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How I Became a Successful Fitness Model (who works out with his kids)

I grew up spotting my dad in our home’s garage gym. Almost as far back as I remember, my father had me standing behind him as he pounded out reps on his old Weider bench press. I would watch the bar go up and down and stand ready to grab it if needed.

Throughout the 80s, my dad was the guy in a sweatband and sleeveless shirt who insisted on moving a few hundred pounds of iron around in his garage several days a week. When the 90s rolled around, having a legit home gym wasn’t common, but my dad was still hard at work, sweating in the humid southern summers and freezing in the wet winters.

John Prather Superhero Dad

At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual it was to have a dad that worked out regularly. It was normal to me. It never occurred to me that there was a reason my dad was fit and healthy while all the other dads in the neighborhood were overweight and out of shape. It also never registered to my young mind that my dad was teaching me things I didn’t even realize I was learning until much later.

Fast forward a few years. I moved to Los Angeles with almost fifteen years of regular exercise under my belt and became a successful fitness model. I found myself on the cover of the magazines I grew up seeing my dad reading. Throughout my career, people often asked how I could become a fitness model without steroids, and my answer was always the same: I’m consistent. But in retrospect, it goes deeper than that. If you asked me today, I would say it’s the consistency my dad taught me as I watched him be consistent.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I learned from my dad. The lessons often came without him uttering a word. Now I have four children, and I exercise in my home gym and backyard gym. It’s two thousand miles away from the garage I grew up training in, but it feels far closer most of the time. When I’m pounding out reps on the bench press, my kids are often right behind me, watching the bar go up and down. It turns out I’ve decided to take a few pages from my dad’s playbook.

My dad led by example.

My dad never forced me to exercise. As far as I remember, he never even suggested I start a workout program. But the fact that I saw him consistently prioritize fitness had a lasting effect on me because I've exercised consistently for the last two decades. It’s yet to be determined if that consistency will transfer to my kids, but I’m betting it will.

My dad encouraged every attempt.

I would be dishonest if I tried to minimize the joy I get from being on the cover of the fitness magazines I grew up seeing my father read. Being able to show the work he inspired me to do is an honor. He was my biggest fan. But he didn’t become a fan when I landed on the cover of Muscle & Fitness; he was a fan during every failed rep and every mediocre placing of every fitness contest I ever entered. My dad encouraged the attempt even more than the result. That’s something I intend to emulate.

My dad was ahead of his time.

I clearly remember many of the parents in our neighborhood peering out their windows at my dad as he exercised. My dad was ahead of his time. He told his children he loved them and gave them hugs at a time when fathers were known for a sterner approach. He had eight kids when two kids and a dog were standard. And he exercised at home even though it was seen as weird. But part of the reason I am who I am is that he dared to be who he was, even when that wasn’t normal. Occasionally I get a few strange looks when I’m doing lunges down the sidewalk with a child on my shoulders, but thanks to my dad, I take those stares as a compliment.

My dad invited us to join in his passion.

My dad was one of my heroes. I’m not sure many kids can say that these days. We live in a time where pop stars and athletes are heroes, YouTube and social media stars are heroes, and actors who play superheroes in movies are heroes, but rarely dads. I’m not sure why that is because children are born thinking their parents are superheroes, and it's our job as parents not to give them a reason to change their minds. I learned one of the best ways to keep them from changing their minds from my dad as I watched him sweat, struggle, and persevere…exactly like a superhero.

John T. Prather

John Prather is an author, actor, and fitness model based in Los Angeles, California. You might have seen him in Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, GQ magazine, or on the TV playing a superhero or advocating for foster care and adoption. He is the author of The Nephilim Virus and numerous published articles on family and fitness. The accomplishment he’s most proud of is being the father of four young children. You can find out more at johntprather.com.

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