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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A father's job

I saw a great bumper sticker a few years ago: "Embarrassing my children -- a full-time job."

I've taken it to heart. My daughter, from the time she was around eight, has regarded me as a walking, talking embarrassment.

Her state indoor track championships took place yesterday. In the hallway of the track complex, the Marine Corps had set up a pull-up bar challenge, as a way to get the names and numbers of potential recruits. A couple of studly specimens wearing "U.S. Marines" t-shirts manned the post. After my daughter's event, I wandered over and asked what the record was.

"Eighteen," came the reply. "But they're only counted if you go all the way down and you're not allowed to kip up."

I said I was a little old to enlist, but asked if they would mind if I did a little warm up set and then tried for it anyway. They were polite and encouraging (or, from their viewpoint, indulgent), so I jumped up and did seven pull-ups to warm up. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter and three of her friends happened to be walking by just as I was doing them. I let go of the bar and turned around to see her standing there with a look of utter mortification. Her friends looked amused, but my daughter obviously wanted the floor to swallow her up.

"Oh god, I should have known," she groaned.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "Why can't I try it too? What -- I'm embarrassing?" I turned to the Marines. "Am I embarrassing?"

The two Marines read their cues correctly and said to my daughter, "No! He's not embarrassing at all." They were smiling; she looked horror-stricken.

I then forced my daughter to promise to come back in five minutes when I did my hard set.

When it came time, I emptied my pockets and took off my shoes. I wanted to take off my two outer layers of shirts as well, but when I tried to peel them off, my undershirt came off with them. My daughter blanched. It took about ten seconds for me to extract my undershirt, turn it right side out, and get it back on. Ten seconds which seemed like ten minutes to my daughter. The entire time she looked as if she wanted to die.

After I got the undershirt back on, my daughter hissed, "Dad -- your undershirt has holes in it," in the same tone in which another might say, "Captain -- we've just hit an iceberg and there aren't enough lifeboats for everyone."

After I got to six pull-ups, one of the Marines said, "You can do it! Only four more!" They then counted down to ten, as if that had been my goal.

After ten, they started saying, "Come on! You've got one more in you!"

After I got to twelve, I sputtered, "I'm doing eighteen." I ended up doing twenty, but the Marine who was counting disallowed two of them because I had kicked up too much with my legs (he was holding his arm out in front of them).

The best part of the whole thing was that at around number fourteen, I actually heard my daughter say, "Come on Dad -- you can do it!"

Afterward they presented me with a Marine Corps coffee mug for having tied the record. The two Marines in charge were both nice-looking, fit, polite, friendly, and well-spoken. (I guess that was why they were chosen to be recruiters.)

They were also brave, which is why they had chosen to become Marines. I asked one of them his name, and then thanked him for his service to our country. He replied, "Thank you sir." I said, "No. Thank you." (It's hard to look at these fine young men and not think about the risks they will be undergoing when they get deployed.)

By this point my daughter's look of mortification had faded to mere sheepishness.

Which alerted me to the fact that I wasn't doing my job.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you could do a pull-ups demonstration at your daughter's high school?

John Craig said...

Great idea. I'll suggest it to her.

Anonymous said...


Outstanding job !!! You are a hardass, Even in your 50's your still kicking butt, Now I'm DEFINITELY stepping up my workouts. You continue to motivate me.

Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Tom, you already look a lot harder than me.

Steven said...

haha nice ending. how big are your biceps may I ask?

John Craig said...

Steven -
Thanks. OK, I just measured them, 14 1/2", flexed. I'm just an average-sized guy, 5'11" and 163 pounds, pretty much a swimmer's build. My only claims to fame athletically are the two masters world records I've set in the 200 fly, first in the 45-49 age group, then in the 55-59 age group. And that was only because I kept swimming, in college I was only a respectable swimmer.

Steven said...

It would have been so much funnier from the point of view of embarrassing your daughter if you could only do half of one and hung there groaning.

How many push ups can you do? I kind of figured you could increase almost indefinitely by doing 3 or 4 smaller sets in a workout. The record holders do like 10,000 or something.

