes of walking and sprinting, my dad laughed and said “this 1954 model still runs, and almost as well as the 1983 and the 1991.”

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