There, I’ve said it. And you can take that to the bank.
Setting the Goals
Harvey Millican is also a dad who adores his kids. Allow me if you will to drift for a moment to a place in the not-too-distant past. I was in my late 20’s (41 now) when I really began to give up on the hope of ever meeting a woman who shared my faith, got my sense of humor, and was stunningly beautiful. While I figured there were still a few solid Catholic women out there who hadn’t joined the Nashville Dominicans and I was pretty sure there might be a handful of women who would find my absurdist rantings mildly amusing I was not sure that any of the beautiful women of the world would be willing to offer an act of supreme condescension and go out with me.
You see, I wanted a family. I had, just a few years earlier, been studying for the priesthood and had been prepared to make the sacrifice of giving up family life. When I left the seminary I was filled with the fleeting thought that perhaps God’s plan for me was now to follow in the example set by my wonderful parents and raise a family of my own. But whom would I marry; or rather, who would ever marry me? See above paragraph for the genesis of this conundrum. It’s a vicious cycle.
In my final act of desperation I turned in prayer to the patron of impossible causes – St. Rita of Cascia. I began a novena at her shrine in Philadelphia. Nine days later I met a woman with strong faith, a questionable sense of humor, and poor eyesight. Bingo! We got married at that shrine in due time and within the first two and a half years of our married life God had blessed us with a son and a daughter. I have no idea what happened after that. We promised to be open to children and we always have been. But I guess God had other plans for us. We started taking road trips with the kids. I started documenting these trips and a blog was born.
A few years later the ticking time bomb that is my spine exploded and life sort of came to a grinding halt for a bit. I had a second lumbar fusion. I got depressed for a while thinking of how I wasn’t being the kind of dad I wanted to be to my kids. I’ve never been athletic. I’ve never been really strong, agile, quick. Having kids highlighted these deficiencies. I really felt it the first time my kids wanted me to play Twister, ride bikes, and squat 450. They’re pretty demanding kids. But after a few years of doing nothing about it and gaining weight and starting to feel sorry for myself and remorseful for my wife who had to look at me every day I decided to do something. Anything at all.
Figuring It Out
I tried running like a co-worker was doing. He was pretty jacked. That was a disaster. Apparently “You can’t run that extra mile if you’re puffing away on those cigarettes.” I had to choose. I chose tar and nicotine.
I tried Greco-Roman wrestling like my older brothers had done in high school. They were pretty not-jacked but strong as oxen and impressive. Apparently this should not be done with strangers in the produce aisle at Kroger. Also, those singlets are obscene.
I tried that little paddleball thing you buy at the dollar store like my mom. She’s got phenomenal eye-hand coordination. Thanks to genetics, I was good at it but burned negative calories.
In fact I tried anything and everything until I settled on some advice I found from a most reliable source – a meme. Under a picture of a typical 98 lb. weakling listening to Charles Atlas was a caption that read “What’s that? You want to get huge? Pick up a bunch of heavy stuff, put it down, repeat.”
Identifying with the dork in that cartoon I determined that weightlifting would be my thing.
Quests and New Quests
And for the past 14 months I have been lifting weights. It wasn’t until I heard a sermon from an amazing priest, though, that I realized this needed to be a spiritual pursuit in order to be effective. In other words, I should not do this for me alone. I should do this for me AND for my wife and kids. Lifting weights isn’t about gettin’ swole so you can preen in front of a mirror (although that’s kinda’ cool). Lifting weights should be about God’s purpose for manliness and fatherhood. I should do this specifically because it’s hard. Doing hard things is the hallmark of true manliness. And we do hard things to discipline our bodies so we can discipline our souls. And we discipline our bodies and souls so we can give away our lives without thinking to our wives and children; so that the hardest thing in life to do – dying for the sake of another – comes freely, quickly, and with total love.
With that in mind, weightlifting became both a quest and a joy. I’ll admit, it’s fun. I really enjoy it in the same way I hated running. No lungs exploded. I could wear fairly comfortable clothes. I started to get swole. Heh. That last part was particularly gratifying. Again, see above paragraph about why any woman in her sober mind would have given me a second glance. And I say that only half in jest but I’ve certainly never thought very highly of myself and even there more from a desire to tamp down pride through a humility that is sometimes self-effacing but very often false.
