Michael and Richard: Gym Daddies

Instead of merely encouraging a healthy lifestyle to their son, these fathers exemplify one.

When it comes to going to the gym, Vancouverites Michael Gorenstein, 43, and his husband, Richard Johnson, 50, have a better reason than most.

“We’re trying to keep up with our much younger child,” says Johnson.

Which just goes to show that at least two of those god-bods on the chest press really are using their hypertrophy for something other than the stand-and-pose rigors of bikini- and/or circuit-party season.

Richard (left), Kingston and Michael

Fait Accompli

“Let's be honest,” Gorenstein says, not a little wearily, “you only have to go to one circuit party or club to see the attention a well-built man gets! So, what probably started out as an effort in vanity evolved into what it is today.”

Come what may, the “dad bod” never gained the rallying cries of empowerment, or modeling contracts, that “plus-size” did for women. “No pecs, no sex,” however, may as well for gay men be the 11th Commandment, and Gorenstein and Johnson are devotees in every sense of the word. They even met at the gym, and have been going strong – literally – for 18 solid years. But their world of guns and ammo was sent to serious disarmament mode when Kingston arrived five years ago via a surrogate. What happened next was a classic case of pre/post-child lifestyle sheer.

“We experienced all the emotions and exhaustion and worked full time,” recalls Gorenstein, who is a fully involved scion of a family business of retail stores, while Johnson owns a legal recruitment company. “We hit the gym when we could, but it was not our most impressive gym period.”

But unlike many parents who inevitably push back things such as workout regimes to the back burner indefinitely once a baby makes three, the two muscle daddies – and never was there a more honest description – made a conscious decision to get back into the gym regularly no matter how bumpy the road to it was. They set a few other goals along the way as well.

“We made a decision when Kingston was born that our lives and relationship could not take a back seat for 5 years,” Gorenstein recalls. “It is too hard to get back to a healthy place if you are not connected and dedicated to your spouse throughout the process. We are at points in our lives that we feel physically and mentally better from working out. It is a part of our daily life and always has been.”

That statement may send a few parents screaming into the stratosphere. While some may call taking time out to go the gym while you have a kid at home an indulgence bordering on selfishness, and not making your kid the No. 1 priority bordering on child abuse, a growing chorus of voices brings into question the entire of idea of making your children the center of the universe; they may end up believing they are the center of the universe. But more than keeping things in perspective, Gorenstein and Johnson are doing something far more responsible. They are teaching-by-doing a healthy lifestyle to Kingston.


Blame the Parents?

Compare the statistics of Canada’s Childhood Obesity Foundation and the CDC and it is clear Great White North and the Home of the Brave are neck and neck for the obesity rate gold. Moreover, childhood obesity is rarely outgrown; by growing up in an athletic household, Kingston is far more likely to stay fit for the rest of his life.

“Fitness is important to us and he is picking up on it, so we have to navigate that in a very healthy way for him,” Gorenstein says.

“Healthy way,” however, was not nearly so straightforward as either fitness buff thought. Little Kingston, like all children, is hardwired to learn. Some lessons are more tricky than others.

Kingston is starting to pick up on the vanity part of it, to his dads’ dismay. They acknowledge that their own physiques, and people’s reactions to them, are impossible to miss. Both fathers have caught Kingston flexing and doing push-ups, and are quick to channel that behavior into something constructive, like playing outside, rather than let it morph into vainglory. Or shallowness.

“We would never use the word ‘fat’ to describe someone, nor do we allow him to do that,” Gorenstein says.

Richard (left) and Michael

24 Hour Fitness

“Don't say you don't have enough time,” wrote author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. “You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

And before you roll your eyes, yes, he is a father. But you could be the best time-manager in the galaxy and still find yourself victim to the all-consuming black hole of free time that a child represents. When asked how they find the time to work out when there is a child in the picture, refreshingly, or frustratingly, both men agree that the secret formula is neither a formula nor all that much of a secret. That doesn’t make it any less easy:

“The number one thing is that you have to go,” Gorenstein tells GWK. “You are always too tired, or too busy, and a million other distractions. We make ourselves go. It is less about the regimen, whether you work on one body part, or whether you focus on doing an ‘overall’ workout – you just you need to get to the gym.”

Like most health-focused parents, Gorenstein and Johnson “tag-team,” with the former hitting the weights in the morning, while the later goes in the afternoon. For the old hands, it is not uncommon to whip through a workout in under an hour, and there are one-hour classes, ranging from yoga to Navy SEAL-inspired suspension training, at most gyms. Indeed, the greatest of time-sinks at a gym is not the actual exercise, but the dillydallying between sets.

Of course, the ultimate time saver is money, and it would be remiss to skip the fact that Gorenstein and Johnson have a lot of it, enough for nannies. But to conclude that Gorenstein and Johnson cavalierly foist their son onto the help so they can enjoy their pre-fatherhood lifestyle, gym and all, is certainly unwarranted. Both are all-in parents, but it is a grim reality that as business leaders, the two fathers often face the unenviable situation that neither of them may be “on site” every hour of the day. In spite of all that, a happy child is nevertheless being raised knowing vanity and well-being are two different things. Gorenstein recounts tells how he and his husband bought McDonald’s food vouchers and took Kingston to inner city Vancouver (which has a high homelessness rate) to hand them out as a lesson of humility and charity.

“Kids are smart,” sums up Johnson. “They pick up on our little nuances and quirks. The confusing motivations behind physical fitness may be lost on a 5-year-old child, and we are trying to make sure that does not become prevalent for him.”

Health is, after all, a state of mind.

Michael and Richard kissing Kingston

Posted by David Perry

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