Lessons for the All or Nothing Kid

I’ve had a series of injuries over the last couple of years that have stopped me running, which has been unexpectedly annoying. I never expected to even like running, much less love it. My sister is a runner, and I was quite happy to leave it to her. I admired her strength and fortitude while privately questioning her sanity (sorry Jane!).

But my husband kept quietly suggesting it might improve my cycling… build my strength… and I am a morning person, so leaping out first thing and getting those endorphins is kind of attractive. I love the morning air, the morning light, the peaceful morning streets.

I can’t quite remember how I started, but I got hooked really fast. And, in typical fashion, I injured myself really fast too. My running career has been a cycle of running hard, injuring myself, and collapsing sulkily on the couch until the injuries heal. To be honest, it got a little old. And so did I. At 47 I have a lot in common with the Dad in Fowl Language.


So after the latest round of injuries, when my physio said I should try run/walking at 1 minute intervals, I sulked for a bit longer, and eventually gave it a try. I left the house sulky, grumpy, and convinced this was going to be the least satisfying run in the history of sullen running. And something odd happened.

I loved it.

My asthma has flared up this winter, after a nasty virus, but run/walking meant it was more manageable. I was out for longer, ran/walked further, and felt better. I wasn’t sore the next day. I started small (another challenge), built up a little, and still no sore bits! I’m only 3 runs in, you understand, so I make no promises or bold pronouncements, but it fascinated me that it felt so good.

I used to feel like every time I slowed to a walk was a personal failure. It meant I wasn’t fit enough, wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t tough enough. But somehow following physio instructions gave me permission to run in a way that feels vastly better, is much more sustainable, and with any luck might not lead to me hitting the wall.

My new job feels a bit like an endless run without any signposts or fitness trackers. There’s a long, long way to go and very little indication of tangible progress. So few moments where I can go “Tada!”. When I was teaching I had “tada!” moments every day. Every time I explained something and saw the “aha!” light in someone’s eyes. Every time someone submitted an amazing assignment. Every time a class discussion took off and flew.

Building a charity, working on changing the face of education – that’s no short term game. There are occasional “tada” moments, but mostly there’s one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. It would be easy to start running and try not to stop. To keep running until I hit that old familiar wall. But that won’t get me to the finish line (if there is one!).

So I’m trying to take weekends. To garden. To read. To breathe. And to run/walk in life as well as in exercise.

I can’t guarantee no injuries. There are always doorways and random furniture keen to leap out at the likes of me. But there’s sunshine, and flowers, and more to life than work, even for obsessives like me.



Here in Australia it’s Fathers’ Day, and I was not expecting it to matter.

My husband and I don’t do the hallmark holidays, so our kids don’t take them particularly seriously either. We appreciate each other throughout the year. We do our best to recognise each others’ contribution to our lives, although, being human, we don’t always succeed. We don’t need a day on the calendar to tell each other that we matter.

But this year we were staying with my in-laws and, unbeknownst to me they had a formal Fathers’ day lunch planned.

And on Friday, by sheer coincidence, I drove past the restaurant, normally far out of my daily round, where, together with my sister, I saw my Dad for the last time before he died.

Throw in friends missing their dads, celebrating their dads, and preparing to farewell their dads, and the stage was set for an emotional blindsiding I was in no way ready for.

As regular readers will know, my Mum is dying by inches, slowly succumbing to dementia in ways that are profoundly traumatic, and simultaneously scare the crap out of me.

I’ve written many times about the pain and complexity of my relationship with my Mum, although I’ve never really gone into detail, but my relationship with my Dad was somehow more painful. I can forgive Mum, to some degree, for all of the pain, because I know she was mentally ill. My Dad, though, doesn’t have the same excuse.

He was, to be fair, dealing with Mum’s increasingly complex mental health, while dying himself. Who knows what was going on in his head? He was Mum’s primary carer and he was dying, and he couldn’t even have an honest conversation with us about what that meant, because the stability of his home life depended on him pretending that everything was fine.

In the weeks and months before he died he repeatedly threatened me with legal action – for telling his brother he was dying, among other things – insisted he was strong and healthy and going to live a long time (which we could see was a lie), and fought us all, anytime we said we were worried about him, or concerned about Mum. Going back through my emails I found one that insisted I wasn’t even to tell my husband anything about Dad’s health. Fortunately I’ve never been one to do what I was told. If I had tried to cope alone, as he wanted, I think it would have killed me.

My Dad, who was supposed, as a father, to love me unconditionally, withdrew his love often, according to the irregular ticking of Mum’s whims. I’d be cast out for transgressions both real and imagined. He rejected me to protect himself, and his relationship with Mum.

I know that many people suffer much worse at the hands of their fathers. Objectively I know I grew up safe, and relatively loved (most days). It could have been worse. But he was my Dad. He was supposed to love me unconditionally. And there were always strings attached.

So I’ve never been big on Fathers’ Day. “Happy Fathers’ Day Dad! I love you. Do you love me? Today? Just checking.” It’s a tricky conversation.

I loved my Dad. We shared a passion for music, a fairly twisted sense of humour, and a fascination for science that my Mum was never a part of. Which, I guess, is why his betrayal hurt so much more than Mum’s. Why, when he turned his back on me, it hurt so much more.

He had a lot to deal with, in those months before he died. He was fighting to keep Mum stable, get the treatment he needed, and not admit to being sick, all at the same time. Fighting to the point where the police were called numerous times, as we only found out afterwards. Fighting to to point where he would call us for help and then abuse us for “trying to interfere”. Fighting to the point where he was sobbing in my arms one minute, then telling me it was all my fault the next.

But he was my Dad. I miss him, and I hate him, in almost equal measure.

So I hate Fathers’ Day. I hate how other people have fathers who love them and support them no matter what. And I hate that I hate that, because everyone deserves that kind of love.

And I have it. I never had it from my parents. But I have friends, this year more than ever, who love and support me unconditionally. I have family I adore. I have the kind of family I got to choose – some related by genetics and love, some just by love – who I would walk over hot coals for, and who would do the same for me in a heartbeat. And I will move on, and maybe some day I will forgive my Dad. But for now, if you see me on Fathers’ day, just hug me and don’t mention it, eh?