Steven said...

wow 20 pull ups with 14 and half inch biceps. Its shows strength and size aren't always the same thing. I am only just starting to work out. I pretty much didn;'t work out all through my twenties. My biceps are 14 inches. I can do like about 30 push ups, my record is about 47. I can barely do any pull ups but I could do with dropping a good stone or 2. Somehow, you got half an inch on me and are way way stronger.

Steven said...

...though i guess im 15-20 pounds heavier but still, if i weighed 163, I still wouldnt be able to do many pull ups Im sure.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Ha! Hadn't thought of that (not doing even one pull-up).

I don't even do push-ups anymore, it hurts my right shoulder. I've injured it in a couple ways, one of which may be bench pressing when I was young, and so don't even do them. (Whenever I try, my right shoulder feels gimpy and clicks for several days after). When I was 28 and weighed 160 I did a maximum bench of 235, and at that age I think I could have worked up to 100 push-ups fairly easily. But again, as with pull-ups, form is key. To do it strictly, you have to keep your body straight and touch your chest to the floor, which some guys don't do.

I doubt I'm much stronger than you when it comes to things like lifting a dumbbell from the floor to overhead (anyway you can, form doesn't matter, you can jerk it up, but you can only use one hand). I tried that recently and pretty much maxed out at 60 pounds.

I would strongly recommend getting into a regular fitness routine. You'll feel better physically, your testosterone levels will rise, you'll sleep better, and you'll be in a bette mood. I sometimes think that exercising has been my drug of choice throughout my life; it's healthy, but it's still an addiction, albeit a good one. When I don't exercise, I feel bad both mentally and physically, period.

Steven said...

Yeah, the gap between us is probably smaller in one off power and bigger when it comes to many reps (which makes sense for a swimmer I guess).

I go close the floor on push ups but didn't know you'e supposed to go to all the way down. I've only ever done push ups, not pull ups, so I've developed my shoulders and chest a bit more than biceps. I'm getting one of those pull ups bars for my door though. I seem to make progress quite rapidly, which I guess is my age.

hey, have you ever posted pictures of your kids? You talk about them quite a lot so I'm curious.

John Craig said...

Steven --
The latest theory on push-ups (and bench press) is that you shouldn't go all the way down to the floor or let the bar touch your chest (you should have around five inches of clearance in both cases) because otherwise it puts too much stress on your shoulder. When I referred to the way strict push-ups are counted for physical fitness test purposes, I probably should have mentioned that you're better off (for exercise purposes) NOT to go all the way down.

I put up a picture of my own in full combat gear in Afghanistan once (but can't locate that post now). Have never put a picture of my daughter up.

John Craig said...

PS -- You should definitely take up pull-ups to go with your push-ups, all the experts say if you work only the pushing or pulling muscles you're more likely to get injured from an unbalanced shoulder.

Steven said...

hey, my knees hurt when I do squats so I was thinking I could just run and cycle for my thighs. Is that enough if you are just doing body weight exercises on your upper body?

I discovered an outdoor swimming pool today, a rare thing in England. It was a really sunny day and I felt like I was abroad. Really enjoyed the swim- it felt good. When you're swimming in the cool water in the sun, its one of those moments that life feels beautiful! Haven't swam in 4 or 5 years. I think I'll take that up.

oh yeah, as I was swimming I thought of a question to ask you. When you do forward stroke/crawl, should you breathe after every stroke or every four?

John Craig said...

Steven --
If squats hurt your knees, you may be using the wrong form. You have to arch your back so that your butt sticks way out. This is good of your back, and also shifts the center of gravity back a little, so that the weight is borne by your gluteus and thighs, and not by your knees. But if you want to skip the squats, then sure, running and cycling will do. Just be sure to incorporate some sprints, and not just do long distance cardio stuff.

With freestyle (crawl), you can breathe either every arm cycle (say, each time your right arm is about to come out of the water), or every other arm cycle. The latter incorporates an element of hypoxic training, but isn't necessary. I breathe every arm cycle myself, and get a plenty good enough workout that way.

Steven said...

Its not faster if you breathe every other?

John Craig said...

Steven --
It's faster, but you'll get tired more quickly. The top 50 meter swimmers swim the entire event without taking a single breath, but they can only afford to do that because that's all they're swimming.