Written for the SocialPath, Ray Wilson's own column marketed to the print media.
© 2004, Ray Wilson

Wha' d' ya mean, "ego"? Running is for health…. (yeah, that's it) health!
by Ray Wilson

It was stifling hot. I was on a 5-mile run as I broke out of the woods at the "Poet's Seat" scenic observation area atop a ridge high above Greenfield, Massachusetts. Others were there, most having driven up to take in the view. A few had hiked from the lower parking lot, but I was the only runner. That caused one dignified gentlemen to politely inquire, "Sir, might I ask you a personal question?"

I smiled and nodded; and he shouted, "ARE YOU CRAZY??"

Given the indisputable evidence, I could only shrug and say, "I don't see how there can be any doubt about that."

No doubt whatsoever in my wife's mind. No hesitation in giving me a piece of it either -- like the time I was only a few blocks and one final hill from my Greenfield home after an 18-mile jaunt from Amherst. She drove up alongside and demanded I climb into the car. Of course when I did, I then caught it for soaking the seats. She muttered something about a rope and me on the roof like a deer carcass.

Ann is not amused when I justify my running compulsion with, "It hurts so good."

Written for the SocialPath, Ray Wilson's own column marketed to the print media.
© 2004, Ray Wilson

Dads raise kids too -- yeah they do!
by Ray Wilson

When I told my wife this column would be about raising children from a man's perspective, she asked, "Oh, so it's to be an observational piece?"

Ouch! A loyal husband and dad, I was always there for the raising of our three kids even if, by her count, it was four. To be truthful, whether I was a raiser or raisee is open to question. She now assures me I was everything a father is supposed to be, but -- looking back -- I can see why we have Mother's Day and Oh-Yeah-Him-Too Day.

Right from the start, I had it wrong. Raised by a mom who had lost a child just out of infancy, I contrived a scheme to dodge the kind of grief she bore much of her life. I explained my simple plan to my pregnant wife before our first child was born -- we would hold off on loving him until we could plainly see that everything was in working order. I figured that would be when he was around two or so. For some reason that I'll never know, Ann did not tell me (at that time) that I was an idiot. Being exactly that, I simply assumed her agreement.

She just patiently waited until we brought Johnny home from the hospital, put him in my arms, and told me to look at my son. The tears of babies were nothing like those now washing down his cheeks from the eyes of his worshipping father. It was then that my sweet loving wife looked me straight on and laughed in my face.

Aside from the small matter of giving birth, that was probably the first real mommy act of this new mommy -- showing Dad how to grow up. From that moment, I was free to enjoy my son, to relish the love and to help him live as fully as he could as

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Running for my health -- continued

I started running with my "youth" well behind me and have been at it for twenty years. It is the sanest thing I have ever done… - well, second to marrying Ann (on the off-chance she'd actually read this far into something I wrote). The year I began, the varicose veins that plague the aged men in my family had begun in my left calf. Their progress stopped cold when I began running.

Well, there was the chest pain -- and then the roto-rooter in my cardiac arteries (actually an angioplasty). But the running did not cause that. It found it! The pain started while I was running, but stopped the moment I slowed to a walk. My 20% clogged artery wouldn't allow the blood flow needed in the heavy exercise, and it hurt. In a sedentary lifestyle, the aches would not have begun until the heart wasn't getting enough blood to function even during rest. How would I then have stopped the pain by merely backing off? Answer -- I couldn't; and it could have been catastrophic....

Within one week of the angioplasty, I was again running several miles. It's been six years with regular checkups, and everything has been kept clean with a low-fat diet, a half-aspirin every morning, and a glass of red wine every evening. The wine was my idea and not the doctor's (as I tell my wife -- zero risk of her reading this far).

Now in my sixties, I am in better shape than in my thirties, and in love with running. It is not that I am a natural born runner -- far from it! Ironically, my grandfather was a national class sprinter a full century ago. His unofficial 100-meter time in 1900 was the same as the official record set by Jesse Owens in the 1930s. When I ran my first high-school track meet, Gramps and some of his cronies dropped by to see if the speed genes had passed along. I ran dead last in the four-forty and apologized to him for any embarrassment I may have caused him in front of his friends. He said, "No problem. By the time you crossed the finish line, they had all left."

