Carving out time to take care of yourself is essential to maintaining energy through the first weeks of new fatherhood.
Justin Cascio talks to Jon Finkel, a former columnist for GQ and Muscle & Fitness, about his new book, The Dadvantage.
Justin Cascio: You wrote in The Dadvantage that “having a baby is a time-dominating, energy-draining, health-taxing event that, if you let it, will consume every single moment of every single day, leaving little or no time for you to take care of yourself.” Did this happen to you?
Jon Finkel: It sounds drastic, but yes, it did. I was absolutely mentally prepared for having a kid, but even though I had plenty of friends and family members who had babies, I never realized how much it takes out of you physically. Obviously, every involved dad gets through it, and you do it because you love your kids, but that doesn’t make it easy. I mean, every father knows that with the first kid, you don’t know what you’re doing, just that you’re always tired: you love the time you’re spending with your baby, but it can be exhausting. I didn’t work out for about three weeks after my kid was born. I hadn’t gone that long since high school without exercise and I felt it: my energy was down and I felt lethargic. As a new dad, it’s the one time when you’re not eating or sleeping right, and then you add not working out, and you just feel bad. One week becomes two and on and on … I didn’t know how hard it was to work back into it.
JC: You’re a frequent contributor to men’s health and fitness magazines. Do you look like those guys?
JF: Ha! My wife would love it if I did. I’ve always been into sports and lifting weights, especially as someone who has been on staff at Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness, but even the studly models don’t walk around looking like that. They train for a photo shoot starting three months in advance and get themselves into perfect form for the day of the shoot. Two weeks later they might be ten pounds heavier and much less cut. I look like the guys two weeks after the cover. I’m a post photo shoot guy.
But you definitely have to enjoy the lifestyle writing for those places. Early on, I was a guinea pig for a lot of features. I’ve done two-mile ocean swims for articles, I’ve stood in the ring with UFC fighters, I even completed one of Michael Phelps’ insane swimming workouts one day four years ago. It nearly killed me, but it was awesome.
JC: What can expectant fathers do to prepare for the physical challenges of new fatherhood?
JF: I think expectant fathers need to think about what they can reasonably expect from their schedule in terms of time to take care of yourself. If you go into the first few months of having a kid with the idea that you’re going to try and block out an hour a day to workout like you did when you were childless, you’re just going to frustrate yourself because between work, the kid and everything that goes along with that, you simply won’t have the time. The purpose of my book, The Dadvantage, isn’t to get you shredded, but it’s a nice bridge between back when you had time for the gym, to when you will again.
The first hurdle is convincing guys that they don’t have to limit themselves physically as their wives’ physical limitations kick in. It’s not like you can trade places with your pregnant partner. My wife is also very active. I got her into swimming right before she got pregnant. It’s something that’s not load bearing that she can always do, even while pregnant. She did spin classes, we’d jog together. Once she got to a certain point in pregnancy, she had to stop. A lot of guys will also stay home then, too. There’s no reason you have to do that. Instead, you should exercise and get rest so you’ll be ready for all your dad responsibilities once your baby comes home and your wife is recovering from the delivery.
JC: Your book has exercises to do alone, like push ups, as well as ones that use the baby as a weight for slow, steady reps. Did you really curl and reverse curl your infant in her carseat twice a week? To what age?
JF: Yeah, I did. It wasn’t like I had it in my head that I had to do it twice a week. We had one of those seats that clicks in and out of a base that stays in the car, so I just decided that every time I had to put her in the car, I’d do a quick set of curls with each arm since I didn’t have time for the gym. As she grew up, the weight automatically got heavier! It was perfect. I did it until she grew out of her small car seat and is now in a permanent one that stays in the car. I’d say that happened just before she was a year old. Maybe 9 or 10 months. But by then, she was sleeping through the night and we got our lives back.
I’m back in the gym playing basketball and my wife was back swimming and spinning and even did some P90X! She looks fantastic … but now she’s pregnant again and we’re about to start the whole cycle over. But this time, I’m much more prepared.
JC: Congratulations! How old is your daughter now?
JF: Fifteen months.
JC: Will you be following the same routine as in your book, after the birth of your second child?
JF: I guess in a way, yes. I mean, the idea of The Dadvantage is that guys just don’t have the time they used to have to workout once they have kids. First, the book is short, meant to be read in one or two sittings, and even on your smart phone. Second, the fitness plan requires nothing other than a desire to do it. It doesn’t even require you to alter your schedule. It simply shows you how to turn wasted minutes and movements you already do into calorie burners and muscle builders. When guys read this book, they’ll see that they absolutely have the time in their existing schedule to at least get some of this stuff in. And something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise.
JF: Awesome question. For the working dad who also does one or two late night feedings, energy drinks are a must.
Nature sounds ring tones are another good one. I got used to getting up to the jarring “wah wah wah” of the baby every time, and I was chronically under-rested. I changed the ringtones on the alarms on my phone to relaxing nature sounds, and it’s a much more pleasant way to wake up.
Earplugs. You can still hear through the earplugs, but it’s not like being at a rock concert. You can wear them while you’re holding your kid if she’s colicky and she’s screaming and it’s not so bad. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it worked for me.
And that’s it. For under $10 (the book is only $2.99), you can buy the book, the ear plugs, the ring tones and an energy drink and you’ll be good to go when the baby comes home.
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Father cradling and kissing his child image courtesy of Shutterstock