Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life. It’s easy to feel strung-out, and unless you regularly take care of yourself, the parenting part of your life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For J. Kevin, a 30-year-old dad of two from Georgia, starting a meal plan and workout helped him gamify what he needed to get done — and helped him stay in the present.
Here’s my every day: I get up at about six or six-thirty. Get the kids to school. We leave for school at ten after seven. I drop them off, go straight to the gym. As soon as I leave, I’m on my way home, to do some work, get another hour of work in before my first meal. That’s at 10. It’s the same thing every day: A strawberry protein shake. I get on to my next bit of work, eat again at 11:30, eat again at 12:30, and do my meals and work from home until that point. I’m out the door to go grab my kids at about five. And then I try to get them to bed as early as I can because I go to bed at 9:30 — ten at the latest. And then it starts over again.
I’ve always gone to bed early. I learned very early on that any amount of sleep under six hours was just useless for me. I know that I’m operating at my best when I go to bed and wake up almost exactly eight hours later, without any alarms. So I was always really careful about getting enough sleep, especially before I had a kid.
But as it came to food and exercise, that took awhile. I got really diligent after college. I couldn’t exercise for about five years because of doctor’s orders. But when I figured out my wife was pregnant — I was 25 — I went to the doctor and said I wanted to start working out again, as long as it wasn’t going to kill me, because I couldn’t be the type of dad who couldn’t play with his kid.
I was young, dealing with health issues. And then I had this kid coming and I felt like one of the benefits of being a younger parent is that you get to do stuff with your child. You get to have fun with them, play with them, chase them around. So I really at least wanted to control my health and say I’m not going to let my health determine how I was going to be with my child and parent.
And part of that, after the exercise, was this meal plan. I was trying to get my health straight. I wanted to be able to toss my kid around. I ended up finding this meal plan that pretty much equates to five meals between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. I started doing that, and I realized that I really liked it. So I kept it. After a while, I just put it on a calendar and no matter where I went or where I would go, I would carry food with me.
At some point, I realized the benefits for me went beyond the physical. It was good to eat healthy, and it was good to have a meal plan and exercise and sleep a lot and it also helped me stay productive and calm.
So my meal plan — I’ve been doing it for about 14 years — gives me a point of reference. No matter what is going on, no matter where I am, no matter what is happening, it just gives me a point of reference. It’s easy to lose control of time, but I know that I have an alert that will pop up on my phone that says that at 11:30, it’s time for me to eat my snack.
It’s become a bit of a game to me. It just brings me back to the moment I’m in and it helps me break up what seems like long and hard days. It puts them into manageable pieces — especially dealing with kids. Kids definitely bring chaos.
I often make my day a competition with myself. On those days where I’m sitting down, bored, looking at something, and I’m like, I really don’t want to go do this press release right now, it’s like, Alright. Well. I have 15 minutes until I have a snack. So can I get it done by then? and I work for those small goals.
It’s odd. My life, now, has just been about learned regimentation. I am much more improvisational as a person. If something pops up and I want to go do it, I’d rather get up and go do it. So what I learned very early on was, if I know exactly where I need to be and what needs to go on at any given time, it gives me more autonomy to do whatever the heck I want to do whenever the heck I want to do it — because I know where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to have done. So I make that happen.