Slow is the New Excruciating

Let’s face it. I’m not an exercise fanatic.

I don’t do CrossFit. I don’t run, walk, or crawl long distances. Shucks, I don’t even stand up straight most of the time.

But I am fairly active. And when I’m not traveling, I make a valiant effort to hit the gym 5 times a week. Yes, I do travel a lot, but you’re missing the point here.

I also read things on the internet about working out. And weight loss. I’m not carrying around a lot of extra weight, but I’d be much better off if I was 10 or 15 pounds lighter. Not a day goes by that my attention is not captivated by the “I ate green bananas and bad cheese and YOU WON’T BELIEVE what happened next!!!” headlines. (Actually, I think most of us really would believe what would happen next. And it’s not the result the article would lead you to believe.)

Again, you’re missing the point. I work out . . . some.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I decide to quit playing it safe and to start testing the boundaries of my endurance and strength. Somewhere I read that rather than doing long, same-paced bouts on the elliptical machine and the treadmill I should insert some workouts with intermittent changes in resistance. Shortly thereafter I became a fan of the “Hill+” feature of my cardio equipment. Basically, I choose a hill, set a speed, enter a level (and I really don’t know what that means, but I pick one dead in the center of the offered range), set a time, and go. For the next half hour, the blinking red pixels on the screen tell me that I’m facing incredible inclines. The resistance tightens or the deck of the treadmill takes on a frightening angle and I proudly huff and puff my way through.

These programs have yet another feature — COOL DOWN. On the elliptical, it’s simply 5 minutes with less resistance. But on the treadmill, it lowers the incline AND cuts the speed a little bit every minute, until in the last minute, I’m creeping along at 1 mile per hour.

The last three of those 5 cool-down minutes are extremely hard for me. After a quick pace (and again, “quick” is a relative term — don’t judge me) for half an hour, the slower rhythm is difficult to tolerate. When I get to that last minute, not only are my legs screaming at me to get moving, but I become aware of another feeling.

I’m embarrassed.

What if someone is watching me? How decrepit do I look . . . slowly lifting my feet and planting them again as the belt slips past me at the speed of old chocolate syrup?

Yet, I am determined to stay true to the program, dictated to  me by the machine, as a test of my patience — not to mention just a little allegiance to that obsessive-compulsive gene that lurks within me.

In moments of clarity, I recognize the fact that no one is going to be watching me at the gym. After all, the tall blonde at the end of the row watching movies on her iPad and laughing uncontrollably while she gallops at 20 to 30 miles per hour, not to mention the guy dressed up like a pirate on the elliptical behind me, tend to garner most of the attention of every other individual in the place.

Sometime in those same moments, I began to realize that slowing down is something I’m missing in a lot of areas of my life. God didn’t give us the Sabbath without putting a lot of thought into it. He and all of nature recognize the importance of cycles. Of working hard. Of taking rest. Of slowing down. Of learning to match our pace to those around us who need someone to walk with.

It remains difficult and sometimes excruciating to slow down. But if you master the art, you’ll have a far better life. And people will notice.

The Brotherhood of Fatherhood

We all like to belong. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, old or young, rich or poor. Skin color doesn’t matter. Nationality doesn’t matter. Political ideals are inconsequential. Every single one of us wants to fit in. For boys and men, we want a brotherhood.

We loved being part of a team or a troop or neighborhood “gang” of tousle-headed youngsters playing cowboys and soldier. We felt comfort in the fact that our comrades had our backs in times of threat and danger. Our smiles were ever-present when our friends showed up to load the moving truck or rebuild the fence.

We’ve aligned ourselves around service to country and community. We sport team colors and have gone to extreme lengths to make sure we’re together in the “sacred moments of the game.”

We’ve consoled each other in times of loss.

Yet, for all of these moments, I hope that we will invest in yet another, vastly important, brotherhood — the brotherhood of fatherhood.

I hope and pray this will be a goal of my young friends who have little ones and even teenagers still at home. But I also want this for the older dads — like me — with grown kids and even grandchildren who gather at their knees.

As fathers, we need the support and the encouragement of other fathers. They will recharge us, encourage us, instruct us, and even provide us with a swift kick when we need one.

Being a good father is hard work. It is easy to lose sight of the goal and look only to the daily physical needs. We miss the self-focused days of old when everyone around us encouraged us to push forward as individuals. Now, we must push forward holding hands with our progeny, guiding them or dragging them toward their own futures.

We need others in similar situations to shout out encouragement or to sit close by in times of struggle. We need others who can see from our unique place.

A good number of us remain in awe of our own fathers. We were blessed. They encouraged us, sometimes purposefully and sometimes by sheer accident, to be good fathers. Now, that image needs to supplemented and fortified by other fathers who want us and our children to be all they can be.

We need a brotherhood of fatherhood.

Overjoyed to be Right Here, Right Now

I’ve spent a good number of hours with my husky-wolf, Togo. Never have I ever had him communicate anything to me other than “I am overjoyed to be right here, right now . . . with you!”

