Been a while since I cyber-scrawled anything here, but being the Dad of a 20-year-old Junior C player is quite a bit different than cabbing a minor hockey player around from rink to rink. I am sure fellow parents who I see at the games Momma and I go to will attest to fact the game and most of the things around it have changed. I got to thinking about this after a recent trip to watch the Boy play and in seeing parents in the stands at the World Junior Championships or NHL games. We are all still parents, of course, but our relationships with our kids and the game are naturally dissimilar from when they were just kids. At the same time, there are flashes of the former experiences from time-to-time. Here are a few examples of both sides of the coin and I welcome my fellow hockey dads n’ moms to chime in with their own recollections.
Every game now is an away game for us as the Boy attends University about 90 minutes away and his squad plays out of a small town near his school. And so, Momma and I find ourselves driving at least 45 minutes to see him play anywhere, while he arrives at most “away” games on a coach bus, with a buddy or in his overly-accommodating girlfriend’s car. Just last night, we followed his bus for a while on our way to his latest match; an odd sensation to be sure. One bonus difference now is we don’t have to actually be at the rink until puck drop, while in contrast, during his minor hockey days we’d stand around for an over an hour twiddling our thumbs or joining fellow parents on “parking lot patrol” (i.e. tailgating). Instead we now anxiously seek out local establishments for a pre-game appies and a libation. Game nights have become mini date nights. In this, different is good.
Because it’s Junior C, even the pre-game is a little different as we all stand and remove our caps for the playing, and in some hoity-toity arenas the singing, of the National Anthem. Silly pre-game rules have seen teams start with a player in the penalty box when they failed to have five skaters on the ice for the traditional on-ice ceremony. Another interesting rule is a 10-minute misconduct issued to any player who crosses the red-line into enemy territory during warm-ups; a reminder of how this level of hockey can get a little chippy and overly antagonistic. After all, they are still relatively young lads with testosterone coursing through their veins. In considering some of my own “non-contact/non-competitve” beer league games, this is something which will likely never change; regardless of age.
Once a game has started, the experience is both different and the same…for most of us hockey parents. My ability to cheer and/or “exhort” the officials to make the “right” call is somewhat compromised by both Momma and the Devil, who has attended a few games. “Don’t go yelling at the refs” they say. “You’re embarrassing us,” they plead. I (among others) admittedly need to be reminded this is “Junior C” hockey and quell my competitive instincts to vigorously voice my opinion. Inside this hockey dad (and I’m sure others like me), paternal instincts and feelings are very much the same as they ever were. I still beam with pride when the Boy makes a good pass, scores a goal (though these have been limited by his defensive role) or lays a good hit on an unsuspecting foe. My simple advice before every game has been consistent since he’s been old enough to body check, “Hit somebody!”, which I offer in selfish sincerity. And the Boy generally continues to oblige his dear ol’ dad. After the Boy has a good or bad shift, I will catch myself occasionally glancing at the bench to see what praise or criticism he’s received; sitting as a self-appointed, albeit biased judge and jury. I’ll mutter silent condemnations of my own where I feel their deserved, of which I’m allowed, cuz I’m the dad.
Post-game is a bit different too as previously we’d have an opportunity to discuss game high and low lights in some detail on the drive home, whereas now our drives are typically in our own vehicles and in opposite directions. So we settle for a few sound bites in the arena lobby or texts back and forth once we’ve reached home. Definitely not the same, but it’ll do.
As it nears its close, this season has been interesting for the Boy and his Shamrock mates. As an aside, I absolutely love the fact he plays for a team called the Shamrocks based in a little mock-Irish village plopped in the middle of south central Ontario. However, the Shams, as they are affectionately called, are not the luckiest bunch with a win-loss record placing them at the bottom of the Georgian Bay Mid-Ontario Junior C Hockey League (GBMJCHL) standings. Though in their case this fact has less to do with luck than commitment and talent. In some mid-season games the bench for some away games was fortunate to include much more than two full lines, while the home team iced nearly double the bodies. When they have a full squad, the Shams can compete with nearly any team in their league. The Boy, for his part, has had some of his own objections to on and off-ice decisions, which is his prerogative and which he has reportedly voiced. Something about not seeing the ice in OT after scoring an OT winner against the same team only a couple of weeks prior. Yeah, Dad pondered the irony too. And so the Shams will nudge their way into the playoffs with the hopes of pulling an upset against one of the league leaders. Kindly bow your heads and we’ll all say a wee Irish prayer to the @HockeyGods for them.