Along the way as I was putting on muscle and burning off fat I began to look for more “difficult” things to do. Remember, doing the hard things because they are hard is good for us guys. I had to remind myself not to get too into this. There were nights I could have skipped the gym to spend more time with the family but I always thought I was doing this for them. As for those “gentle” reminders of which I spoke, believe me, on the occasions where I’d be super proud of my accomplishments and post a video or two of me knocking out a dozen pull ups in the gym or attempting some other such thing that I simply couldn’t do yesterday (and that 99.9% of men half my age can’t do today) I’d always get the one or two snide comments insinuating that it was “no big deal” or that the commenter “was able to do three times that many and with better form” and I’d find myself knocked down a few pegs. and it was all good.
But those other things? Well… I picked up a jump rope one day. Not knowing what this strange device was and unable to find a pair of shoes large enough to lace with it, I hit it against a rock. Then I looked up a Youtube clip and discovered a cool trick. Apparently you can swing this thing over your head and jump over it. I got really good at doing that.
I busted out my old trusty kettlebell. Remember that thing? Developed by the Pontifical Swiss Guard in the 17th century to punish heretics, the kettlebell is also good for building strong bodies. Again, thanks to Youtube (and in this case Instagram) I began to incorporate explosive movements into my workouts. I got really good at that as well.
And finally I discovered the thing I just spent 1,069 words to get to. Sorry for that. While scrolling through both Youtube and Instagram I began to notice a whole lot of posts about people doing calisthenics. OK, my first thought on hearing that word was of Jane Fonda in a ridiculously high cut leotard prancing about to Let’s Get Physical. Patently, calisthenics is not that. Not exactly. Calisthenics has to do with using bodyweight movements to build strength, endurance, you know, all that good stuff I was looking for. Remember, the whole point was to do hard things so I could be a better man and in so doing be the best dad I can be to the two saints-in-training God gave me. Hell, He only gave me two of them. He must have felt I needed the time to work on getting this right. Ultimately, though, what calisthenics looks like is not Jane Fonda but badass dudes who are certainly shredded but not in any kind of “Sammy Sosa on roids” way, doing incredibly difficult-looking things. The first time I saw a series of posts on Youtube of one of these guys doing handstand push-ups and planches I was sold. Sure, I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell of me actually doing these things what with my twice-fused lower spine; but if I’ve learned nothing over the past few years it’s that God’s grace is truly sufficient and for everything else there’s Percocet. So I prayed like the Dickens and had my pills at the ready.
“Father in heaven, I thank you for sharing Your gift of paternity with me, your humble servant. In St. Joseph, you have given me an example of a truly good man who cared for his family, for Your Incarnate Son and His Immaculate Mother. I pray through his intercession for a clean heart, a pure mind, and a chaste body. I ask for the gift of great physical strength that I might protect and provide for my family. Hitting the Powerball would also be nice. Amen.”
My daughter has a gymnastics mat and we have an 18′ diameter trampoline in the yard. I started to think I could tackle this. I watched dozens of videos on the topic. I set a few goals. While continuing to “lift heavy stuff” in the gym and “jump over the flying rope” I would attempt first to master a wall-assisted handstand. After that I would try the same but add in push-ups to the handstand. Then I’d try freestanding handstands. I didn’t know if any of this was remotely possible and I may have been consuming a glass of box wine when I dreamed this up. Lastly, I would try to nail a backflip by year’s end. I reached out to an old friend who informed me that I “probably know more about fitness now than he does” and the he “wouldn’t be much help”. He then said he had to wash his hair or something and take his daughter’s rabbit for a walk. I reached out to a newer friend who’s been part of my Exodus 90 prayer group. This guy was, of late, a gym teacher who specializes in calisthenics and in particular handstands. When asked if he could help me figure out the basic handstand his words to me were “No.” I think he might come round.
Where on earth is all of this going and how does it involve the Passion of Christ? I never said it did.
But it does.
You’ll have to wait for part II.
*Update: You can now read Part II by clicking here.