In my head, I knew I was a dad the moment my wife told me she was pregnant. And when I first saw the bump in her belly. And when I held my daughter in the hospital for the first time. I knew it, but it didn’t sink in — not until she was about 18 months old.
It wasn’t because I didn’t try. I was there every step of the way. I changed diapers, put her to bed, fed her, walked her, held her, played with her, read to her, bathed her. But I felt like I was going through the motions, just following the book on how to raise a kid. My head said I was a dad, but I didn’t feel like I was. But that changed one day when I went for a run with her.
It was August. The evening’s hot sun felt harsh. It had been a long day at work. I’d counted the minutes on the office clock before heading out for a run along the bay. I really needed to let off some steam. Stretch my legs. Clear my head.
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I hadn’t run a hundred yards before my upper lip beaded with sweat. Not because of the heat. Or work frustration. Or the run. It was because of the screaming kid in the stroller. My kid. My kid. I should have been used to saying it. But she was my first. My only. Fatherhood was still new — it was exciting and I was proud. I was also tired and doubted I was doing anything right. And at that moment, my daughter’s steady flow of tears dissolved any semblance of confidence I had, leaving my fears bare.
It was not the stress release I was hoping for that day.
Running had always been my happy place. I always felt better after a good run. More relaxed. Like everything was right again. Every run whisked me away to the first time I ran when I was a kid, when I was just 10 years old. Inspired after watching Carl Lewis, Joan Benoit, and Edwin Moses in the 1984 Summer Olympics, I gave it a shot. Thirty-some years later, I haven’t stopped.
Running was an escape from my parents’ divorce back then. Now, as an adult, it’s an escape from whatever stress du jour is on the menu. It’s my time. Me time. It’s my reset button for life. But, not the day I ran with my daughter by the bay. That day she was wailing up a storm and I didn’t know why.
I pulled off to the side of the path. I was prepared for anything. Had enough supplies in the stroller to mount an Everest expedition. Bottles, snacks, diapers, blankets, toys, water, change of clothes, books, rash cream, sunscreen, pacifier, backup pacifier, sunhat. It was all there. I started troubleshooting. Ran through the list of diagnostics I’d learned over the last year. Was she hungry? I gave her a bottle. She spit it out. Thirsty? She spit out the water, too. Snack? Some yogurt drops? She pursed her lips and turned her reddened face away. Wet diaper? No, dry as a bone. Was the sun in her eyes? No, the stroller shade was pulled all the way down. Pacifier? Nope. Toy? Nope. Nope. And more nope.