WHAT MY DOG TAUGHT ME ABOUT BEING A DAD AND HOW I ALMOST SCREWED IT ALL UP
Recently I spoke of the need to expose ourselves to stress, to make adaptions and grow from a performance and character building perspective. The stimulus I referenced was ice and heat. However, I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss how we are constantly exposed to opportunities for growth, by leaning into stressful situations and developing deep practices beyond the quick hits of an ice bath.
Let me introduce you to Dudley, my 18 month Old Tyme Bulldog. Now if you’re like most, there will be an “ahhhhh” leaving your mouth, but don’t let the cute face fool you! There’s a reason I nicknamed him “The Weapon,” aka “The Terrorist,” aka “The Hammer of Hither Green…” It was October of 2017, and I was coming off the back of my breakdown, post TV project, “Mind over Marathon.” Having navigated myself quickly off medication, I was continuing to develop habits and routines that were fortifying my mental and physical health. While doing so, there was a void, one of wanting company, but without the complexity of humans. Anyone close to me will tell you how I struggle to be a close friend and family member. My default is to separate myself from the world, a part of my nature I have learned to love and also work on. My answer to this was a Puppy because apparently, some bright spark said they’re good for our Mental Health. It would give me someone to hang out with, a reason to move that was void of complexities on the days I needed someone to be there. Little did I know how much this new addition to the family would teach me.
To help you understand, we have to go a little deeper, and I have to share with you my biggest fear. The grey cloud that's always haunted me moving through adult life and then while becoming a husband to my beautiful wife.
Being a Dad. Being my Dad…Being a shit Dad…Being an angry Dad…Being a Dad who runs away…Being a Dad who dominates, who scares and who never understands how to show the love he has buried deep inside him. This is the narrative that got me stuck in booze and drugs for so long...The love of a Father
So here I was with a puppy who represented entry into Fatherhood, my greatest fear. From day one the barriers went up, I felt a wedge between me and loving him. Instantly I explored every reason in my head to get rid of him, I found myself with little patience for this innocent and vulnerable being, and the worst thing happened early on…As puppies do, he was causing chaos, red mist came over me, and I scared Dudley with my voice and presence. I remember him backing away, curling into the smallest version of himself that he could and looking at me with the biggest eyes of love and zero understanding of what he had done wrong. At that moment he was me, I was my Dad and history was repeating itself for me to be living my greatest fear. I crumbled inside and found myself in a dark hole of self-loathing, guilt and hate. From there it continued to go downhill. I tried every day to make it work, but I struggled, and I looked forward to having any reason to not be around him. My wife sensed it, and within this, I realised I was going to create a wedge between us. Sophie needed me to lean in, not just for Dudley but to also show her that the man she loved, would not turn his back on her future children.
About 6 months ago, an opportunity presented itself to be able to bring the conversation of rehoming onto the table. I secured a new job with ASICS, one with a lot of travel, and my wife was moving into a role that would also require more hours. The old salesman in me saw the opening, this was a chance to spin rehoming him, as the right thing for Dudley, not my own selfish reasons. Then it happened, after seeing the pain the talks were bringing to my wife, I made a shift because I realised what I was trying to do. I had come full circle and was setting the pieces up to do exactly what my Dad had done to me, in a puff of smoke, I was trying to leave. I thought the red mist was the darkest cloud, but as I know too well, its abandonment.
My old man walked out when I was 12, and here I was just trying to turn my back on my first outing into Fatherhood. This wasn’t about being an owner to a high energy dog that I couldn’t handle or train. He thrived in training, and I'm a Coach that works with the broadest spectrum of humans, surely finding the patience to train a dog wouldn't be out of my wheelhouse?! My problem with Dudley was that he made me stare down the barrel of the thing that caused me the most discomfort. Instead of getting into the ice bath and facing my narrative head on, I was skirting around the edges finding every excuse not to dip my toe. I realised there and then that I needed to lean into him and not abandon the little dude, pretending that he never existed as we packed up his bed and bones for the last time. I needed to accept that on the other side of frustration, always lays growth, like a kid learning to ride a bike. I had a choice to how I could respond to the stress he was causing. Let's not even talk about the irony of what I do as a day job. Maybe if I just took a breath before reacting, I would make better decisions and be able to navigate our way through, for him and me.
At camp PSE, we are starting to talk a lot about "Deep Practice,” which to me, is the development of the tools we use from lifting weights, running, breath or jumping into ice baths on a playing field that exposes the narratives as to why we picked them up in the first place. It's "leaning into stress" so that we can expose lessons within us, no matter how uncomfortable, to fortify our ability to keep falling down the rabbit hole, as we learn what it is to be “anti-fragile.”
Dudley exposed me and has become my deep practice, he’s been an experience to help me grow into being a Father one day. I just needed to realise what was occurring first and then be accountable for the fact I had and have a choice to how I respond to him. The same way I can either jump straight back out that Ice bath, or I can see what adaptions lay on the other side. I owe the little dude everything for the stress he caused and the narratives he unearthed. Having a practice goes beyond running, breathing or Yoga. As some very wise humans once said, "Everything is Everything” and when we are presented with a chance to "lean in to"…Take it.