Seeing my two older sons lying motionless and electronically drugged in front of a recent Scooby Doo marathon, I shut off the TV. Immediately, protests arose that would spook any monster the Scooby Gang could encounter.
"I haven't gotten to watch my show!" Jacob, 4, cried.
"Today, we're going biking," I announced.
"I'm too tired," Benjamin, 7, said, digging himself into the sofa pillows.
"How can you be tired?" I said. "You just got up an hour ago and all you've done is sit in front of the boob tube."
"What's a 'boob tube'?" Benjamin said, smiling. "Why does it have the word 'boob' in it?"
His body was atrophying, but his mind was still sharp as a tack. Mine, on the other hand, was losing clarity.
"I hate my bicycle," Jacob shouted.
"Let us watch just a little more and we'll go later," Benjamin reasoned.
"We've got a birthday party at noon," I said, getting weaker.
"I promise we'll go tomorrow," Jacob offered.
We didn't go then, later, or the next day. The truth is, up until that day, we rarely went biking or walking or anything that would help us reach the category of "active family." We are busy, what with school, extracurriculars (which include some sports for the kids), and social events. But we don't play together as much as I'd hoped. Worse yet, my kids don't run outside to throw a ball around or ride a scooter when they get a chance. They'd rather watch TV, play a computer game, or (God forbid) read.
I'm not alone in worrying about this. The lack of physical fitness among children has led to an epidemic of obesity and other health problems. Many reasons have been spelled out, including the dominance of everything video and all the calories pumped into our processed food.
My wife and I have been decent about policing our kids' diet, but I haven't exactly modeled an active lifestyle. If I'm going to beat the allure of the almighty video screen, then I have to do more than lecture - I need to show them the joys of regular exercise.
Problem is, I hate regular exercise.
Bigger problem is, my kids hate regular exercise.
Following that failed attempt to get the kids biking, I still required more incentive to get the old heart pumping. That came in two forms. One was when I played in a three-on-three basketball tournament - in front of my sons - and found that, despite jumping for a lay-up, I had not exactly left the ground.
The second motivating factor arrived with my doctor's recommendation to reduce my cholesterol, which clocked in at a whopping 265. Not that my penchant for dessert didn't help, but I have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. Only medication and exercise could improve things.
Add these factors up and I had enough motivation. If I was going to feel good about my physical self, live long enough to see my grandchildren, and show my kids the benefits of exercise, I had to do something.
So I began Operation Daddy Run. After a procrastination period of researching the proper running shoes, working out an exercise schedule, and proudly announcing to my family and friends that I was about to give the Kenyans a run for their money in the marathon, I finally started jogging.
Pain is what I remember most about that first month. In my 20s, it would take two weeks to get through the initial muscle soreness. Now it took twice as long. But somehow, with ego on the line and my kids paying attention, I persevered. I'm up to 25 minutes of running on three days a week. I've skipped a few turns and sometimes run a little less, but I keep going.
Occasionally, I hound my sons to ride their bikes or scooters with me while I run. Sometimes I jog while pushing baby Ari in the stroller just to have him giggle while the wind blows his wispy hair. I'm also mixing in more walks with the kids and a few shoot-a-rounds on the seven-foot basketball hoop in the backyard. I even do some push-ups and sit-ups, which always inspire my kids to do the same or simply to jump on my back to go for a ride.
Slowly, I'm changing both my patterns and those of my boys. I still have to get my bike fixed to take them on longer rides and, in the colder weather, I'll have to get creative, hitting indoor basketball gyms and the like to get them moving.
In looking for a New Year's Resolution, getting in shape sure seems cliché. But with the chance to make this kind of resolution a non-issue for my kids when they're my age, I'm committed to it.
© 2005 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.