I would like to submit Exhibit 1: Gone With the Wind, as the first example from my childhood of my father's unrealistic expectations of my muscular abilities and athletic training. We can place this incident within the 6 week block of time when I was 4 years old and my mother was in London, doing her student teaching. For those people who know that my parents (not actually Luddites) revile television watching and do not own a television, this is also the brief period of time between the purchase of their first and only television and its demise, about a year after this incident.
Dad, in charge of three children for six weeks, is watching Gone With the Wind, being aired specially on television. I request a drink of milk. He tells me I'm big enough to get my own drink of milk. This may, in fact, be true. It is not, however, true that I can pour a glass successfully from a full gallon of milk. It's a shame we didn't have cats. I figure the cleanup should have been enough to teach Dad a lesson regarding unfair expectations, but evidence indicates nothing was learned.
Exhibits 2-500 include the cross country skiing trip where I had inadequate body mass to stay warm, the biking trip on Martha's Vineyard when I was so out of shape that I could keep up with the pregnant (but fit!) woman in our group, and numerous incidents in which I was so much smaller and less capable than my siblings that giving up was the only realistic option. I can still hear his disgusted disappointment, "Terry". My father believed disapproval was more motivating than encouragement. (He still grates his teeth remembering these trips.)
I took up running regularly after college. Bike riding didn't provide the exercise I needed. Rowing was a complicated endeavor involving socializing I was uninterested in. Running had never been enjoyable, but it was efficient for my needs. Slowly my addiction to running grew into an affection for distance. I think I wanted to prove to myself that despite my pudginess, I was as dogged as I thought I was. Running for distance is not a remarkably good tool for weight loss, but it gives you some serious bitching rights. Blackened toenails, chafed skin, heat stroke... My college rowing training had awakened a masochistic gene, and now I could feed it without 8 other rowers and an expensive boat! I was hooked.
The first time I recall attempting to go out for a run with my father was after I'd moved to rural (perhaps redundant?) New Hampshire. Across the street from our house was a rail trail and my father and I went for an out and back run. Almost a tunnel through the woods, the trail burrows under the pine trees, crossing gorges on narrow bridges, persistently pushing you ahead. The trail beneath our feet was padded with layers of needles and the late September trees were turning. We were going to run a marathon the next day, and I was not confident I could finish it. I had visions of myself, gritty with sweat, bent with pain, unable to take another step.
A deer darted across our path, and my father reached over and touched my arm, "Oh look, Terry!"
In that moment, I lost my fear of failing him.