How a health scare made me realise I needed to get in shape for my kids

Being a fit father wasn't always a priority for Chris Ryan. It is now.

Father and Baby

It’s not something I’m proud of but when my son was born three years ago my casual boozing ratcheted up a notch. After work I’d smash a few happy hour beers rather than race home to my loving family. A few laughs with mates was the circuit breaker I needed between the crushing monotony of my job and the crushing-but-supposedly-rewarding monotony of nappy changes and night feeds.

Then came my stint as a stay-at-home dad. I couldn’t slide into the local mothers’ group for conversations about cracked nipples, so to break the boredom of raising a baby I’d catch up with mates for a drink.

Pretty soon I turned into a stay-in-pub dad. I’d rush across town to meet a friend who could squeeze in a lunchtime beer or knock off early for an arvo drink. My son saw the inside of more pubs by the age of eight months than I had by the age of 18.

Talking to one friend about how easy it was to have a few beers while looking after a baby (as we drank a six-pack in a park) I wondered why there wasn’t an epidemic of alcoholic mothers across Australia.

There could well be, I realised. There isn’t an RBT unit targeting pram pushers. There’s only one person who really suffers from a booze-loving parent: the baby.

That was probably a low point. Shortly after, I moved on from dragging my kid to the pub every chance I got. I don’t know if it’s because I woke up to myself or he became more demanding.

Instead of sinking schooners, I read more books to the baby. I’d prepare meals in the kitchen while he watched the “cooking show” from his bouncer, and take him on long walks through the park, where he giggled at leaves fluttering overhead.

By investing more in our interactions, I found myself enjoying being a dad more. I watched my son learn to crawl like a commando before taking his first steps. I felt lucky to witness him growing up in a way most fathers don’t get to.

“Talking to one friend about how easy it was to have a few beers while looking after a baby (as we drank a six-pack in a park) I wondered why there wasn’t an epidemic of alcoholic mothers across Australia.”

But while I had stopped daytime drinking I was still slowly going to seed. My pants grew tighter and my love handles bigger. I wasn’t too concerned. I was already walking around with sleep in my eyes and baby vomit on my shirt. Plus I was married, so I didn’t need to impress anyone.

It was only after a holiday in Ireland that I worried about my health. I met my brother in Dublin and while we were belting back Guinness I had indigestion so painful I thought I was having a heart attack. It took every ounce of my will to down another six pints. The pain reoccurred throughout the holiday, when I was eating and drinking.

Back home a GP put me on some drugs and, when they didn’t sort me out, recommended a specialist. Thinking about the cost I told him there was no need to worry; I’d live with the discomfort.

“That’s fine,” he said, “but it’s why men your age die early.”

I booked an appointment with the specialist that day.

The specialist recommended an endoscopy – sticking a camera down my throat – and said while I was out on the operating table, he may as well stick a camera up my rear end, too. He acted like it was the deal of the century. I’m surprised he didn’t throw in a free set of steak knives.

The operation turned out to be a breeze. A few hours of uninterrupted sleep during the day was a rare blessing. Post-op, I was given Jatz and cheese plus an orange juice. It was all very pleasant. If it wasn’t for the Polaroids the doctor pulled out, I wouldn’t even know he violated me.

I was diagnosed with a dodgy food tube or eosinophilic oesophagitis, as the doctor insisted on calling it. After another course of drugs, I could go back to eating (and boozing) without painful indigestion.

But the doctor’s blunt warning about dying early had rattled me a little. With one kid and another on the way, I wanted to be around for a good while yet. And I wanted to be able to keep up with two kids on the go.

I loved having an old man who was fit and active. He taught me how to swim, showed me how to bowl a cricket ball, throw a spiral pass and do a torpedo kick. If I stayed on the path I was on, I’d only be able to teach my kids how to walk from the telly to the fridge.

I decided that exercise had to be part of my daily routine. I started catching up with a mate at the gym instead of the pub. When my brother was back in Sydney, we trained in a park instead of canning on. And when I want to get out of the house for a while to escape the kids, I go for a run instead of a drinking session.

Now I’m in better shape than I have been for years. I’ve found I have more energy for the kids, I’m sleeping better, and I’m generally much happier.

And sure, I still drink much more than my depressingly honest GP would say is healthy, but you do have to leave some room for improvement.

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