x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dad matters: Getting fit is a parental duty

A man lapses into a state that is part anchorite, part slob when his family goes away for the summer.

My possessions have spread out like a body emerging from a pair of tight, blue jeans. Shoes lie by the door. Clothes are piled up on chairs. My watch sits on the table and my computer lies next to it. Something is missing. No prying, inquisitive fingers trying to jab at the keyboard. No lovely, dribbling mouth trying to gnaw at the grimy rubber soles of my shoes. These things sprawled around me are brazen. They remind me of the absence. They taunt me. Despite this explosion of stuff, the apartment feels empty and lifeless.

Astrid has been away for more than two weeks. It didn't take long for me to revert to what must be my natural state. Part monkish ascetic, part student slob, I lurch haphazardly from one moment to the next. The struggle between good intentions and bad inclinations is ongoing and relentless. Without Astrid around to occupy my waking moments, this battle has come to the fore. I eat grapefruit because I think it is good for me and cheese on toast because I like it and it is easy to make. I try to read a book because its something I used to do and haven't done since Astrid was born, but end up watching television instead. I didn't realise a day is made up of so much time.

This period while my family is in the UK was an opportunity to get things done. While I have managed to complete a few stubborn tasks, execution has fallen short of expectation. Like any windfall, the problem with large tracts of time is spending it wisely, not bingeing on it and idling it away in blissful inactivity. The first few days of my temporary child-free life passed by in what felt like a whirl of industriousness. Making lists, ticking things off lists, re-ordering lists. Lists have become such a potent force, not just in my life but in the world. Their status has been elevated from a way to impose order to a way to express how you feel. Activities, interests, music, books, movies and television. When combined, these fragments are taken to say so much about you. They carry so much more weight than mere likes and dislikes. They have become inventories of cultural pretension and social ambition. As such they can be very revealing. They are signposts about what type of person you are and aspire to be.

I start to become paranoid about the shopping list I am making. What does it say about me? Crossing out baked beans seems a futile gesture at this point. The one thing I have found myself doing in these child-free times is going to the gym. I joined the Hiltonia in September 2009, but only now have I started using its fitness facilities. Getting fit has been on my to-do list for many months. Now I can tick it off - or at least move it to another list, such as things to keep on doing.

Getting fit looked so good on paper. It seemed so appealing when it involved nothing more then scrawling down a couple of words. Now I am undertaking exercise and I am one of the people huffing and puffing on a treadmill, a more accurate description of the activity underway is not getting unfit. Taking care of myself is no longer just a personal choice, it is a parental duty and responsibility. This realisation has been the most fruitful product of my fleeting return to bachelorhood.