I am running again. Not far or fast or carrying bricks in my hands to build up my arms like I did as a teenager. But I am running again, in the early morning when the sky is still gray and my breath smokes the cold air.

I used to run all the time but then Cathlin and I had children and something happened to my Achilles tendons. They tightened up so quickly and ferociously that for a time I could barely walk. I am not sure what caused this, but I have always suspected it was the stroller. Not a jog stroller, I never went in for that, but simply pushing a stroller may have altered my gait in such a way that even walking became difficult.

Or maybe it was because, in those early days, I found parenting so hard I wondered how the human race survived. There was nothing out of the ordinary, just the exhaustion and confusion that comes with raising a child. I wanted to run, but suddenly I couldn’t.

I tried all manner of stretches and therapies which helped a bit but still the ebb and flow of pain remained. And then this fall, 18 years after my son was born, they released; my Achilles let go of my calves or the undersides of my feet or wherever it is that these tendons latch onto and call home. I could walk without pain and I could run again. Nor far or fast but I could run again.

Perhaps I finally found the right stretch or maybe, and I hesitate as I write this, it is because Hardy, our eldest child, went away to college. The metaphor is not lost on me, the journey of parenting an Achilles heel, even crippling at times with the stress and strain on the mind and body. But although Hardy never slept as a baby, as he grew into a young man he made parenting easy and so I find it hard to put the blame on him.

And yet I am running again.

I was never on a track team. I began running to get in shape for wrestling, which was my sport beginning in the fifth grade until I graduated from college. In high school, when I needed to lose weight for a match I began to run longer distances dressed in layers of thick clothes and a plastic suit to help the sweat pour faster off my body. I ran from one end of my small New Jersey town to the other, down Greenbrook Road and back along Route 22. I ran in the dark of night, in the cold of winter, dreaming of beating up some kid I had never met before while friends and parents and teachers cheered me on from the bleachers.

In my twenties I ran marathons, freed from layers of sweats and the plastic suit. I lived in New York city and trained in Central Park, around the reservoir for short runs or the entirety of the park for longer runs, occasionally battling shin splints, plantar fasciitis and other difficult sounding words but always healing because I was young and without the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and in my Achilles.

I ran while living abroad, desperately trying to find the real me buried beneath layers of a confused self I had created without knowing it. While living in Taiwan I found a track that seemed as lonely and forgotten as I felt at the time. I ran there at night feeling more alive than I ever had before. One night I stripped down to just my socks and sneakers and ran laps naked, in the dark, in Taichung because I finally felt so free I couldn’t stop myself.

I ran in China before being escorted out of the country, as all foreigners were during the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. I ran in Prague just after the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I ran in Poland after visiting Auschwitz and my heart hurt so much I couldn’t sleep for days.

I ran while climbing the corporate ladder and I ran while unemployed. I ran from loneliness and then from commitment.

I ran with my mother at the start of the New York city marathon, and I ran with my older brother in 1975 on the night we first watched Rocky at the Island Theatre in Oak Bluffs. After the movie we went immediately to Waban Park and ran laps deep into the night, silently but together and never getting tired.

And then I stopped running because it hurt too much. Again, I could blame the children, and I still have suspicions about the stroller, but I also wonder if my Achilles were trying to tell me something, not that the journey of parenting was too hard but that I needed to stop running and pay attention to what was in front of me. I had become a father, the only thing I have always known I wanted to be. My life finally made sense, right there in front of me, watching my children grow from infant to toddler, from pre-school to high school.

But now I am running again, lacing up my sneakers in the early morning while my son, home from college for winter break, sleeps in his room. It hurt when we dropped him off at his dorm room in September and I missed him deeply this fall as the family learned to regroup as three instead of four. But I find I miss him more intensely now that he is home, his presence a more acute reminder of his absence.

And so I run. Not far or fast. But I am running again.