Regardless how different this season may be, I (we’re) thankful for the opportunity to watch him play again, when we thought it had all abruptly ended a couple of years ago. We’ve only a single regular season and hopefully a few more playoff date nights left, so we’ll be sure to cherish them and I’ll try to keep my disapproving mutterings to a minimum. #GoShamrocks
Fatherhood is hard. Yeah, there, I said it. Trumped only marginally by motherhood because of a nine-month gestation period and several agonizing hours of labour pain, we admittedly ill-equipped male halves of the species are charged by the Universe with helping procreate, nurture, protect and raise complex bundles of life from conception through the terrible twos, the teen years and ultimately into adulthood.
So where, we plead, is the operating manual for this Herculean task? Where might we find the cosmic instruction sheet or YouTube video on how to do all of this correctly; if there even is such a thing? If these paternal tomes exist, I certainly haven’t been privy to them, nor have I spoken with anyone who has. Rather, each of us is left to our own devices, our often questionable masculine intuition and what we can pick up from our own fathers, forefathers, friends, peers and otherwise experienced dads. For instance, my dad instilled an appreciation for all things sport in me. He’s also, no doubt, largely responsible for my competitive nature. He drove me to countless arenas both near and far for hockey practices and games when I was but a wee lad (insert short joke of your choice here for comic relief.) I’ve obviously followed quite closely in his footsteps.
However, the Dad Gods have also blessed me with a superb role model whose fatherly instincts are beyond reproach. You see, I have this friend who I can confidently say qualifies as a bona fide Super Dad. A man whose devotion, commitment and pride in his Boys is, in my estimation, equaled by few (present company excluded). And yes, I know lots of dads go above and beyond for their kids (present company now included), but this guy has consistently set the bar ridiculously high for the rest of us. From the moment each of his sons were born, he has sacrificed time and time again to bring his kids up properly, to steadfastly teach them right from wrong, to ensure they grew up to be fine upstanding young men. In this he has succeeded in spades and his pride shines through whenever he speaks about them or their personal accomplishments to date.
If you look up “dedication” in the dictionary, I’m positive you’ll find my buddy’s smiling mug. Some sports parents feverishly throw together pre or post-game snacks for their kids as they head out the door to the next field or arena. This guy literally spends hours filling coolers to the brim with homemade epicurean wonders; like 48 char-broiled, chicken souvlakis, a few dozen individually prepared spinach and pepper frittatas or mangos slices pared just so in order to maximize their tropical sweetness. His Boys, along with their no doubt salivating teammates, needed to eat and eat well they did.
Lots of dads take a little time off work to cheer at most of their kids’ games. My buddy has been known to drive five hours in one direction then back again to make sure he didn’t miss a minute of either Boy’s competition. All, of course, regardless the cost of food, gas, his time or anything else which might otherwise be a deterrent. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to see if he slipped up, so I could catch a glimpse of the red cape I suspect he’s been tucking under his collar.
And never mind his own kids, this dude is everyone’s favourite uncle. Each child naturally drawn in by his larger-than-life spirit and genuine caring nature. Or perhaps it was the sincerely appreciated, albeit unnecessary Christmas presents he delivered every year without fail or the $5 he’d leave under their pillows for the gracious loans of their beds to save him a late-night drive home. On several occasions he’d show up at a rink to watch the Boy or Devil play as he’d also done more than once for other friends’ kids. Post game he was their biggest fan (present company excluded for a second time.) Unca Poobs is quite simply the best!
The only real blemish on this gentleman’s sparkling resume is the time he ruined the Holidays by tackling a certain family’s Christmas tree and in so doing crushing several cherished ornaments. In his defence, the Scotch Pine had been needling him the entire evening and the host of the yuletide event was eggnogging him on. This transgression was quickly forgotten.
In the fatherly helper category, he’s also come in handy. For instance, on one occasion he deftly suggested the Devil consider substituting her somewhat provocative teenage apparel choice for a burlap bag and some binder twine, so an not to attract any pre-pubescent admirers. What father wouldn’t appreciate this kind of sensible fashion advice?
Right now, my dear friend is going though a pretty rough time (#fuckcancer), yet even in this, his ability to inspire only grows. His current circumstances are hardly keeping him from cheering on the sidelines of blustery November rugby matches. Whatever he’s feeling on the inside is tucked bravely away as he stoically roots his lads and their teams on. An opportunity to teach lesson in courage and perseverance is not lost on him
Overall, I think I’ve been a pretty decent dad, an accomplishment I owe in no small part to the example set by my fellow father. Thanks for helping me figure out how to do a fair chunk of this Brother. Methinks we done did good.
p.s. A GoFundMe campaign has been established here https://www.gofundme.com/eh96uwz8 for my friend to help cover some of his medical expenses. Please check it out and consider donating if you’re so inclined.
p.s.s. On a broader, related note, if you have another extra sec and can spare an extra shekel or two, bounce over to my #Movember page at https://mobro.co/imahockeydad to me help kick cancer’s ass and support men’s health. All us men-folk would be ever so grateful.
