Recently, my wife Ann, and I have been transforming our lives in many ways from what it was, when we first met, and have taken up running. This isn’t so much about that endeavor, but it should be mentioned that we’ve taken quite an affinity towards the physical and mental rewards that we have been reaping for our toils. It should also be mentioned that our children have noticed that running and working out, is part of our lives, and they want it to be part of theirs. My youngest who is only 2 ½ will often ask when I leave the house or return home, “You running Daddy.” My son, whose 4, often wants to know how many miles I ran, “Did you run 2 or 5 miles Dad?”
So when we went camping last weekend, along with my parents, to Flandrau State Park here in Minnesota, despite it being hot and muggy and rainy, this didn’t stop my son Thaddeus from going on a much anticipated run with Ann. While the rest of the family headed down to the sand bottom pool to cool down, Ann and Thaddeus suited up, with the proper attire that would signify, to my son, that this was an official run: running shoes, running shirt, running shorts, and running socks were all a go. The trails were wet and slippery, from an earlier morning rain, and about halfway through their almost mile run, contrary to his anticipated glory, Thaddeus fell face first, body sprawled, into the mud. As he staggered to his feet my wife could see tears starting to build and grabbed him up in her arms and told him, “That was the coolest fall ever. Way to go and get right back up. You are awesome Thaddeus.” With some high-fives, and the realization that a fall into the mud was not entirely as bad as it seemed, they began their run again when Thaddeus said, “When one of us falls down Mom, the other one is there to pick them up, right Mom?”
It amazes me how intuitively children seem to pick up on these broad concepts of support, strength and the importance of family and community and how easily adults seem to forget them. Often it seems we must relearn things, that in our childhood, we knew to be self-evident. The French verb apprendre can mean, to teach, or to learn. There is something I’ve always found deeply moving about this. That to teach and to learn are interdependent; to teach, is to learn. As a father this is something that I can no longer seem to keep separate: my act of teaching and my act of learning. There is much in life, that until becoming a father, I had come to view as banal, but can no longer ignore. There are certain points in our lives where we are forced to reevaluate the world around us. Through what I have overcome and learned in the last number of years, what I want to teach my children, what I am learning because of this process, and what I hope they will take away from our relationship into adulthood, I am undoubtedly at one of those points.
It wasn’t long ago though, that I was at a quite different point in my life. One where I felt despondent towards life, and instead of addressing my problems, I continued to make decisions that were not changing the direction my life was headed. To be more blatant. I began to drink more, so that I didn’t have to face the problems my drinking had already caused. I’m not one who agrees with this idea of rock bottom being what causes people to react with self-beneficial change, believe me you can always go lower. There was a time that the only thing I was undermining quicker than myself, were my standards.
What I do believe is that self-empowerment, choice, and reflection, are the driving factors in creating change. I have moved past just accepting the many years of stagnancy I allowed in my life, the poor choices, and selfish decisions, to a point of reflection and growth. I have learned that people’s strengths can be enforced by overcoming their weaknesses. That one can have regrets, because that means one is able to reflect and know that they are armed with knowledge and experience for the future. I am beginning to understand that to change the world, one must change themselves first, and if people notice, then you are doing it right. I’m realizing again how little truth lies in popular culture and that real truth and beauty doesn’t just happen. Most importantly though, I have learned through experience, that when one of us falls down, others must be there to pick them up. To learn is not enough however. If a man sits in meditation, on top of the mountain and finds peace, but then travels to the city to share this knowledge, and becomes angered by the noise and lack of ears that will listen, what has he truly learned? The famous French moralist and essayist, Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and as I continue to teach my children, it is through this act, that I will see what I have truly learned.