Monday, December 12, 2011

Making a connection with Jim Axelrod

I didn't know that much about Jim Axelrod. I had seen him reporting from Iraq during the war and seen him report from the White House. You don't think about correspondents that much. You are usually more tuned into the news they are delivering. Sarah Lavender Smith (The Runners Trip) recommended his book In The Long Run. A Father, a Son and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness.

I was interested in the book because I am going through a rough patch with my son Charlie (turned 6 yesterday) and I hoped to find some insight that could help me re–connect with him. His mother understands him better than I do, although she claims he is just like me. I don't know about that. All I know is that his unadulterated boyness, his super high energy and his complete lack of focus lead to issues. The boy lives in the moment which is lovely, except that it often conflicts with just about anything you are trying to accomplish. On the other hand, when that kid smiles, it's like all is well with the World. He smiles with his whole face, including his honey colored eyes. It's a smile that warms you from the inside out. His teacher described him as "golden and alive". I just want to enjoy him. I also want him to feel loved by me—not just hear that he is loved. Sometimes I am not sure if he feels it and that makes me very sad. I don't care that he loves his mother more than he loves me. He should. It's a little boy's job to do that. I just have this uneasy feeling that a space is opening–up between us and it is a space I desperately want to close because I love that little man so much. I just have to find a way to connect with him. As I write this, he is downstairs in bed. I promised him I would sleep with him. It made me happy that he asked if I would.

Classic Charlie

The book is a lot more than a father and son's relationship. It was a good read and I'd recommend it. I came away from it liking Jim Axelrod. He has clearly become a very self aware man and shown a great capacity to change. I was routing for him throughout. These are some of the memorable moments for me. I don't go into the story but I guess some of the points are spoilers. You can read the book and then come back and compare notes if you like.

From a running perspective:
  • I am definitely sympathetic about what it is like to have a young heart but have a 40+ year old's body. It's amazing how fragile the old thing can be as you are pushing it toward an athletic goal. Jim's experiences of getting into shape are funny. I love the moment of shame when he is being overtaken by a lady in a jogging stroller.
  • Jim grapples a lot with mind barriers. It's amazing how mental running can be. There is a nice part in Born to Run were Chris McDougal says that Tarahumara (Mexican running tribe) elders do amazingly athletic things because nobody told them that they can't. 
  • The obsessive behaviors made me laugh. I loved that he kept driving routes in his car after running to check his distance. Running is such an obsessive business.
  • I was overjoyed to find that Jim's big race was about the enjoyment of the experience. In the book, he focuses a lot on getting himself to marathon condition. He talks about exhilaration but often it is tied to practical goals (distance or time). In the New York marathon, he writes almost exclusively about the positive experience. He stitches together some uniquely NYC moments, which really made that event really appealing to me.
  • The part where Jim's dad would not let him run with him when he was a kid was powerful. It was painful to read. It was cruel. It was something he probably regretted doing. I don't want running to be something that allows me to withdraw from people like that. 
From a human perspective:
  • This is an honest book. Jim puts himself out there and I admire him for that. He shares some very embarrassing and personal moments and I think he is probably stronger for it. He cries a lot in the book. I can relate to that. Nothing to be ashamed of there Jim.
  • He has some amazing clarity around his memories. I envy how vivid some of them are. It's lovely to hear all these little snippets of his life, like his dad letting go of the bike when he was learning to ride or the sweaty dollar bill in his dad's shorts at the beach.
  • I will look at corespondents in a whole new way when I watch the news from now on. I had no idea what pressure was involved in that profession. Not fun for them and certainly not for their families who have to go on with their lives with an absent mother/father.
  • I wanted to hear more of Jim's wife's experience. Jim was a selfish jerk in the past and really left his wife alone to raise a family. If that wasn't bad enough, he also kept up–rooting them. He is really honest about how he let her down but I'd still love to hear her perspective.
  • There are lots of lessons to be learned in Jim getting swept along with work ambition and stress. He does what most of us do and chase titles and "things" instead on concentrating on what is really important in life. You are so happy for him when he finally connects with his life.
  • I identify with Jim's dad's personality type. My grandfather was a real loaner. My father is too but he has been able to balance that with connecting with his kids. I would be blessed if my kids felt the same way about me as I feel about my dad. I need to keep myself in check. I have that reclusive type personality. 
  • There is a lovely moment where Jim has a lot of self doubt about completing the marathon and his friend Jo Gwin Shelby texts him "Go Jim Go". It's touching because Jo Gwin is a former runner and cyclist who is wheelchair–bound because of Lou Gehrig's disease. It reminded me that sometimes the perfect inspiration comes at just the right time in just the right way.
  • There is another lovely little interaction between Jim and his son where his son tells him "You know Dad, when I'm a dad, I think I am going to do this with my kids. They'll ask me where I learned it. I'll tell them I learned it from my dad."
  • Silly that it stands out but Jim uses a reference to Charlie Brown's mother's voice that is just like a reference I made in my last post.
So, what did I learn from this...
  • I need to continue to run for the experience and not the distance or time. I feel like I do a pretty good job of that already.
  • I need to make running something that connects me to people—not something that gives me an excuse to indulge my reclusive side. It should make me a better husband/dad, make me a joiner and allow me to run to benefit people. When New Balance finally sponsors me, there will definitely be a cause angle to it. That's non–negotiable.
  • I wasn't really interested in doing marathon distance on asphalt but I am turned on to the idea of running the New York marathon. I have a sense of loss in not running when I lived there. Maybe that race could make up for it somewhat.
  • Jim reminded me that parents are remembered by their kids in a series of mental snapshots—positive and negative. Your children will forgive you the negative ones as long as the positive prevail.
I decided that I want to start running with Charlie. He impressed me when we were in Cleveland over Thanksgiving because he did a mile on the track. He walked some of the way but I was impressed by his determination to keep going. After his mile, he positioned himself in the starting location and tried to rugby tackle me every time I completed my laps. He thought it was hilarious. That kid has a lot of fuel in the tank and running could be a way for him to blow–off some steam. I would obviously run at his pace and only allow him to do a short distance. The goal isn't for me to convert him into a runner or create a future athlete. My goal is much more pure than that. I want a physical activity that we can do together. An activity that is away from the rest of the family. Who knows, it could become a positive snapshot of me for him. A memory of time shared with his dad. A time when he felt special, happy and loved. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.

POST UPDATE (Dec 16th, 2011)
I just got a really warm and friendly email from Jim Axelrod. It was unexpected and very gracious of him considering where he is right now. Send some positive thoughts Jim's way as he moves with the last of our troops out of Iraq. Get home safe Jim.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to hear about Charlie, I can definitely relate when it comes to issues or antics (like the refusing to walk for two weeks thing...).

    I may have to take a look at this book. Stories about dads and sons always get to me.


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