The Real Strength of Dads

Categories: Blog Jun 22, 2015


For at least 25 years, my dad hung drywall, or sheetrock. Each board of sheet rock was 4' x 8' and weighed at least 100 pounds. Some boards were special, heavier boards used for fire codes or other reasons. Dad walked up stairs, ladders, benches and scaffolds holding these boards by his side, over his head, in one arm, or sometimes just resting on his head. Day in and day out, he carried and manipulated these big "walls" with his body. Dad was strong; very strong. I don't know that I have ever met anyone stronger.

When I was in high school, during the summers, dad would take me to work with him. I say "take", but at the time it felt like an abduction. Summers in NC get very hot and wet. Hanging drywall in 100 degree homes, for 8 hours a day enables you to view things through a different lens. For dad, it was an opportunity for me to earn money and learn how to work. For me, it was torture.

But it was an opportunity to learn. I learned what real strength was, and what it was not. In high school, I became "strong" by lifting weights. Yet, I could never pick up those drywall boards and carry them or maneuver them like dad could. I remember I could hardly move for 2 days after the first day dad took me to work. My muscles were DONE. Yet for dad, it was just something he called "Tuesday". I could bench press over 300 pounds and I couldn't carry a 100 pound board up a flight of steps without having to constantly re-grip it or put it down to get a better hold of it. Yet dad could hold it between his fingers and just walk away as if it were a piece of paper.

As I said, this was an opportunity for me to learn. Funny enough, at 40 years old, I am still catching up with the lesson and recalling it to learn from. Here is what I will share with you today:

Real strength comes from living and engaging; outside the gym. An impressive bench press is only impressive inside the weight room. It can do nothing for you outside in the world. In other words, you can't take your bench press out into the world and expect it to give you the ability or strength you need to successfully engage in life. At 18 years old, I could press significantly more weight than my dad. Yet, dad could perform feats of strength and work like I could only imagine or dream of doing. My bench press was only good for my ego and nothing more.

There is a difference between owning real strength and having practiced strength inside of an isolated movement pattern. Weight lifting makes you strong at weight lifting. Moving, engaging and working with your body makes you strong at living. Learning how to move and master the movements of your own body, being able to move real objects that your hand can't neatly fit around, or learning how to leverage your body against loads that are not ergonomically designed for the aesthetics of your muscles is exactly how you gain real strength.

It has taken me over 20 years to realize this lesson and it has always been right in front of my face. If you want real strength, you need to get very good and skillful at moving your own body. Then, maybe learn how to move your body by trying to move awkward, heavy objects like sheetrock, plywood, rocks, ladders, kegs, or whatever. Drag trees, carry bails of hay, move things. Work. Play. It's not about reps. It's not about sets. It's about moving.

I've never met anyone as strong as my dad. But I'm working on it.

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