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Dad’s Corner

By: Justin P. McCarthy  |  January 4, 2024


Though December’s solstice is each year’s shortest day, our elusive winter sunrise keeps getting later for a full three weeks afterward. Seasonal affective disorder sufferers–and the rest of us diurnal animals–can thank the Earth’s elliptical orbit and a resultant post-solstice disparity in solar time vs. clock time for this cosmic finger in the eye. All daylight gained through January 11th this year comes thanks to later sunsets, and we won’t see brazen Helios earlier than 7:00 A.M. until February 15th![1]

It may be relentlessly bleak outside, but the holidays are (mostly) over, our schedules have cleared out a bit, our older children are back in school and we are receiving daily, cross-platform fusillades of inspiring, fresh-start messaging encouraging self care and the renewed pursuit of positive habits: It’s January! It’s a new year! Time for a fresh start! Let’s get after it! Meh. Like the sun, I’m still not quite feeling it.

Since August, I’ve had COVID-19 twice. I’d managed to avoid it until then, so I guess I was overdue, but ouch. I was one of the lucky ~7% to have lingering symptoms–fatigue and brain fog for me–for many weeks after my first infection. These had just started to fade when I caught it again toward the end of September, and I’m still not back to baseline: my head feels puffy and thinking takes a lot more energy than it used to, I have zero motivation to exercise and I want to sleep, like, all of the time. Pile on a strep infection after Thanksgiving and a gnarly cold before Christmas, and my system just hasn’t had time to find anything close to healthy equilibrium in months.

I’ve also struggled since June in sticking to my doctor-advised pretty-much-paleo diet. We had one of our traveliest summers (Japan! New York! Hawaii! Healdsburg!), and during heated negotiations around committing to strict abstemiousness most of the time, my id stood firm in demanding I be able to eat whatever I wanted to while we were away. And I did. And it was glorious! But then, in came the COVID-19, out went my willpower, and on came more than 25 pounds in six months.

Like most, our family has so many great traditions in November and December, from swapping out all of the hand soaps for pine-scented versions to mixing in the Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Pandora station right after Halloween to delivering kringles to friends and family, getting the kids involved with their school’s Adopt A Family gift drives, wearing silly matching pajamas, and giving chocolate to pretty much everybody–to name a fraction! I’m smiling just thinking through it all.

Toward the end of 2023, though, I wasn’t doing much smiling. On top of the sickness and medium (I’m refusing to call it “long”)-COVID, the lack of exercise and the weight gain, I’d signed up for a fantastic but grueling writing class, which ran from September through the beginning of December, demanding around 10 hours of work each week. Our master bathroom remodel, begun in May, still wasn’t finished. Jack was touring, interviewing with and applying to three private high schools (while manifesting a maelstrom of intense teen feelings around the process) and–oh, yeah!–we adopted a puppy from the wonderful people at The Milo Foundation in October.

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy our fall, just that it felt a lot more like work than it had before, and–rather than grinning my way through dinner at China Live after bringing the kids into the city to meet Santa at Katie’s office[2], say, or introducing the kids to Die Hard while wearing my deliberately, deliciously, pointedly tasteless  “Now I have a machine gun / Ho Ho Ho” sweatshirt, I was forcing the smile and counting down the minutes until I could go to sleep throughout.

And here we are in January: it’s still dark, my head still feels like it’s full of sludge, I’m still overweight, still barely exercising, and we still have three children and a puppy who demand–and deserve–tirelessly committed positivity and bottomless reserves of prosocial role-modeling, while I just want to frocking[3] hibernate! Since that’s not an option, though, I’m going to take advantage of the next few relatively calm months and… relax a bit.

Yes, I’ve finally found a new primary care doctor and will be working through the fun, mid-forties checklist of colonoscopy, skin cancer screening and CAC testing, I’ve rejoined Noom (which helped me phenomenally the last time I got up this high on the scale), I’m slowly dialing up my Apple Watch’s daily move calorie goal, and I’m (excruciatingly) shutting down Baldur's Gate 3 about an hour earlier each night.

I’m not doing any of this because it’s January. I’m not making any big, sweeping commitments. I’m not subscribing to a mass-market renewal metaphor subjectively based on the Gregorian calendar. I’m doing it because I want–because I need–to feel better, and because, with all of the wonderful, joyful things I endured last quarter behind me, I now have a bit more time.

[1] Don’t even get me started on Daylight Saving Time, which arrives on March 9th this year and brutally shoves the sunrise back to a benighted 7:27. Federally legislated in the U.S. in 1966, the practice saves a bit of energy but leads to all sorts of bad outcomes: It outright kills around 30 people each year, wounds more, turns our dear children into growling, under-rested hobgoblins and makes most of the rest of us grumpy. Want to help see it off? Sign the petition and call your congressional representative!

[2] The office elves give everyone books and the kids have a photo-opp with the Big Guy. They’ve been going since they were babies, and since the books are handed out in ascending age order, our kids pretty much close the place down at this point. The cookies keep them coming back, along with the snow globe making station. This year, Jack made an allegorical globe with thematic elements from Orwell’s Animal Farm. We all celebrate in our own ways.

[3] At 12, Ali has contrived a robust lexicon of invective euphemism, which I have borrowed from here. Very much a “letter of the law” girl, that one.


Justin P. McCarthy lives in Tiburon with his wife, Katie, and their three children--Jack, Ali, and Claire. He’d be delighted to hear from you at
More from this issue:

A Habit of Spontaneity HERE >> 

Embracing the Crown Over the Cape: Setting Boundaries for a Healthier You HERE >> 

Glad That’s Over HERE >> 

Move More in 2024 HERE >>

Postpartum Support Center: Wraparound Services for Perinatal Families HERE >>

The Power of Yet HERE >>