Rejecting the Dad-bod: A Comedy

There’s nothing funny to me about having a dad-bod. I reject the cultural cuteness we’ve given it over the past few years. I had a dad-bod before I had a son, but no one gave me a high-five for being so hip and ahead of the curve(s).

If you happened to read my posts from time to time I’ve mentioned that I thrive on proving people wrong. I get joy out of defying expectations. I like taking what someone assumes I should be or do and be the opposite. That has created a constantly-rotating wardrobe, different hairstyles every few months, new music explorations, new book-reading choices, and so on. Whether the drivers are healthy or not, the effects have given me a freedom to be and do whatever I want.

This is how I found myself at a gym, one week before my first son was due, signing up for a new membership — my third different membership since I moved to Wisconsin. When the manager asked what my goals were, “I want to look like a monster,” wasn’t a strong enough metric to monitor progress. He also couldn’t really take my testimony that I used to be in really good shape as a reliable gauge on what I should aim for. But that doubt gave me motivation.

My son was born on a Thursday; my first session with my trainer was the following Monday at 7 am. I hadn’t eaten before the appointment, I hadn’t slept much — as anyone with a newborn could understand. I nearly passed out. I couldn’t get through the 30 minute fit test. I spent the following 33 minutes crouched on or around the one men’s toilet. It was not my best day and not the impression I wanted to set with a guy I was financially and contractually obligated to see once a week for at least two years.

But it got easier over time, as things do. My wife was always home, and so I knew I could go to the gym before or after work, and she’d be with the boy. I started making visible progress. For the first time really in my life, I focused on the lower half of my body and started developing an ass, which I have never had in my entire time on planet earth. Eventually, my wife also got a personal training program with the same trainer, and she was able to go consistently between her part time schedule at work and either of us picking up our son from day care.

Culture makes it seem like the dad-bod is some sort of badge of honor, but here I was getting into the best shape of my life. I was telling people that this is my dad-bod. By Memorial Day, I was finally on the right side of physical strength and wellness. Then shit got complicated.

My wife went back to work full-time and our routines fell apart. One week I needed to be in San Diego, the next week she’s in Texas. Next week we’re both in town but I have band practice. She’s clawing her way back into full-time work mode, so she needs late nights at the office to get caught up from months of maternity leave and part-time work. Oh, now I’m in New Jersey. Now I’m in North Dakota. Now I’m in North Carolina. She’s in Texas. She’s in Palm Springs. Family is visiting. Family is visiting again. The rain finally stopped, we need to do yard work. Nope started raining again, this time causing floods in the basement. Oh, time to travel again.

It’s mid-August and in just 10 weeks, I feel like I’m slipping into that skinny-fat stereotype of bearing a father-body. I stepped up my volume of eating to account for all the gym time, but when my stops at the gym decreased, my caloric intake didn’t. I see love handles, I see a fuller belly, I see saggy man-boobs. Dammit.

After justifying my descent into mediocrity for weeks, I really got into my head about how I got here, and most importantly, how to get back. I don’t know if I have good answers really, but here’s the plan I’ve come up with. First, I need to do it as early in the day as possible so I ensure it gets done. Second, I can’t focus on the perfect opportunity. I have a plan each day to exercise and then I have things happen where my ideal scenario of exercise is compromised and before you know it I’m half-asleep in bed drifting off into tomorrow.

It must be a priority. It was a priority before and life was probably just as complicated (but in different ways) as it was a few months ago. But because it was so important, I found ways to do it consistently. My lesser vices went on the back burner (things like waking up and playing on your phone for 20 minutes can set off a sequence of laziness that derails a perfect amount of time to exercise). I ate better because I knew it was helping me each day. Once it’s a priority, it’s a way of life.

My son is getting bigger and heavier. I need to be able to haul him around, and set a good example. Today was the day I needed to remember how far I had come at one point, and how far I’ve slipped. But I am not discouraged, just delayed. I have a deadline to get to the shape I want to be in. 11/11: Family reunion for my wife’s side of the family. I was telling her that I need to be the most physically impressive man at this reunion so that her family knows the Shermans have strengthened the genetic makeup of our family tree. She laughed. But motivation comes in a bunch of silly forms. And that’s the motivation I need.

Solid B+

I saw this coming. When I married my wife in 2014, I tucked this into my vows: “I promise that of all the big ideas or big master plans I come up with, we will follow through on at least half of them.” My wife and I are ambitious people. We take a lot of pride in taking on a lot of life. It shows up in our travel plans, our work schedules, our dietary challenges, our hobbies, and our commitment to spending time with family and friends.

But, something’s changed recently. Free time is abbreviated and we orbit around a new gravitational pull. The change is our bright-eyed baby boy. He’s about halfway through his first trip around the sun, meanwhile his parents are trying to live between two worlds. The Before Child, or BC-era Rae and Ty are trying to keep up with the Child Era Rae and Ty, and it’s…well, it’s tough.

