Champion dads

Greg Wells

Dr. Greg Wells is an Exercise physiologist, kinesiologist, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, where he studies elite sport performance. He also serves as an associate scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, where he and his team explore how to use exercise to diagnose, prevent and treat chronic illnesses in children. Greg is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes and The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better. Greg lives with his wife, Judith, and children, Ingrid and Adam, in Toronto.

Words from Greg:

I had zero preparation for parenting. We were too frantic, and there was so much emphasis on getting through the pregnancy, ensuring it was healthy for mum and baby. You don’t have a clue about what’s coming. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I’ve done crazy, hard stuff like riding my bike through the Sahara Desert.

In the early years, parenting was pure survival. You’re exhausted; you don’t sleep. There’s life before you have children and then there’s life after. There’s no connection between the two. I think about who I was before kids and I can’t understand how I ever had a hard time functioning!

I had no idea what fatigue was back then. I’d say I was tired, but I had no idea. I was dancing to my own drum, doing 100 per cent of what Greg wanted. Now that there’s Greg with kids, it’s all about them, every decision I make, every penny I earn and every action I take. In that instant I caught Ingrid as she popped out into the world, I was a different man.

There were times in the first few years when I had to dig deep to survive. Picture this: tiny baby, early hours of the morning, about 3 a.m. Ingrid is screaming, I’m holding her down on the change table, there’s urine and feces flying around, but it’s not the baby or me that I am worrying about. Judith is standing at the door of the room and I can see she is cracking. In that moment, I am calmer than she is, and I say “Judith, you can leave now.” I gave her permission to exit the scene. I literally kicked her out of the room, and we were all fine. Everything goes better when I exercise, so on occasion Judith has the wisdom to say to me, “Take your bike, Greg, and go.”

On one of the nights that shit was happening at my house with our first baby, I took her out in the stroller. It’s three in the morning and I’m walking through the neighbourhood where we used to live. I’m feeling alone and pretty sorry for myself. I have to work the next day. There’s no sign of life block after block and then somewhere in the distance I see someone walking toward me. As we get closer I see that it’s a male figure. It’s a dad, he’s holding a baby, and he’s out walking as well.

We get close and then, as we pass each other, we exchange a nod. In that moment it’s like we share a deep, deep, deep understanding. It’s a split-second glance, but we exchange empathy for each other’s exhaustion and experience. I’ll never forget that moment; it helped me to realize it’s all so worthwhile. There is magic in all moments, we just need the perspective to realize it.”

Here’s another scene: Ingrid’s about two, I’m putting her in the car, I’m late for work, and she’s screaming. I’m sweating buckets as I’ve got Ingrid literally pinned because she’s arching her back and squirming so much as I’m bolting her into the car seat. Judith is at the door watching and our next-door neighbour who’s a clinical psychologist comes out of her house just as I yell, “Fuck, Ingrid!” They both look at me. I’m like, Oh my God, I have permanently damaged my child.

Sometimes you beat yourself up because you did something that wasn’t perfect. You know it was wrong, but you have to just let it go. Does every dad have those moments? I think so. You’re never going to be perfect. You do the best you can in any single day, you don’t judge yourself, you’re exhausted. You try and keep your head above water.

Excerpted from “Forty Fathers: Men Talk About Parenting”, with permission from Douglas & McIntyre, 2022.