Friday, 28 September 2012

Zombie Hockey Dad

The real hockey season has begun. Not that ridiculous money-poisoned sideshow which is the NHL, of course, but my kids' hockey. I love watching my kids play sports and get so  involved and excited to see them at it. That said, I would probably be as invested to watch them write a math test but they don't have spectators for those. I would like to stress here that I am a CHEERING parent not a HECTORING or BELITTLING one. There's a big difference.

I was never so offended than when, a couple of years ago, a Mum looked over at me as I shouted out some words of encouragement and said in contemptuous tones - "Wow, you're a real hockey dad." What? Me? One of THOSE guys? That caused me no end of shame and soul-searching. After a couple of days I realized that she didn't know what she was talking about. I just get really excited watching my boys, I root for them and I can't help my enthusiastic responses. So screw her and her repressed uptight judgment. Still I wished I had a good comeback.

This year my eldest son decided he wanted to try out for Selects (where House League players are SELECTED to be on a special team which plays against other arenas' Select teams). We had to move arenas so that he could do this and change various holiday plans to accommodate the tryouts - none of which I minded too much - I was glad he wanted on his own to aim for a big challenge. I was pretty ambivalent to say the least though about him making the team. The money, the time, the commitment to bad arena coffee etc. I also was fairly sure he wouldn't make it - is a Dad allowed to say that? I was dreading the comedown if he didn't make it.

He also created an interesting dynamic in me - he said he wanted to make the team but from what I could tell he wasn't really working towards it or practicing much. It is moments like this when I feel like a zombie snail.

What? You don't know about zombie snails? I learned about them through my son's science project last year. These snails are infected by a parasite which takes over their nervous system and causes them to crawl out into the open where their eye stalks swell to huge size and pulsate with psychedelic colours until some bird comes by and eats them (thus spreading the parasite to a new host which can spread it further afield). Here's a link:

I feel taken over by something which causes me to demand him to practice for a tryout which I am ambivalent about enrolling him in and which I even doubt he will make. And by encouraging him I may well reap the harvest of tears and disappointment - does this make sense? I don't think I've ever claimed that my behaviour makes any sense. The lesson I'm trying to impart to him is of course that you have to work for these goals but I know I just come across as a nag and he ignores me.

So, we struggle over to the rink for the first tryout. It was packed with people buzzing with stress and anxiety and dread. I'm talking about the parents here - the kids seemed pretty upbeat. You could actually smell it in the air. People try and joke about it, they don't really care etc. but it's not true. They care. Their eyes are glued to the ice. They mutter, they wince, they clench their hands, they let their coffee go cold. And I am one of them. I have been taken over by the parasite. All of a sudden, I really want him to make it. I shamelessly live vicariously through him.

After the first tryout we debrief and I give him yet another piece of advice on how to play i.e. don't drop so far back when the forward is coming in. I can't help myself and I know he is not listening but I do it anyway - I am possessed. After the second tryout he is actually selected to go to the final tryout where the final cuts are made. As I watch him at the third tryout, I can't believe it - he actually follows my advice and makes an amazing play. I am so happy. This whole thing was worth it for that moment alone. Across a sheet of ice and with plexiglass between us we share a father-son moment. Well, he was probably unaware of it but I sure was.

He did a great job, worked hard and I was extremely proud of how he did. A couple of other dads told me he looked like he might make it. Huh? This was not part of the plan. I had not actually contemplated getting this far. I started wracking my brains for how we were going to make this work with our already busy schedule, two other kids etc. In the end he got the call to say that he didn't make the team. I think he took it better than I did.

Somewhere deep inside myself I had to laugh at Zombie Hockey Dad who suspected politics, fixes and just plain bad judgement in the decision. I was careful not to say any of that to my son or the coaches but I did tell my son that I think they missed out on choosing him - he would've been the heart of that team. He sure made me feel that way.

So next time some officious so-and-so calls me a Hockey Dad I now know what to say in reply: "Yeah? So what?" Pretty good, huh?

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