The boy is great. Raising him is, and has been, an incredible experience. Rae and I have so much joy and pride in parenting such a beautiful happy child. Some of the greatest moments of my day are watching him get excited when he sees his mother come home, watching him watch his hands move, or seeing the wonderment in his eyes when I move my hands through the air like a jellyfish drifting through the ocean. Our mistakes thus far haven’t had anything to do with him. They’ve had to do with us wanting to stay superhuman.

I like proving people wrong. No, it’s more than that. I need to prove people wrong. I love doing what you either think I shouldn’t or can’t do. For instance, in growing up with an alcoholic, drug-addicted father, I became strictly drug- and alcohol-free for the first quarter century of my life. I’d intentionally listen to music that others wouldn’t suspect from me, because I hated being stereotyped. “Wait, I’m the only person at my company from my college?” Fine, I’ll be ten times better at my job than kids who went to Yale and prestigious school X. I’ve done demanding dietary resets during software go-lives at my company (notorious for all the free sugary, fattening sweets they offer at onsite support centers). “Oh, I’m supposed to have a skinny-fat dad-bod now?” I started working with a personal trainer 4 days after my son was born.

I doubt my method for getting me to do things is healthy or well-adjusted. But I’ve learned to work within the framework. So as my wife’s pregnancy was winding down, the idea that she would need to put her career on hold or that either of us would need to quit our jobs sounded like a challenge. “Maybe other people have had troubles with it,” I thought. “But Rae and I can do this if we plan it out.” We can raise our son, get into the best shape of our lives, and continue to grow our careers all at once.

So technically, we’re doing all of those things. By Memorial Day this year, I was in the best overall shape I’ve been in since I was 19 years old. My wife completed coaching certification, got back to work, got back into the gym, and we’re both back to full-time work and full-time child-rearing. But it doesn’t feel quite like we’re accomplishing anything.

I had this grand ol plan that I’d start developing a fiction novel outline over the course of the 12 months between my 33rd and 34th birthday. 3 months into it, and I’m essentially still on step one. Even this blog was intended to be a weekly exercise…or bi-weekly at least. I told myself I wouldn’t take on too much new work at my job, yet I am in a new leadership position on my team, and I’m implementing a new (to me) software application. Why, Tylor? Why?

Rae is right in the thick of it too. She went from comfortably not traveling and wrapping up work at 4 pm each day to getting thrown on back-to-back traveling trips and late nights and weekends in the office fixing other people’s mistakes. And my patience about it has worn thinner and thinner, to the point I get irrationally upset on her behalf. While she is powering through, I want to yell at the people keeping her at the office or on the road. I see my wife nearly every night and yet I miss her all the time. My friends, we are learning our limits.

We listened to a podcast recently from a couple who are going through basically the same things we are. The podcaster (?) Rachel summed it up nicely: you have to say no. Oddly enough we listened to this podcast a day before we took our young boy to his first Major League Baseball game, only for him to get overstimulated and scream like we’ve never heard before. He then had belly issues, wouldn’t eat, and before you know it we’ve missed 7 innings and our family wonders if they’ve lost us for good. Too much. We’re trying to do too much! But we didn’t want to say no to our family. We want to be superhuman.

My wife is thoughtful and always wants to give everyone her best self. She doesn’t want to let people down, and rarely (if ever) does. I’m much more self-centered than my wife.  Saying no to others isn’t too hard for me. I did it to drugs and alcohol (thanks D.A.R.E and addict father), I’ve said goodbye to Facebook months ago… Basically, I can turn away from things. But the uncomfortable area to navigate is our careers. How do I say no to a demanding job that I usually enjoy and get paid pretty well to perform? That’s been the hardest part, and has required the most creativity.

I’ve managed to get involved with projects that don’t require a ton of travel, and have been able to find creative solutions for the ones that do. I also have accepted that while my target job performance is here (I have my right hand pretty high), what I am able to practically give is about here (left hand is slightly lower than my right, but still impressively high in the air). I have to fit 55 hours of work into 45, rather than fit 70 into 55. I’ll probably get a “he’s doing well, but this could’ve been better,” type feedback from some of my peers, but I have to accept it. As the evil corporate couple HHH and Stephanie McMahon would tell Daniel Bryan, I should be proud to be a B+ player right now. Solid B+.

So the next few weeks will involve really breaking down necessity vs. desire. We like juggling a thousand things at once, but we’re going to work it down to a manageable 100 things. There’s so many good things coming our way this year (more family travel, fun home improvements, go-lives, and getting the dad bod I want), but if you see us around town, don’t bother asking us what else we’ve been up to. Just tell us about your lives. We need a break from ours.