As we begin a morning walk and get to the end of the driveway, he knows a decision must be made. Do we head north or do we head south? Looking back, he checks for my hand signal and then, without a complaint or ever looking back, he gladly bolts down the street.

Or, after a game of tug-of-war or a little bit of rough-housing, Togo never whines when I tell him, “That’s it, buddy! Time for me to go in.” He just wags his tail and lets me know that he’ll be here if my schedule changes.

Or, when I begin the feeding routine by emptying and refilling his water bowl, he is never impatient but instead walks in close beside me and leans against my leg as the water pours.

Or, whenever I ask him to sit, whether it’s for his prayers or just for a little talk, Togo gives me the look that tells me “This is good. This time between you and me — it’s good!”

Or, even when storm clouds threaten and thunder booms and Togo peers around the corner of his house anxiously, his glances tell me, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here with you.”

2014-02-23 13.48.09Togo’s pure joy is why I break often when I’m at home, just to walk out in the back yard and spend some time with him. And, even though I can see the holes in the yard he’s dug, the shrubs he has destroyed, the patio furniture he has decimated, and the mud — oh, the mud — everywhere, my spirit can’t help but be lifted by his joy and his willingness to share it with me.

 

As I finished our walk this morning and as I watched Togo play with his squeaky raccoon toy in the back of the pickup, I wondered if my joy for life has ever touched another person. Perhaps if I were a little more willing to walk down any path just to be with someone or stand close by when necessary things are being done or sat just for the sake of sitting or expressed joy and gratitude in the midst of a personal tempest. Perhaps then.

Bad Fashion Choices

Have you ever wondered what changes Michael Jackson made after he sang his #1 hit song, Man in the Mirror?

The song, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, shares the experience of looking around, seeing needs, and then making the commitment to bring change. The song speaks of hungry children, the homeless, and the heartbroken. It is a call to action.

Take a look at yourself and make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
Cause when you close your heart
Then you close your mind.

I’m not trying to start a debate over Michael Jackson’s life or lifestyle. A little research reveals that he did, in fact, make some significant charitable contributions. Yet, our glimpse into his latter years showed an increasingly troubled man who surrounded himself with those who wanted to take from him. I wonder how differently things would have been had he chosen to spend time with those who truly needed his help.

The man in the mirror image is a fitting one. Occasionally I’ll look through family albums or videos and steal a glance of my past. Invariably I’ll ask myself, “Why in the world would I choose to dress that way?” or “Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me how bad that hairstyle was?”

I have to remind myself that I was there at the time. I was fully capable of seeing who I was, how I dressed, and how I parted my hair. (Yes, I once had sufficient hair to part. Now, it is merely departed.) But the point is that I failed to see.

Why is it so hard to see ourselves?

And when we do, why is is so difficult to make a change?

As you look around today and see things that need to be done and people who need you, take a look in the mirror. But don’t look away until you genuinely see yourself. For, when you see yourself, you are uniquely equipped to truly see others.

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift

Through the years, men have made great deposits in the emotional banks of their families by pretending to really like what their daughters and sons give them for Father’s Day.

“A tie! How thoughtful!”

“A magnetic screwdriver! And it’s even a different color from last year’s!”

And people around us think that we are, indeed, magnanimous creatures because of our kindness in accepting what appear to be the worst gifts ever.

I did some browsing for Father’s Day gifts on the internet today — just to see what’s hot.

For office-bound dads, you can choose from the wireless dolphin mouse, the Rubik’s Cube pencil holder, the fish-shaped sardine paper clips in the sardine can, or the little pens that look like tools or golf clubs.

Apparently it’s okay to encourage your father to drink these days. From the ginger syrup “for your bar cart” to the leather 6-pack holder to the “make your own whiskey kit,” these gifts are certain to get dad pickled.

Of course, dads like to eat. Rebel Rocky Road Candy is hyped as a bold twist on an old favorite. I was particularly interested in the handcrafted salami gift basket. I’m not a salami fan, but I am intrigued with what a handcrafted salami might look like. I think my favorite in this category had to be the Chip-Zel-Pop Pail. Imagine this . . . a metal pail of potato chips, pretzels, and caramel popcorn drizzled with chocolate and caramel! Obviously, this is a creation of some dad who, after a long day at the office with his wireless dolphin mouse and sardine paper clips, has a little too much of his homemade whiskey, and then is left to his own designs in the pantry.

There are upscale gifts out there, as well. The book of classic quotes from The Godfather provides entertainment and a little something for bedtime reading to the little ones. And then there are those silk cuff links — appropriately fashioned from old neckties.

We, as fathers, can laugh about some of the things that land in our laps on that wonderful Sunday in June.

But the truth is, any bit of remembrance or acknowledgment from our kids is priceless. Whether it’s a hug or a phone call or a card or an email. Even a nod in our direction will suffice.

You see, the perfect Father’s Day gift is that special ingredient that made us dads in the first place — our kids!