May The Best Dad Win

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May The Best Dad Win

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood

15 June 2016

What’s healthier: slavishly sculpting your abs or embracing your love handles? Two resident fathers – one new, one less so – battle it out.

Do you remember this time last year when everyone was talking about the “dad bod”? It became a buzz term to describe any man who used to maintain a decent shape through Barry’s Bootcamp or Monday night five-a-side but had let himself go a little. It’s built upon the premise that, as a rule, once a man becomes a father, he no longer has the need, time or inclination to pursue a washboard stomach. So is it better to age gracefully or fight the tide of time? Our two resident Dans size up the issue…

Where are you in your life right now?

Mr Dan Rookwood: I am a tired, permanently aching, still-just-about-slim man of 37. That’s mainly because up until last month I got up at dawn to exercise rigorously every day. This has all just changed, however. My wife recently gave birth to twins. But you can do an epic arms workout with two Moses baskets. That’s what people mean by “baby curls”, right? Right.

Mr Dan Davies: I am a tired, permanently aching, formerly slim man of 45. Now a father of two, with a sagging body that is poorly concealed in clothes camouflaged with small children’s snot and rogue pasta sauce.

What is your current exercise regime?

DR: Each day starts with 100 press-ups in one burst – a 2016 resolution I have stuck to so far. I sign up for fitness classes on my ClassPass app, rotating between boot camp, TRX, Pilates and spinning. In my twenties, I was all about lifting to get stacked, but these days I concentrate on cardio and bodyweight resistance to maintain a svelte physique. Does this make me sound like Patrick Bateman?

DD: I play five-a-side football twice a week, followed by a minimum of three pints of craft ale to celebrate the fact I have exercised. This is followed by days of extremely elaborate limping – and wincing. Daily reps at the nappy changing table have ruined my back, so I’m hoping that getting very angry at work counts. It should do – it’s cardiovascular, after all.

Why do you need a beach body?

DR: Because there is only so much an Instagram filter can do. But it’s not the beach that keeps me honest year-round – though I will adopt a strict no-carbs diet a few weeks before donning my Orlebar Browns this summer – it’s more my wardrobe full of expensively tailored suits. I cannot afford to expand beyond a 32in waist.

DD: On a purely practical level, to ensure that I don’t have wet towels thrown over me by well-meaning environmentalists who will attempt to push me down the beach and back into the sea when, in fact, I’m only on my way to the water’s edge to stop my two-year-old son from drinking saltwater from a bucket.

How do you judge yourself in terms of how good you look?

DR: The sharpness of my jawline. When I’m out of shape, it always shows on my face.

DD: The expanse of visible flesh between the outer rim of my glasses and the edge of my face.

What makes you feel best/worst about your physical appearance?

DR: I have a powerful feeling of self-revulsion the morning after an over-indulgent night before. And the most effective way of dealing with that is to work it off with a long run of penance. After which I feel better. It’s an internalised system of checks and balances. 

DD: Darkness/the mirror.

Describe your current grooming routine.

DR: A hot shower, during which I brush my teeth for two minutes with a Foreo electric toothbrush and then use a mild exfoliator on my face – all my shower products are Aēsop currently. I like the aesthetic uniformity. I finish with a burst of invigoratingly cold water to wake me up (a trick I learned from Mr Ian Fleming’s Bond books). Then I floss, and apply Lab Series serum and Instant Eye Lift gel. I use women’s deodorant spray (shut up – it smells better). And then I’ll choose from a selection of fragrances according to my mood/the season. For summer, it’s Tom Ford Beauty Neroli Portofino. I work a dab of Patricks M2 into damp hair and then blow-dry. This all sounds a lot when written down but I’m in and out the bathroom inside 10 minutes. OK, 15. 

DD: I stumble into the bathroom, usually moaning about not being able to find my glasses or howling after stepping on stray toys, and then wrestle with the leaky seal on the shower head, which requires me to do a bizarre form of body-popping in order to get a decent wash. I use whatever I can find – currently Johnson’s Baby Wash – and then annoy my teeth with a floss and a two-minute onslaught with the electric toothbrush. Four squirts of whatever deodorant is on offer at the pharmacy, two good sprays of Dunhill Icon aftershave (a gift, and definitely the nicest scent I’ve ever worn) and one brief, dispiriting glance in the mirror and I’m done.

Which male body would you most like to have?

DR: Mr Brad Pitt’s from Fight Club, please. But, as we discover, he was just a figment of The Narrator’s imagination. So I’ll just settle for the body I used to have when I undertook the Icarus of all vanity projects: training to be on the cover of Men’s Health magazine.

DD: I’d like the body of Mr Russell Crowe in Gladiator – mature, big enough not to be messed with, but not too sculpted to suggest I do more than slay the occasional opponent in an amphitheatre. Sadly, I seem to be heading in the direction of Mr Russell Grant who, for the uninitiated, is one of Britain’s leading celebrity astrologers — and not known for his physique.

How do you maintain a balance between work and play/pleasure and pain?

DR: I work out so that I can eat and drink with impunity. It’s a form of Catholic guilt: “Forgive me, TRX instructor, for I have sinned.”

DD: I hate gyms and have seriously gone off cycling since sliding across the bonnet of a car last summer, so football is my main weapon in the fight against middle-age spread.

In your opinion, do you have a healthy attitude towards exercise?

DR: Yes. When correctly harnessed, a little vanity is good for motivation. Although finding the time and energy to train is often a struggle, I feel physically and mentally better afterwards, so it’s worth it. Something to do with endorphins, I think. That, and shameless narcissism.

DD: I am coming to accept the fact that I am a man of 45 with two small children, a busy work life and a body that lags five yards behind my brain on the football pitch. My razor-sharp cheekbones and 32in waist are fond memories, receding as quickly as my hairline. But you know what? It’s not such a bad thing. There’s plenty to be happy about, not least the craft ale, the occasional family-sized bar of chocolate and a guilt-free bacon sandwich every weekend.

Illustrations by Mr Adam Nickel