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Jesse Thomas shares lessons learned in the new world of Daddyland.
My son, Jude Eiger Thomas, was born on June 10. Like most first-time fathers, my brain is firmly planted in Daddyland, and enough so that it would be damn near impossible to write about anything else. So while it’s still early, I thought I’d give you some of my first impressions about how I’m attempting to squeeze this tiny badass mofo into my Triathlife.
Anticipation and expectations
Ever since second grade, when I told my mom that I’d prefer to make my own lunch from now on because of my tight tolerance on PB-to-J ratio, I’ve lived a pretty independent life. I train and work roughly 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I travel 10 to 15 times a year, sometimes for weeks at a time. My wife is similar. We love each other, spend as much QT together as we can, but also support each other’s independence. So how could we possibly fit an entirely dependent, 24-hour miniature poop machine into our lives?
Two kinds of advice
While my wife was pregnant, I got tons of advice, both solicited and unsolicited, both from people I admire and the emo dude at the Starbucks drive-through window. While there certainly was a spectrum of input, I’d say 90 percent of dads fell mostly into these two categories:
Happy Bliss Dad: HB Dads tell you that having a kid is the coolest thing in the history of the universe. You’ll look into his eyes and forever be a mesmerized happy zombie of love. Your priorities change, everything fades away, and all these other things you’re worried about balancing now won’t matter once he’s born.
Your Life is Going to Suck Dad: Aptly named, Suck Dads tell you how bad your life is going to suck after your kid is born. They say enjoy your time now and consider your independence gone. You’ll never have it back the way it was, never sleep again, and oh my God you can forget about “Game of Thrones” Nacho Night, sucka! I don’t know if it’s a macho thing that makes some guys like to talk about how much stuff sucks, like it makes them tough by dealing with it or something, but seriously, there are a lot of dudes like this, and it’s pretty depressing.
Which advice to take?
So to whom should I listen, and what impact is this kid going to have on my life? It was hard for me to believe HB Dads because I couldn’t imagine caring about something so much that all my other goals, interests and passions faded into meaninglessness. HB Dad was either lying, in a sleep-deprived delirium, or just didn’t have the same passion I did for sport and business. And the more I thought about it, I couldn’t imagine how in the hell I was going to squeeze being a dad into my life. I already couldn’t do 40 percent of the stuff my jobs ask me to do. Add another full-time human into the mix, and it seemed impossible.
So as much as I hate him, Suck Dad had to be right. Damn it. We’re screwed. How in the hell would Lauren and I balance this thing in our crazy busy lives? What were we thinking? Is it too late to give him back? I’m never going to sleep again. I won’t be able to train. Is this the end of my athletic career?
How it’s really gone down
At the time I wrote this column, I’ve been a dad for approximately 17 days, 14 hours and 57 minutes, so like the vast majority of my articles, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I also know that every family situation is different. There are single parents, parents who both work full-time, and most obviously, parents who don’t need to train and recover full-time because it isn’t their source of income. But I have seen some immediate and obvious changes in my approach and mentality that I think are worth sharing.
My wife and I decided that at least until the kid is comfortably feeding out of a bottle and Lauren starts training again, that she’s on sleep duty so I can recover and train effectively. In my line of work, I literally can’t afford to not sleep for six months. Of course, my sleep still is affected, there are times she needs my help, or his little sleeping squeaky squawk wakes me up. But this is the strategy my wife and I have decided to start with.
Daddy day-care and transition time
In trade for my wife holding down the fort at night, I do my small part by taking on more house chores, shopping, getting the damn woodpecker to shut up, etc. I also give her three unobstructed hours in the afternoon without the baby. This means if I have three workouts that day, I’ve got to get two of them done before 2 p.m., and squeeze the third one in after 5 and before I make dinner. This is a schedule that would have been “impossible” before I had a kid. So where does that extra time come from?
Transition Time: By planning my transitions more effectively between work, workouts and home, I’ve saved myself almost an hour a day. I have all my bike and run stuff ready to go. I have a suspension bungee system that allows me to full-body jump into my Speedo from the top of my staircase. Just kidding about the bungee system, but someone should invent that for real. Anyway, when I switch to workout time, it’s full gas, no more moseying around.
Two hours is two hours
One immediate thing I noticed was that between transition time, socializing with training buddies, deciding which water bottle to use and exploring a cool new bike route, my two-hour workout used to take almost three hours. I’ve cut down significantly on that stuff, and know that if I do spend 20 minutes picking my outfit that my workout is going to be 20 minutes shorter.
Don’t overthink it
I think a lot of triathletes, including myself, try to take a naturally uncontrollable situation and control it as much as possible, and in the process, make it worse. What I’ve realized is that regardless of how much advice you get, there are too many variables—every kid is different, every home is different, everyone’s priorities are different.
So like I say in many of my columns, you have to be flexible. In fact, having a kid is the ultimate test in flexibility. Jude doesn’t give a crap if my workout is at 10 a.m. If he feels a grumble, he’s going to poop his pants and start screaming at 9:59. If I try to over-structure my day, or overthink how it will be affected, I do more harm than good. There are times when I don’t sleep, I have to skip a workout or a meeting. In and of themselves, these hiccups don’t have much of an impact, but if I let them bother me, decrease my confidence, frustrate or depress me, that’s when they have a negative impact. Jude gets the hiccups at least five times a day, and he just chills there like it’s nobody’s business. Eventually they go away. He’s already smarter than I am.
Missing but gaining
In hindsight, I think HB Dad’s were mostly right, thank God. No, I haven’t given up passionately pursuing my own goals and dreams, but having a kid is probably the coolest thing in the universe. It’s definitely cool enough to do way more chores, give up some social time, not try a long, uncertain bike route, and even potentially miss “Game of Thrones” Nacho Night. I know there will be adjustments every day down the road, but what I feel I’ve gained more than makes up for what I thought I’d miss.