Not long ago I became a dad. There are lots of things that come with being a dad both wonderful and challenging much of which I was kind-of expecting.
On the wonderful side I have got to see my wife blossom into motherhood, I got to witness her awesome strength in giving birth, I get to play with and generally enjoy my gorgeous baby son, and perhaps most importantly we get to put various cute and funny hats on him and take pictures!
On the tougher side of things it was not an easy birth and it was very difficult to see my wife work so hard and not be able to help, I have occasional bouts of terror about providing financially for my family, and it’s hard running my own business to find the right balance between work and family time.
One thing that I didn’t expect when becoming a dad was to put on weight. It is apparently very common though and it has happened for me. I’m a stocky build and am never likely to be either skinny or conventionally ‘Buff’ but I keep in reasonable shape through martial arts training and walking. I am now heavier than I’d like to be. During pregnancy when the mum-to-be is being flooded by hormones, the man does often have hormonal changes too. In many men their testosterone production goes down (the hormone that makes you manly, active, lusty, and when there’s too much of it – aggressive!) and progesterone production goes up (progesterone goes up in women too and is often associated with ‘nesting’ tendencies). This shift tends to bring with it a weight gain. Also once the baby is born it’s common for a new dad to gain between half a stone and one stone just because you end up eating more and being less active. So while I didn’t expect this change, it looks like I’m not the only one.
Now, pre-baby I would have got back into training Karate and Kung-Fu with my teacher, upped my solo training and not worried about it too much. That was what I first set my sights on. However, finding an hour or so a day plus the 2-3 hours I would spend with my teacher each week doesn’t seem very realistic in the post-baby new world. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my training, but it’s clearly something I’m going to have to find my way back into more slowly than I would have hoped. Right now, I need to up my exercise… so what do I do?! If I take time out of my work day then I get less hours at that when my time already feels squeezed; if I take time out of my family time then that’s less time with my wife and child and my wife having to manage without my support more than is the case already. It’s a bit of a rock and a hard place. Well, it was… Until I invented the art of Dad-Fu!
Anyone who knows me or my work will know that I am passionate about creating practices – taking regular activities and making them conscious and meditative processes to engage in. I even have a book coming out soon on this very subject: A little book on finding your Way – Zen and the Art of Doing stuff. Watch this space for more news if you’re interested or get in touch and we can put you on the mailing list. The art of Dad-Fu is a practice. What it involves is taking my son, Samson out for a walk for an hour every day in the sling. Doesn’t sound like such a big deal? Let me explain…
It meets my need for getting some good basic exercise (walking is great cardiovascular exercise providing you walk swiftly enough to raise your heart rate slightly and keep it raised), Samson is perfectly happy wrapped up in his furry super-suit (and usually goes to sleep within about 10 steps), and my wife gets an hour to herself to do with as she pleases! It meets everyone’s needs and I get some more bonding time with Samson. If he’s awake I often talk or sing to him (I don’t look any more crazy than your average blue-tooth headset user!) and if he’s asleep then at least he’s still in my energy field.
This has taught me a valuable lesson about developing practices: whatever high ideals we might have and as wonderful as some practices may be, sometimes what’s most important is that the practice fits your life not the other way around. If your practice is not supportive of you taking this one precious life you have and making the most of it then what’s the point? That’s not to dismiss taking special time out to meditate or do Karate or have a tea-ceremony or whatever floats your boat. That can be vital to living a fulfilled life too, but right now my highest priority is being the best dad I can so I practice Dad-Fu. I think the key question to ask ourselves here is: “What is this in service of?” It’s a big question and one that comes up a lot in the Samurai Game when I run it. ‘Samurai’ translates as ‘One who serves.’ I see the warrior archetype as an archetype of service. The warrior serves the ruler or King, so what rules you? Negative habits and addictions can rule us whether that is alcohol or shopping or too much TV (and I’m not against any of these things per-se, see my previous article on TV as a practice!). Equally, apparently positive practices can end up harming more than they help if they rule us. A meditation practice, or going to the gym can be great for your spiritual or physical health but if it takes up loads of your time and damages your relationships, is it worth it? You need to take into account the fact that devoting time to a solo practice may be what makes it possible to be really present in relationships so it is not a simple equation to solve but definitely one worth considering.
You may be wondering “Why Dad-Fu?” Well partly because I think it sounds cooler than “The art of going for a walk in the cold with my son” but also I think there is a valuable parallel between Kung-Fu and being a dad. Kung-Fu can be translated many ways from the original Chinese but one of those translations is ‘time and hard work.’ I find it a heartening reminder of the nature of committed practice whether that is to a martial art or to being a father. It is going to be hard work sometimes: deal with it. It also takes place in an extended time period and while that means that the hard work keeps going, it also allows lots of time and space to make mistakes (and we’re all going to), to learn from them, and to heal from the disappointments (and these will happen). Taking up any form of committed practice is both a burden and a gift – I think that’s doubly true of parenting – and that is the wonderful, mysterious dichotomy of life.
As with any new practice, Dad-Fu has had some unexpected delights. Brighton is really quite beautiful at night in a way that you just don’t see during the day. The sea-front is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, the sea dark and mysterious in its murmurings. I also get time to just ponder things as I walk. An hour largely devoted to pondering and walking feels like quite a treat! I have also discovered hidden architectural delights, sometimes just on regular houses, sometimes in more obvious places like the beautifully repaired bandstand on the sea-front (the pictures throughout this article are from my walks in the last week or so). It feels like a really magical space to be mostly on my own, Samson asleep on my chest and find a spot, view, or moment which conjures something in my imagination or sparks a story in my mind. I am really enjoying my new practice.
So what can you take away from this article? Maybe just consider your own practices (and whatever you’re doing again and again is a practice) and have a think about what you want to be in service of and whether those practices are the best use of your time. There is a saying which has been attributed to various people over the years (right back to a Latin version from ancient Rome): “Necessity is the mother of Invention.” I have certainly found that to be true in creating ‘The Way of Dad-Fu.’ Perhaps you have necessities which are calling for your creativity…?
Whatever you practice, I hope it brings you joy in the easy times, strength in the tough times and growth all the time.