People love to tell you how your life is going to change once you have a child.
Sleeping more than a few hours at a time? Kiss that goodbye.
Like fancy restaurants? Not anymore.
Not comfortable around body fluids? You will be.
As a new parent, some of this stuff can make you nervous, but isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. What I wasn’t expecting was how becoming a father would change the way I think about my health.
From bachelor to breeder
When it comes to nutrition, I’ve always been a hedonist. If something looks good, I don’t really think twice about eating it (or drinking it).
I like cigars. My favorite form of exercise is walking our Basset hound until she gives up. This doesn’t take long.
For the last few years, my body has been at that fascinating stage where it’s starting to send clear signals that I need to make some changes, yet those little red flags are still pretty easy to ignore.
That is, they were easy to ignore right up until my son was born this February. If you’ve ever taken care of a newborn, you know that it’s kind of like having a squirming sack of potatoes that only seems happy when you’re in a position that would give a chiropractor nightmares.
Pacing around while rotating from side to side and making noises helps, but try doing that for several hours in a row.
Did I mention that I’ve dealt with chronic back pain for the last five years? A couple of weeks of this routine had me suffering from muscle spasms constantly. Holding my son became a calculated risk that sometimes left me laid up in bed for a day or two.
There is nothing in the world that I want more than to be able to hold my son in my arms. There isn’t a feeling quite like it. But I can’t begin to tell you just how much pain and aggravation it caused in my back and muscles. Not being able to hold my son, and then having to spend time recovering in bed was heartbreaking to me.
I felt like I was letting my wife down and I was missing out on an incredibly special time in my son’s life. Something had to change and it had to change right away.
Getting serious about my health
I visited a doctor, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist before finally starting physical therapy so the muscles around my spine could “relearn” how to properly support me. I’m 32, by the way. Your body isn’t supposed to forget how to work this early on.
The spasms may have been specific to my back, but the need to start taking better care of myself was evident in a lot of other areas. It’s easier to make unhealthy choices when you’re only considering how those choices will affect you. I’ve always considered bacon and whiskey to be worth a few years of my life in the end. Enjoy things while you can, right?
Becoming a father changed that. The stakes are higher. Now I’ve got somebody who depends on me. At the moment mostly just to help keep him alive, but eventually for other stuff like teaching him how to do things and how to treat people with respect.
I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.
Veteran dads share their perspectives
Mark Turan, who was born with cerebral palsy, also felt a change when his children were born.
“As a father, you have to realize that these little people depend on you for everything,” he says. “If you don’t take care of your own health, how are you going to be able to care for children?”
Becoming a father also changed the way he saw himself.
“I was self-conscious about my disability and I didn’t want other children to judge my kids based on my cerebral palsy. But I quickly realized my kids love me for who I am and are excited to see me at all their events. They don’t think of me as disabled. They think of me as DAD.”
Matthew Holland lives with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms can be severe, but he finds motivation to manage them in his role as a father.
“Being a dad makes me want to try to take care of myself as best as I possibly can so that I can continue to be active and do all the fun things with my daughter that I can,” he explains.
“I also want to set the example to her of how to not let life’s setbacks or things that come at you completely derail you from what you’re wanting to achieve in life.”
Looking at the long game
It’s been about six weeks since I started physical therapy and I haven’t had a back spasm since. Even when it means getting less of that precious sleep, I make sure I get at least an hour of exercise each day.
I’m also making smarter choices about how I eat and doing a better job at keeping those vices in check. Even when we know something is good for our us, sometimes we just need a little extra motivation.
I hope you find yours and have a happy, healthy Father’s Day this year!
Has becoming a father changed the way you think about your health? Tell us how in the comments!