a father passes on running to his son
This article, written by Muddy, originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of our magazine.
After spending years watching his mother and I stumble out the door on our daily runs, my son announced this past spring that he was going to run cross country in the fall. In what may have been a case of unrelenting manifest destiny, he had met the two requirements: advancing from fifth grade to sixth and having parents that were renners. Having dabbled in a small amount of running on and off over the past several years in local fun runs and 5Ks, he was ready to win my praise!
Oh how quickly I became hip to the fact that running was yet another branch of this power struggle that is raising a child. Standing off to the side and keeping one’s mouth shut is a difficult undertaking for a parent. I have to remember that although he wishes to succeed in running (and life), he is just getting his feet wet. His reasons for running are not necessarily synchronous with my own. Some of running’s nuances that I cherish aren’t even on his radar. Instead of thrusting my views upon him, I’m learning to just smile and commend him for pushing outside of his comfort zone. Again, running lessons are life lessons, yet running is much easier than being a father.
At a recent meet, the coaches led the kids on a walkthrough of the course, and I saw my son with his friends—smiling, half paying attention, fooling around—engaged in the normal actions of any eleven year old boy. Why wasn’t he serious? He needed to be focused! Although we had already argued about the importance of tempo runs, hill workouts, and race strategy, it pained me to see him so lax. The perpetual father-child strain that waxes and wanes as children age and blossom was in full display on this autumn afternoon. It’s something that cannot be absolved nor understood in these tender years, possibly ever at all. Even beyond running as the days, weeks, and months fly by I sometimes feel as though I’m losing him. He is growing distant as the impending doom of puberty draws near. I continually look for ways to reach out to him but I fear that sometimes it’s a lost cause. I’m being pushed out by YouTube, video games, iPods, other awkward pre-teens, girls even. If running, the greatest and simplest of all life’s pleasures still leaves a void between us, what do I have left? How does a parent handle this? How does a parent even parent at all?
Just as I wish that I could provide more insight into parenting, I also wish I could give a Hollywood ending here. In my dreams, my son is an amazing runner displaying a purely natural stride and an internal fire to be great that brings tears to coaches’ eyes. It would be fantastic if I could regale you with tales of his epic triumph at his first ever XC meet. Art may imitate life but not always necessarily real life.
At the starting gun, I began sprinting around to position myself at several different vantage points, as any good running parent would do. I watched as my spawn, my pride and joy, appeared to jog by me repeatedly, way in the back of the pack. Immediately, I was humbled and cringed inside a little bit; however, I soon remembered that he was out there gasping, red faced and racing! Slowly a smile spread across my face. While the lead runners came to the finishing chute of the 1.86 mile course, I kept glancing nervously at my watch. Where the heck was he? Eventually, he hobbled out of the woods, crossed the field, and “pushed it in” to finish fifty-second out of sixty runners—certainly not what I had envisioned. I approached him tentatively, ready for the ensuing tears and defeated meltdown. Instead I was greeted by a gap-toothed smile, a sweaty little forehead, and a bloodied and limping lil’ harrier, a boy that couldn’t wait to share his war stories with me!
So what if my grandiose hallucinations of passing along the torch are not quite made-for-TV? I’ve come to realize that as a parent, maybe I’ve been looking at this passing along running thing the wrong way. In a symbolic gesture of life, I suppose we should instead be sharing our torches with our children rather than handing them over completely. We are runners as well as parents and we always will be. It is an ordained rite of passage to share our running torches, passions, ethics, skills, and wisdom with them.
Here’s your torch kid. You can’t have mine but please share it with me. Long may it burn.
Muddy uses his writing for LVL, along with his running, as fuel for his torch every single day.
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