Hi. First, congratulations on becoming a father. For me, having a child is the most exciting and amazing adventure I have ever taken–I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Sometimes I simplify it this way: my relationship to my daughter is the most intense and profound relationship I have ever had in my life. That makes it an incredible experience.
I think your question can be broadly separated into three parts: 1) Identity, 2) Time management, and 3) Risk. There are many more things to talk about, but for me these are the big three.
So here goes.
Before my daughter was born, like many prospective parents, I feared that my identity would completely change. Would I be the same person? Would I still be me? Would everything I know be erased? I remember the day after my daughter was born; I woke up early, went for a short trail run, and then drove to the hospital to spend the day with my wife and our new child. As I was running in the forest, I realized…I was the same person! Same thoughts, same identity, same feelings. It’s just that now I had something new to think about. I don’t know if that’s reassuring or frightening to new parents, but I’m sharing it because it was a profound realization. When my daughter arrived, I was still me. Only my life had grown larger.
OK, there’s no way around it, having a child simply requires a higher degree of time management and time flexibility, and overall less time available for things like training, climbing, skiing, and so forth. Basically, to maintain any consistency, you have to me more active about planning, more motivated to do what it takes to get in those hours (or half hours, or fifteen minutes) of exercises, and more flexible about when and how exercise happens. In an odd way, having a child actually increased my ability to exercise regularly, because instead of sticking to old habits (I will only exercise at time X for Y number of hours) I was forced to be much more flexible, grabbing time when and how I could, and accumulating exercise in small quantities. My overall volumes remained roughly the same, but the distribution changed. Long days need to be planned, with support and encouragement from your spouse (and the understanding that you will return the favor and give them time off when needed). The same applies to climbing trips. So it’s not easy, but it works. Anything you can do to be more efficient, such as having a gym or trails or crags close by, or building a home gym or wall, will make your life much easier. One important point: planning recovery time becomes really difficult. You might be tempted to use all available time you have to push hard, but your “down” time will most likely be rather stressful home and baby time, and your sleep will me impacted, and so you will not have as much ability to recover. Be sure to take this into account.
You mentioned climbing, skiing, and alpinism. Those activities are obviously not without risk. Managing those risks, and incorporating these activities into fatherhood, is obviously a highly personal process. I think it’s fair to say that many or most climbers who become parents scale back their ambitions somewhat, and lower their acceptable risk threshold. That’s probably natural, and it’s probably the right path to follow. I can say that while it might be easy in theory to say, “I’m going to lower my risk threshold,” it can be much harder to do so in practice. When you are on a route eyeing the next pitch, or standing the the top of a slope to ski, there are so many habits and instincts and desires and pressures that it can be difficult to match your decisions to your goals. There might even be particular cognitive biases or “parent pressures” that push parents to take more risks that they might want to: for example, they might want to prove to themselves (or others) that they can still climb hard, or they might feel that they have such limited time and opportunity that they have to make the most out of each trip. Anyway, I think it’s especially important to try to keep your overall goals in mind, and as much as possible allow these goals to guide your decisions. I can also say that your feelings about these things may change over time. When my daughter was born, I was very clear that I wanted to keep climbing–and I did. My daughter is nine years old, and in all these years, I’ve done a great deal of personally rewarding climbing. However, over time, as my relationship with my daughter has deepened, it’s become harder and harder for me to keep going to the mountains, and I’ve been forced to continually interrogate my reasons for climbing, what’s the right path for me to follow, and so on. It’s gotten harder as my daughter has grown older, not easier. I’m still climbing, but it’s a hard process, and I don’t know how it will evolve in the future.
OK, thanks for your question, I think it’s a really important topic.
All the best,