Forty year-old, Juan is a two-pack a day smoker, with a sedentary life style and a tire around his tummy that makes the Michelin man look svelte by comparison. Juan can, and frequently does, suck down a six pack of Bud on a Sunday afternoon while watching his beloved Marlins. "Exercise" consists of walking from the couch to the frig to get another cold one. "Camping" is defined as a hotel room where the tiles in the bathroom don't go all the way to the ceiling.
Feeling a repeated tightening in his chest one day, Juan goes to a doctor whom he hasn't seen since they were in math class together in high school. The doctor is explicit: "Change your lifestyle," he begins. "Or die." Juan asks for a second opinion. "You're ugly too" the doctor deadpans. Just kidding. The doctor says that in order for Juan to avoid an invasive, intrusive open-heart procedure, there is one alternative. Juan can start exercising consistently and drop the 40 pounds. Otherwise, he'll have his chest cut open and spend several days with inconvenient tubes stuck in his body.
So the very next day, Juan goes out for a run. He was a three-sport athlete in high school after all--thirty years ago admittedly--but he knows how this works. How hard can it be? When the alarm goes off at 6:00 am, he laces up his new $120 running shoes and hits the street. He jogs expectantly to the end of the block, a distance of some 200 yards, where he proceeds to to the following: he stops running; he bends over and holds his knees; he notices that he is sweating uncontrollably and that his heart is beating 160 times per minute; he looks around to make sure he's not being observed. Then he walks slowly back to his house exhausted, embarrassed, and dejected.
But the next day the alarm goes off again at six. This time Juan runs more slowly and is able to cover 300 yards--still only a three minute workout, before walking home. But within a month--running six days a week--Juan runs a full mile. Exhilarated, he celebrates by not having any ice cream and quitting cigarettes. A year later Juan enters a ten kilometer (six mile) race. He doesn't win, but he doesn't finish last either. "I went from not being able to run around the block to running six miles without stopping," he tells me. "Like I give a s**t about my time?"
Juan continues to run six days a week. He never misses a day. He runs through both of our seasons here in Miami--construction and hurricane. He runs when the temperature hits 90 degrees before he gets home at 8:00 am; he runs during thunderstorms; he runs when he feels like running; he runs when he feels like any other activity--an un-anaesthetized colonoscopy, for example--would be vastly preferable to going out for a run.
Over the course of 24 months, Juan loses the 40 pounds. He no longer smokes cigarettes although he still has a beer or two while watching the Marlins on Sunday afternoon.
Two years to the day after his visit to the doctor--in what can only be described as a triumph of the human spirit--Juan signs up to run his first marathon.
Parenting is the same. It's not about making a plan; it's about living the plan. It's not about saying what you're going to do; it's about doing it.
Every day, all day, the forces of evil are trying to mess up our kids. Someone is trying to sell our kids cigarettes. Someone is trying to lure our children into a life of addiction. (And don't even tell me about how cigarette manufacturers make cigarettes only for those who choose to smoke. Without smokers, there are no cigarettes companies. Period. Cigarette manufacturers need smokers. Your children will do just fine, thank you.)
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty*. In this generation, eternal vigilance is the price of bringing up kids who aren't addicted to that which will harm them.
When your kids ask you if they can play a video game--"just for a few minutes"--say no. "World of War-Crack" didn't get it's nick name randomly. When your kids say, "All the other kids get to play video games," say no. Optionally, you can point out that all the other kids may not brush their teeth before bed, but in our family we do.
Good parenting in this generation is tough. There are unprecedented forces aligned to make addicts of our children, to do our children harm. But nobody said it was going to be easy. Ask Juan two years ago--holding his trembling knees 200 yards from his house.
* Wendell Phillips (1811–84)