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Parenting means looking after yourself first

Parenting means looking after yourself first

I recently became a grandad for the 4th time and was talking to my son, who’s what you’d call a very-involved father, about how he must remember to look after himself. 

We laughed about how his generation has Homer Simpson and Bob Belcher to look up to whereas mine had Al Bundy for inspiration. Sitting on their arses watching sports, sipping beer and devouring donuts while chaos reigns around them and mother does all the parenting.

These pot-bellied stereotypes may be outdated now but men do tend to put on weight when they become new fathers. Ending up with a Homer Simpson paunch and the problems that come with is just too easy.

Now, my children know the history of my own health far too well, so I was really preaching to the converted when I hit my son with a cliché that I got my head around too late:

The rule is you put your own oxygen mask on before you start helping the kid next to you.
Otherwise you’re both f***ed.
Pat as grandad
Before I decided to take control of my weight, I was knackered all the time. Now the kids have trouble keeping up with me.

This reminded me of something my friend Jamie Heaslip was talking about recently. Earlier this year, the Limbo team talked in depth with former Irish rugby captain Jamie Heaslip about his own journey into fatherhood and how easy it is to let go of yourself.

He told Limbo’s Liton Ali: "It’s time to kill the old lazy dad stereotype that’s knackered and not present. He gets off the hook for not engaging with his kids or household life. He’s got all the excuses for not looking after himself and for his ‘dadbod’. That version of Dad belongs in the past. Part of being a father is looking after yourself so you’re fit to look after your children. Not just today but in the future.”

Powerful words. And he’s right. 

There’s no single definition of what a dadbod is but I really don’t think Jamie meant you have to be shredded as a father. He’s got two kids under 5, he knows it isn’t easy. But he’s a man who plans ahead. So while the fitness industry’s telling us to get our beach-bodies ready for this summer, Jamie’s planning for his body to be ready for summer 2073.  I'm pretty sure he'll be walking happily on the beach with his grandchildren as he approaches 90. He wants fellow fathers to consciously work on getting the right shape to be mentally and physically available to their families now and in future.

I wish I’d put my own oxygen mask on sooner

One of my own regrets is that I didn’t focus on my own health earlier. Not so much because I’m worried about my lifespan, I’ve had a great run.

I love how much energy I put into my four grandchildren’s lives now and how much I get back from it. I’m not a retired grandfather - I’m probably busier than when I started my job as ‘Dad’. I just wonder whether I’d have been a better father if I had started taking control of my health through better habits earlier. I was so fixated on being the provider that I was taking big risks with my own lifespan and ‘health-span’.

man asleep on settee
Luckily we're past this dad stereotype being acceptable. Aren't we?

Carrying too much fat will eventually lead to health problems

Dabods, spare tyres, whatever you want to call them - are not inevitable. In my home country, Ireland, two-thirds of men are overweight. We know that we’re carrying excess pounds, but shifting the weight when we’re being pulled in all directions by work, family and life is difficult. I don't believe you can be healthy at any weight and at some point, it just gets harder to deal with.

As someone who has recovered from accidental addiction to sugar and ultra-processed foods, I know first hand how much your life can change by shedding a few pounds. And I receive messages every week from people who are noticing the same kind of changes by finally resetting their habits.

When you lose weight, you can expect these benefits:

  • Reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
  • Improve mental health and emotional well-being
  • Increase life expectancy
  • Reduce strain on the body, leading to fewer health problems and better overall health
  • Set a positive example for your children and encourage healthy habits
  • Improve your cardiovascular health
  • Increase energy levels and overall vitality

My call to action for dads everywhere

Parenting is a tough job, and the sooner you work on readying your body and mind for that job, the more energy you’ll have available for whatever it throws at you. 

Whether you’re a new dad or have been at this for a few years, I urge you to make more conscientious decisions about one of the following things today. 

Just one:

  • The quality of nutrition going into your system 
  • Drinking enough water 
  • Getting enough, good quality sleep
  • Dealing with and reducing stress
  • Deliberately upping your general movement and exercise
  • Building strength and lean muscle
  • Controlling your alcohol consumption
  • Managing your weight and how you control your energy

Just pick one to start. The second you commit to change everything, you set yourself up to fail. So after you’ve got the hang of making one change, come back to this list and start working on the next one. Little improvements make big outcomes. You just need to start today.