The Mighty Logo

How Avoiding Punches Became Part of My Self-Care as a Dad to a Child With CHD

Five years ago my son was born into this world with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. In the early years of his life he’s endured three open-heart surgeries, a feeding tube, and lots of therapies and doctor’s appointments. It’s also a difficult ride for a dad to be on: giving meds, doing tube feeds, driving to appointments, worrying. It all gets really exhausting.

Two years ago I did a kinda unexpected thing — I signed up for kickboxing at a local dojo. The beginning was rough, I had no idea what I was doing and the workouts were totally kicking my butt. Epsom salt was my best friend. Over time, however, I noticed my form getting better, I was advancing in rank, and kickboxing started to become a really good self-care activity for me. I was getting in shape, I was accomplishing something, and while I was on the mat, I wasn’t thinking about anything else but kickboxing. This was a godsend for me.

After a year and a half of training, well… let’s say went face-first into the uncomfortable part of my new self-care routine: sparring. I knew it was coming; the students who achieve a certain rank get to begin attending advanced classes, which included sparring. And if you wanted your black belt, you can’t really avoid sparring… and I want that black belt. It’s one thing to hit a bag or to do mitt drills with a partner — it’s another to have someone trying to actively punch and kick you. Needless to say, I was quite nervous.

On my first night of sparring I remember feeling completely numb, and my fingers wouldn’t quite work as I fumbled around with my headgear and mouth guard. My legs felt like jello as I walked back onto the mat facing opposite teammates who were way higher in rank and experience than I was. I kept thinking, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Dude you can’t go to work with a black eye!” And then the instructors gave the rules: jabs only, one minute rounds, pair up and go when the bell sounds. I stood across from another student, touched gloves, said a quick prayer that sounded like, “OhGodOhGodOhGod,” and then put my gloves up… and proceeded to eat a jab right in the middle of my face. POW. I remember my head snapping back and then suddenly the fear went away and my brain said “move!” and then everything I was taught in class kicked in: move your head, hands up. By the end of class I had taken a few shots but had given a few back. Most importantly, I felt really, really good. It was almost electric! The best part was the community-building of my teammates complimenting one another for good work — like a family.

Every time I spar it’s a little bit uncomfortable, because you have to mentally prepare to stand across someone and work on your training. If you don’t slip the punches — if you don’t move — you get hit, and knowing you might get hit requires a bit of bravery before stepping onto the mat.

In the end, I know if I can survive life as a Heart Dad, I can survive sparring and vise-versa. It’s given me the opportunity to be a better version of myself; to pour that same focus, energy, and determination into being a Heart Dad and fight the good fight.

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home