On Father’s Day, while most fathers slept in, watched TV, or tended the grill, I got up at sunrise to voluntarily submit myself to a form of physical torture. I’m not a runner, nor am I built like one, but on this special day I chose to run 26.2 miles for no other reason than to have my son watch me do it.
Earlier this year I had signed up for the Estes Park Marathon which is a stunningly beautiful event to take place on Father’s Day. I paid my registration fee and added it to my calendar to make this event official. I also leveraged peer pressure to reinforce my commitment. I told my friends, co-workers, and family that I will be running 26.2 miles on Father’s Day.
For months, I trained late at night on the treadmill and dragged myself out of bed every Saturday morning. My 12-year-old son, Luke, was my partner in this journey. He would ride his bike next to me carrying water and snacks in a large backpack. We eventually developed a system where at my signal Luke would ride ahead, dismount his bike, shrug off the large backpack, and have the water bottle for me just as I approach.
Luke and I perfected our increasingly efficient routine, I was slowly making progress, and my training was on track. I looked forward to this special time together with my son. Then COVID-19 hit, and the marathon was cancelled.
Part of me was relieved, because I was officially off the hook. I can tell everyone that at least I tried. However, I had told Luke that I would be running 26.2 miles on Father’s Day. We decided to do an informal marathon along the Santa Fe Trail, where I would be the sole runner with Luke as my mobile aid station.
The first 10 miles felt great, but then as the temperature rose things gradually worsened. By mile 17, the temperature was in the high 80s, and I started to cramp with 9 miles left to go. My jog slowed down to a walk and then eventually to a limp. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was even moving forward. It took all my mental strength not to call my wife to pick us up. We persisted, and after 5 plus hours, we crossed the finish line. There was no medal, no official race time, no cheering crowd, and it wasn’t even a real marathon. But I’m so glad I did it.
I had intentionally put myself through this 5-hour ordeal to teach my son that you must do what you say you will do. Often, keeping your word will require much more discomfort than you had bargained for. As a father, I would do anything to protect my children. I realize that I cannot remove all the painful thorns in Luke’s path, so I had decided to teach him how to walk through the pain. And it is okay to limp if needed.
In a blink of an eye, Luke will become a man, hold a job, and have a family of his own. He will encounter mental and emotional stresses that he cannot possibly comprehend today. I only hope and pray that he will not be afraid of discomfort but to bravely walk through pain when that is the right thing to do. The greatest honor I can ever have as a father is to shape the heart of my children. This privilege is even more precious than sleeping in, getting a gift, or drinking beer while watching sports on Father’s Day.
Vinh Chung, MD is a board certified dermatologist and a fellowship trained Mohs surgeon. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer at Vanguard Skin Specialists. Dr. Chung sees patients in Colorado Springs, Canon City, Pueblo, and Woodland Park. His dramatic memoir, Where the Wind Leads, is available everywhere books and ebooks are sold.