TNB: Trad Dads and Dad Bods

Andrew Bisharat on navigating the fog of climbing parenthood.

By Andrew Bisharat | July 18th, 2017

Illustration by Meg Bisharat.

I never realized just how many people didn’t want me to climb hard until my wife got pregnant.

You get some pretty strange responses from friends and acquaintances when they find out you’re on deck to becoming a parent. It’s funny … in a way.

Most climbers, with their social skills of autistic hermits, are only truly comfortable having conversations about project beta, personal fitness, or how many muscle-ups Alex Puccio just did in her latest Instagram. Few climbers know how to respond appropriately to the news that a baby is on the way.

“This is the best thing that’s ever going to happen to you!” my friend Julie exclaimed. “It won’t even matter that you won’t be able to climb hard anymore.”

Wait … what?

That’s the main trope, isn’t it? Have a kid, and life as you know it is over. It’s as if the ghost of gumby future appears with a chorus of crooked-helmet-wearing bards, and they all start rattling hexes at you while chanting:

No more redpoints, no more sends. Goodbye Spain and hello, Bend!

Retire those kneepads and downturned shoes,

Welcome to strollers and diapers and poos.

Now you’ll climb just juggy slabs,

Yesterday’s sport climbers, tomorrow’s Trad Dads.

Sport climbers who actually have young children themselves can barely contain their schadenfreude, sure that you, too, will soon be joining them in the purgatory of performance plateaus and diminished time to whittle away micro-beta on the mega proj.

They offer half-hearted congrats, while inside bursting at the seams, thinking: Now you’re gonna know what it’s really like to be me! Let’s see how hard you climb after the first month without sleep, Daddy!

Even climbers who don’t have kids perk up at the thought that there will soon be one less person competing with them for honors at the crag on any given day.

“Well, I guess it’s time,” my friends would say solemnly, as if I were being put out to pasture, my climbing jersey hung from my last project. “Maybe we could even try to get together once or twice a year.”

The best reaction, though, was from Tommy Caldwell. “Congrats on the new addition!” he texted me, adding, “You’re fucked!”

Tommy and his wife, Rebecca, just had their second child: a girl named Ingrid. Their firstborn—a son, named Fitz after the Patagonian mountain Fitz Roy—made a cameo in last year’s REEL Rock Tour. In the film “A Line Across the Sky,” Tommy wrestles with being both a dad and a cutting-edge alpinist. He then hugs Fitz and sets off on a five-day “extreme backpacking” trip with Alex “Honnlove,” in which they tag the summits of all seven peaks in the Fitz Roy range.

A year later, Tommy completely bone-crushed his 10-year project: the Dawn Wall of El Capitan (5.14d, 3,000 feet). He showed up to the biggest stage the climbing world has ever known in the best shape of his life. The only crux for Tommy, it seemed, was all the downtime he endured while waiting for his partner’s flapper to heal.

See? Becoming a dad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to start sucking at climbing! There’s hope, after all! I’m sure seeing Tommy bone-crush the Dawn Wall was inspiring to many other dads out there, too—at least up to a point. After all, no one on earth has ever uttered the phrase, “Well, if Tommy Caldwell can do it, so can I.”

Many of my peers seem to be having children. It’s weird how that switch flips once you reach a certain age. Having kids spreads like a virus, decimating entire populations of otherwise happily self-absorbed folks in their 30s whose main concerns are whether their current hangboard routine will actually pay off come Sendtember.

My friend Chris Kalous, of Enormocast fame, and his partner, Steph, just had a son, Miles, a.k.a. the “Enormobaby.” Miles is two weeks older than our daughter, Piper. During the pregnancies, Chris and I planned our offspring’s future wedding. That is, until Kalous found out that Tommy Caldwell has a daughter, and now Piper is out of the picture.

“You understand, right?” Kalous said. “We have to do what’s best for the Enormobaby.”

Dogs and babies together outnumber actual climbers at many crags these days, particularly my home crag, Rifle. Those without dogs and/ or babies will inevitably be more annoyed by this fact than the bearers.

“Rob’s kids were screaming their freakin’ heads off the other day,” my friend Joe said as we drove out for an afternoon of pitches. “Three years ago, I would’ve been really pissed off. But now that I have my own kid, I barely flinched.”

Dads have it easy, of course, in terms of maintaining some semblance of climbing fitness during the pregnancy and after. I admit to putting on, as my wife’s pregnancy progressed, some “sympathy weight,” even though I prefer to call it “training weight.”

Hence in time I realized I should pay some attention to warding off the dreaded Dad Bod. In advance of our daughter’s birth, I went through my own “nesting” phase, which manifested itself as building a midlife-crisis training dojo.

“Do you think you could put together the crib now?” Jen would ask. “Just as soon as the campus board is done, babe,” I’d reply. I explained this plan to my friend Josh Wharton, like Tommy a badass dad who continues to crush.

“Nice work on the baby preparations,” he said. “A home gym and a baby monitor are lifesavers. I think men are genetically programmed to explore new hunting grounds and kill shit when there’s a new mouth to feed. In climbing this translates to a letter grade or two. For me, being a father has been really fun and rewarding, like adding another passion to your life. It’s also been good for my climbing. I’m home and training more, and more focused with the time I do have to get outside.”

Of course, the best part about having a kiddo is that it’s a chance not to take yourself or your climbing too seriously. But if, as Wharton says, it also translates into some higher climbing performance, that’s OK with me, too.

Andrew Bisharat is a proud papa in New Castle, Colorado.

This article was originally published in Rock and Ice issue 236 (August 2016).

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