A few years ago, I managed an employee. The YWCA where I worked had a complex daily cash reconciliation process and a bazillion weekly bills. Unable to plow through the work on my own, I hired Ken for twenty hours per week. He made the deposits and kept on top of accounts payable. We were oil and water. He’s right leaning, I’m left. He loves watching and talking about sports, I watch none. He’s opinionated, I’m opinionated. Deep conversation turned to argument. We kept our discussions at the surface level. A common topic: Any plans this weekend?
Every Friday, Ken and I had the exact same conversation. “So Jeff, any plans for the weekend?”
“Well tomorrow, I’m going running.”
Every single week. Eventually, it occurred to me that to Ken, my weekends probably seemed lame. And I suppose they were. Early to bed on Friday. Up at five on Saturday morning. Out the door, running by six. I’d limp back in around nine-thirty or so. I reserved the rest of the day for recovery. Saturday night, I was useless. A yawning evening on the couch.
My life has a line. A before and after. A change so marked that I truly became a different person. In September of 2016, I began to take a medication for Tourette Syndrome. It works, sort of. My tics, the involuntary movements and sounds that signify Tourette, are diminished, but not gone. What really changed is my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I suddenly no longer needed to run to absolute exhaustion every Saturday morning. I moderated. And after medication, I began to see that my obsessions stole an unfair block of time from my family. In my example, pretty much all day Saturday.
Running is just one of many obsessions. A few examples: Months writing, editing and self-publishing my first book (this period is referenced by Susan as one of the low points in our marriage). Weeks spent creating a trail through the woods behind my house connecting to an existing trail network on the adjacent national park (this one was stopped by police intervention). Every free second for over eight days rebuilding a 1970s Schwinn into a fixed gear bike. Many of these projects, along with the running, happened simultaneously. An embarrassment of Me Time.
The notion of husbands/dads being selfish with their time is hardly a unique idea. Just look beyond your local golf course, and you’re sure to find a woman left to pick up the loose ends of parenting and chores. I’ve always held golfers in disdain. “If I’m going to spend all day Saturday on myself, I’m going to be in the woods.” But really, I was no different from the golfers. I spent the whole day in the woods.
This is past tense. Now I try to spend my free time with my family. Except this weekend, family time brought back some old feelings of selfishness. Every Saturday morning, Susan and I make a list of what we hope to achieve over the weekend. Everything. Some items are huge—paint the porch. Some items are tiny—feed the snake. Some are mundane—go grocery shopping. They all need to get done and the satisfaction of crossing crap off the list is one of the highlights of the weekend. Sometimes we add stuff after the fact just so we can cross it off.
Every weekend, I include go running on my list. It’s necessary for me to have a period of solitude and meditation. It centers me. My runs aren’t the four-hour monsters they used to be, but sometimes I drive to a trailhead, and it’s not impossible that I’ll be gone for two hours or so. A big chunk of time, but my only chunk of time for the weekend.
On Saturday, Eli had a couple of things on his list—mountain biking and fishing. These are a couple of activities I enjoy as well, and in this era of social distancing, I’m the only one who can do these with Eli. Here’s the deal: even though I’m spending time with my son, and he’s doing outdoor activities we want him to do, it feels like I’m skipping out on my responsibilities. While Eli and I went mountain biking, Susan painted the porch. While Eli and I went fishing, Susan shopped for groceries. And then on Sunday, I went for that run. Susan dug a garden bed.
Something I learned this weekend. I can’t use myself up mountain biking on Saturday and expect to run well on Sunday. My run, starting at a trailhead twenty-five minutes from home, was all hills. Steep hills. My route began with an uphill mile climbing to the top of a mountain. After that it repeatedly loses and gains elevation until I return to my car. Just over the first hill, I lost control on a muddy downhill, and I flew head first into a thorn bush. My neck made an unpleasant crunching noise that I knew would feel stiff the next day. Because my vision is so terrible, it took me a couple of minutes to find my glasses. The rest of the run was more of a hike. I had nothing left for the uphills, and I was scared to let loose on the downs. My one hour run stretched out an extra forty minutes.
I need to get my head around this. With the mountain biking season starting in July, Eli and his dad/coach need to get in shape. We should be riding at least weekly, and including the drive to a trailhead, that’s a three-hour time commitment. And I’m not ready to give up the one thing I truly do for myself each weekend—a long run.
Susan is encouraging so far. She sees the importance of mountain biking (fathering) and also running (solitude). But taken together it seems like an unfair grab of Me Time. It reminds me of the days when I thought only about myself. When my personal obsessions used up all my time.