Few non-runners appreciate what a social event running can be, but people who run together actually have little difficulty chatting. Even on solitary cruises, there is interaction like the one opening this column. There are greetings with neighbors, walkers, other runners, often with good humored wisecracks. But the big social event is the road race. Some may wonder why anyone would want to participate in a sport that produces only one winner and so many losers. On the other hand -- everybody but one person gets to beat somebody. It's all a matter of perspective.

Running is a unique sport in that amateurs get to play with the world's top pros -- and I have seen what truly class people they are. I have been beaten by Bill Rogers, Frank Shorter, and Joan Benoit -- and not one of them has ever boasted about it. They are better people than I, because I do boast about beating Johnny Kelly, seven-time Boston Marathon Champion. Yep -- took him in Falmouth in the fourth mile! I think he was 82 and I was 50 at the time.

We amateurs say that we're not in it for the competition, but for the personal achievement. We lie. I guarantee that when I move up to pass a runner, the sight of my gray hair causes either a joking protest, a shifting up of gears, or a groan. It just kills me to be dusted by geezers (the defining age of which moves up every year).

The big blow is getting passed by mere women! At first it didn't happen at all -- those women who were faster than me were always younger competitive athletes who took a front starting position for a legitimate shot at the winner's trophy. Thus, they never got to pass me and step on my ego. Today, soccer moms starting out in the back ranks do pass me. I have learned to adjust, but I really hate it when one goes by in high heels.

Women's very presence in a race gives them at least one advantage over men. It does take something off a man's pace to run the distance while sucking in his gut.

So far I haven't been passed by a little old lady with blue hair. Recognizing that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, when it happens, I'll do the manly thing and trip her.

Dads raise kids too -- continued

long as we had him. As a child, I was overprotected as a result of my folks' earlier tragedy. With little self-confidence growing up, I was a klutz at sports, did not do well in school, and was defenseless against bullies. Not until I was in the eight grade, did I swing back at someone beating on me. The bully ran off, and then I continued on to prove myself, taking on half my classmates. Battered and bruised, I held my own; and then I went after the boys.

For John and the brother and sister who followed, it was much different. John inherited my exact physique; yet, unlike me, took it to high performance in several sports. Jeff was a Bay State Games bronze medalist, and Kim a state and regional softball champion. All three did well on the field and in the classroom because we raised them to face up to life and never doubt they could handle it. As a boy, I'd run from fights, but my kids knew to never back down from a bully, even at the risk of a beating -- and all three together had fewer fights in their entire lives than I had in a typical month. They weren't raised to be reckless, but to simply accept the costs and consequences of living life . They got to live life because of that moment in which I let myself love the new life placed in my arms.

Somehow, it was always Ann who brought me into reality as a father. This was especially critical when it came to raising our daughter. When Kimmy was five, it was Ann who stopped the neighborhood lynch mob after I terrified the little boy who kissed Kimmy by threatening to nail his lips to my roof.

And there was my explanation to Kim at age 10 about the facts of life. It all began when she asked something about the obvious differences between her and older girls. I told her that "women come in two shipments," and that her "second shipment of parts" would be coming within the next year or two. She then asked me what boys get for their second shipment and it seemed reasonable to me to tell her the simple truth. I said, "A dirty mind."

It was then that Ann assumed exclusive responsibility for my daughter's sexual education, directing that any future contributions from me would be first cleared through her.

She tactfully suggested that where I was especially needed was in helping our boys form a good healthy mind set. She learned to regret that -- especially when I tried to help them develop social graces. There was -- for example -- that one morning at the breakfast table when John looked at me and asked, "Dad, what's 'class'?"

Ann never even tried to conceal her amusement at the thought of me, of all people, fielding this particular question. I showed her, though, coming up with an answer no one can dispute. With the attention of my three impressionable children riveted on me, I cleverly took my cue from our breakfast setting and said, "John, 'class' is when you do not use your pancake to blow your nose."