A photo from one of my bestest friends who said it reminded him of me n’ Momma. Yeah, we could definitely create one of these with our kids’ old sticks. Thanks Poobs.
Just when I thought I was going to have a nice relaxing, relatively rink-free Winter, the Boy has gone and messed up my plans to put my feet up and watch the World, along with the NFL season, go by. But, who am I kidding. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself for the next 10 or so years as I waited for the next round of Riddall progeny to strap on the blades. And yes, I am assuming the hashtag #imahockeygranddad is in my fairly distant future. However, it seems my return to the ranks of Hockey Dad is going to precede people in the stands respectfully referring to me as Gramps.
You see, early on in the Summer the Boy revealed a plan he and a university roommate hatched, which would see them make a triumphant return from minor hockey retirement to competitive action; a mere two years removed (or perhaps not so mere as time would tell) from their midget careers. I guess as they say, you can take the Boy outta Hockey, but you can’t take Hockey outta the Boy. I suppose I should know with each new beer league sign-up of my own. Both boys had become somewhat disillusioned/bored with post-secondary intramural play and happened upon a call for players from Junior C team in a town close to where they go to school. The reason this idea had to be morphed into an actual plan revolves around the fact the Boy does not own a vehicle, while the roommate does; automatically making them a package deal if the Boy was able to gain a roster spot. The Boy’s desire to make and actually play for this team became obvious in the Summer when I came home one night to find he had worn divots in my backyard doing shuttle runs to simulate hockey shifts. Explained why he offered a, “Sorry about the lawn Dad.” earlier in the day. He also reached out to his most recent Coach to see if he’s put in a good word with his soon-to-be evaluator. There was a clearly exhibited desire to play. Our only stipulation was and remains this “hockey thing” can not get in the way of his studies.
So two weeks ago, Momma and I shipped the lad back to his home away from home nearly a week early in order for him to begin the tryout process. Yup, back to the tryout game. We would attend the first skate as we had so many times before. Suffice it to say we could kinda tell he hadn’t really been on the ice for a coupla years, while most of his younger counterparts were a few months removed from their previous midget or Junior C seasons. Probably didn’t help to only have 14 skaters on the ice meaning few, if any, breaks between drills. The Boy spent most of those on bended knee gasping for air. But, in the end, they were all gassed and the Boy had done ok all in all. When I asked him how he felt on his way out of the dressing room he quipped, “That sucked. Maybe I don’t care if I don’t make this team.” He obviously forgot how much an end-to-end rush can hurt. I promptly replied, “Yeah, now you know how I feel.” bemoaning my own aging hockey bod. Two days later he would return for a second challenge, after which he texted to say he was having second thoughts about giving up some of his coveted weekends with friends to travel to faraway rinks. I got it, having once been a 20 year old uni student myself. My hockey dad retirement would continue unfettered and all was good.
However (you knew there had to be a however), it turns out the prospective team evaluators saw enough in the Boy’s couple of tryouts and apparently had a dearth of defensive options. The Boy’s roommate, who had already been signed by the team, told the Boy his presence was requested at the next skates, which would include a weekend, minimum three-game tournament. I could tell when I spoke to him his interest was renewed and somewhat piqued. Somewhere I heard Sally Field’s famous Oscar acceptance speech “…you like me. Right now, you like me!”
Five nights later, Momma and I found ourselves sitting in a nearby rink to watch the first game of the pre-season tourney. The game itself wasn’t pretty, but the Boy and his roommate represented themselves well in a one-sided 2-0 loss as half of the four defensemen who dressed for the game. If the Boy was gassed during tryout drills, this would certainly test his mettle along with his legs and lungs. Post game he complained about getting roughed up a little and favoured his shoulder. Par for the course I said and told him we’d likely be around for game 2 in the morning; cuz what else would we have to do on a Saturday morning?
Later the same night he called to report his shoulder was more than just a little sore, to the point where he thought medical attention may be in order. A few hours and a middle of the night trip to the ER later we received news of a sprained shoulder. Odd coincidence is he had sprained the other shoulder in the same rink a few years earlier. I’m going to suggest he avoids said arena if possible in the future.
Having sustained the injury and not able to participate in the remaining tourney games or any other “tryouts” for at least a couple of weeks, we assumed his journey back to competitive hockey had come to an abrupt end. Only two days later the next however arrived when he called to say he’d been offered a spot on the team. Somewhere between his brief showing, the dearth of players, his old coach’s no doubt flattering letter and his obvious enthusiasm to play the game, he found his way back to the ice. Congrats Boy!
Now, if I can somehow subtly suggest the Devil look into senior women’s hockey options, we’ll be set for another season. But I kid…I’m a kidder. A few of the Boy’s Junior C games here or there should be enough to satisfy this ol’ hockey dad for a bit. Yes, we’re delaying the inevitable, but the NFL isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll put those plans aside for a bit.