The Fit Family

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When I was a kid, my mom put us in the yard at 8 a.m. in the summer, and we didn’t return until dinnertime. During the school year, it was 3-6 p.m. If it was cold, there were coats. If it was hot, shirts were optional.

We ran around the cul-de-sac at the end of Birkshire Road in Fayetteville for hours on end. We’d play tag, hide-and-seek or a game my brother made up called Boy-Land. That was when the boys chased the girls. Tracy McDonnell insisted on equal billing so we sometimes acquiesced and played Girl-Land, which was just as fun. It was one of the few times in my life that a female actually showed interest in catching me.

Sometimes we would just stand in the front yard and spin around in circles. Our lives were centered around physicality. We’d come home sweaty and tired — likely burning more calories than my mom could shove into us, and she shoved a lot!

That is not the case today. My three daughters would rather watch Netflix than breathe. A nine-season show is nothing to conquer over a five-day school break. That’s like 90 hours of TV!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the most athletic person in the world. I don’t know the difference between a football and a hockey stick, and I have the coordination of David Hasselhoff (“Dancing with the Stars” season 11). But I exercise four or five times a week. I like to move.

I try to encourage activity with my girls. I promote the possibility of good weather: “It’s going to be 75 tomorrow. Nice day to spend outside!” Typically, I get no takers. Internet reception is spotty beyond the walls of our house, and jogging with a laptop can be cumbersome.

I try to beat them at their own game by finding activities they can do while watching a screen: “I found a great exercise video online. It’s Zumba! I think you’d enjoy it.” They disagree. Unless Phoebe from “Friends” is the instructor, they have no interest.

The only way I have found slight success in getting my teenagers to sweat is to hit the gym as a family. They seem to revel in watching me plunder through a group fitness class.

Once we landed in a sports conditioning class. I thought it would be a good fit for a rhythmless 50-year-old. I was wrong. Apparently part of conditioning for sports includes straddling a “stair” and crossing it in sync with the music. Who walks upstairs to a beat? It is not a practical exercise.

Another time my youngest daughter and I took Pilates. As the class began, the teacher announced that participants generally remove their shoes. I thought it was nice that she was informing the masses. As I untied my New Balance sneakers, I realized I was the only one without bare feet. Why didn’t she just come and tell me?

We all took yoga. I believe the woman on the mat in front of me could have stuck her head through her legs and licked her own back. I, on the other hand, can’t touch my feet, unless I’m sitting with my legs crossed.

At the gym we jog together, ride bikes together and work out our abs. I’ve even taken my teens through my rigorous weightlifting routine (well, it’s rigorous for me). But they always keep it real. “Dad, these are big weights. You’re pretty strong. Why do you look so scrawny?” They seem to delight in my misery. And I find joy that they’re doing something besides watching inappropriate clips from “Saturday Night Live.”

At my house, exercising together brings happiness to all!

Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife eight years ago and raising his three daughters on his own. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family's experience at


Categories: Dads, Exercise, Family, Parenting