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Why We Run: A Father-Daughter Reflection on Gender and Aging

What they learned from each other through a shared goal


This article was provided as part of The Op-Ed Project.

I’ll start. This is Krista.

I was never a runner. But when my dad took up running in his fifties, it spurred me to reconsider. Maybe I was underestimating myself, my body, and my potential. By taking up running, my dad showed me that I could change the way I see myself, and even set the terms under which I live in this body.

With every visit over the last 10 years, my dad, now 67, and I, 37, have jogged together.

We’ve run at 5 a.m. on chilly Tucson winter mornings as the desert is just waking up, and on bright Kentucky summer mornings through forest paths of green trees and lush grass. The sound of our shoes hitting the pavement together is a cadence to which my heart sings.

I am fully aware of this precious gift — to run with my dad. That he’s alive, and healthy, and wants to spend that time with me. But the real gift is something beyond the sentimental reasons that you might expect.

No Limits

As a woman, it is incredibly affirming to exert strength and power alongside the primary male-bodied role model of my life. It reminds me of those times when I was little, and my dad told me I could do anything. He saw, for me, beyond my gender. I felt limitless in those childhood moments, and it still feels great to imagine myself limitless today, as an adult.

Running with my dad is an affirmation that I am not confined by my gender, that I am more than my body.

Running with my dad is an affirmation that I am not confined by my gender, that I am more than my body — and simultaneously an affirmation of my gender and my body. No other part of my day feels as feminist as running with my father, even when it’s via phone and our Strava app.

Running with my dad feels like he is issuing a feminist challenge to me — to take the time to care for this body despite all the demands of being a working mother; to take up space with this female body without apology or worry; to never underestimate the potential of this body to become something new or different; and, most of all, to keep up.

But, interestingly, I am not the only one who has been receiving the gift of empowerment on our runs. My father also sees it as a gift.

Dad Weighs In

It’s my turn. This is Tom.

Several years ago I read the book Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. This book made it abundantly clear that the secret to actually defying old age was daily exercise. With that, my search for the “fountain of youth” was over. I simply had to make daily exercise part of my lifestyle, just like brushing my teeth every day.

Easy to say, considerably harder to do.

But having someone I love, my daughter, to spend time with and who is similarly committed to a healthy life provides a huge incentive. Our 30-year age difference helps to keep the belief alive that I will also be running with her 2-year-old daughter in the years to come.

Some may say the goal of running with the now-toddler is just not realistic given that I will be 68 in September. However, I say it is very realistic if I commit to daily exercise.

Will it be easy? No! Will it be worth it? Yes!

Running with my daughter, I am remembering that I don’t have to buy into the traditional age-related thinking that I am too old.

From Both of Us

While our bodies are strengthened by each run, so is our father-daughter bond. With each run our relationship grows deeper. We talk about life, family, work, politics and everything in between. Running keeps us connected. And, equally delightful, it has provided empowerment against our daily, pervasive experiences of sexism and aging.

This Father’s Day, we encourage fathers and daughters everywhere to consider exercising together. You are never too old. Or too far apart. Start slow, but start today. Get up, go for a morning run or walk around the block, a hike or a bike ride. Even if you are in separate cities, like us, step outside and give each other a call while doing any enjoyable activity.

We know it is hard to find such time, with all the demands of life and especially if the gulf between you is significant. But the gift that exercising together brings to your health and your heart will surprise you.

By Krista Millay and Tom Millay
Krista Millay earned her Th.D. in philosophy, theology, and ethics from Boston University and is an assistant dean of students for Advocacy, Prevention Education, and Gender Justice at the University of Arizona, where she oversees the Women’s Resource Center and sexual assault prevention programming. She is a Tucson public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. Tom Millay worked as a human resource/labor relations director for 40 years.  He earned his B.S. degree in business from Brescia University in 1993, studying nights and weekends for four years. He served four years in the United States Navy during the Vietnam era. He retired in 2014 after spending his last 13 years working as the executive director for the Southern Indiana Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. As a retiree he enjoys running, hiking, road and mountain biking, golfing, pickleball, traveling and most of all spending time with his four wonderful grandchildren.

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