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?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

And there were wolves...

Do you know how there are inside pets and outside pets? Some animals are content to spend their days snoozing on the carpet where others need acres of open space in which to run until their tongues hang out a foot or so. I can say that my boys are outside animals. They are like Irish Setters which, if not run into the ground on a daily basis, are insane beasts which chew up your furniture and drive you as crazy as they are. As a result, I run those dogs into the ground at every opportunity. I never fail to marvel how they can run and jump and climb at top speed for hours at a time. HOURS.

This has had a not surpising effect - while in the short term it tires them out, long term they have become fast, strong and challenge-seeking kids who crave more of the same. Through small increments, they now engage in play behaviours that I never thought I'd be comfortable with. However, at each stage they prove they are capable of taking that next step so who am I to interfere? They love to climb climbers (but on the outside of them or on top of the railings, on top of the covered slides etc.), trees, telephone poles and guywires. My 7 year old's favourite activity is to climb to the top of our shed and read comic books up there. Every so often I encounter people who have not attained this level of Zen parenting.

This Saturday I took my kids to the school playground to tire them out before dinner and brought a bag of sports equipment. I was throwing the football with my 10 year old while the younger two roared around on the playground equipment. I was a little surprised when a new father (he had a one year old with him) came up to me and said to me somewhat agitatedly, "You should be careful." I was unsure what he was talking about and that must of been clear on my face so he went on, "You should be careful - they're jumping off the equipment."

"OK thank you," I said, which is parent code for "@#$% off."

He went on, "No, I'm serious. It's really high. It's like 5 feet high."

I looked over and just at that moment my 5 year old leapt from the platform down 5 feet to the sand. He stumbled, wobbled, limped for a second or two and then raced off to do it again. "It's OK thanks. They've done it before."

New Dad was in disbelief, I think, at my casual neglect but just at that moment a guy in his sixties walked his dog through the playground and cracked, "When we were kids, we jumped 10 feet and got up and kept on playing".

Though I was totally with The Codger on this point, I could see that this did not go over well with New Dad and so, in an effort to lighten the situation, I added, "And there were wolves..."

That didn't help. New Dad, peeved, spun around with his one year old cradled protectively in his arms and snarled, "Yeah yeah you were all real men, I know."

To which the codger replied, "No, we were kids."

New Dad, storming off, yelled back over his shoulder, "Exactly!"

Exactly? Hmm. Not sure New Dad got the best comeback there. Now, I can barely remember that time - being the new dad with the little baby and hyper aware of any possible threat to my son and heir. So while I forgive him his inexperience I think even back then I MAY have balked at offering parenting advice to someone with three healthy children older than my own. One thing I have learned through benevolent neglect, is that my kids are capable of doing way more than I thought they could or that I ever would.

Maybe New Dad will someday discover that. And discover how much he will appreciate unsolicted parenting advice. And that he can smile and say "OK thank you" and mean something quite different.

Monday, 10 September 2012


Profiling - a word most often associated with the FBI and psychopaths but increasingly a part of the starting/back to school process.

Part of the reams of paper that have made their way to our house in backpacks last week are these questionnaires called Student Profiles, where the parents have to fill out questions about their children. Every year I am struck by the absurdity of this process. First of all: Can anyone truly answer some of these questions? Secondly: If you can, would you be honest? Lastly: Is it of any use whatsoever?

Can you even answer some these questions about your child? This reminds me of the classic Simpson episode where Homer, after eating what he believes to be tainted blow fish at a Sushi joint (the chef takes off with the randy school teacher leaving his apprentice in charge), goes through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance - they crammed so much good stuff into those old episodes) and resolves to live his last day to the fullest. One of the items on Homer's bucket list is to pass a Cosmo-style questionnaire determining if he is a good father. He has to answer questions about his son's friends, interests, hobbies, heroes etc.

Embedded in this seemingly innocuous and helpful Profile questionnaire is a a booby-trap. If you can't answer these questions does that make you a bad parent? How does your child react to other adults? What are your child's favourite activities? How does your child respond to difficulties? What are your child's particular gifts? In the case of my one son - he's not even 5. He behaves like all five year olds - i.e a barely socialized psychopath. As for the other stuff, he plays make believe and likes to run around making a lot of noise. The older kids tell me nothing about their lives outside my immediate experience. Nothing. I'm thinking of hiring paid informants to gain intel. No parent has any idea what their kid is like away from them so how my experience will help is unclear. Those student reviews by the teachers in the report cards are always a bit of a surprise. "So and so is so patient and cooperative." He is?

Beyond ability to answer, do parents even answer these questions honestly? Parents see their kids through various lenses that do not necessarily reflect reality. "Johnny is a sensitive and gifted child who manages to combine good looks, athletic ability, artistic sensibility as well as a generous and wise soul." Have you talked to people about their kids? It's like when your friend gets a new girlfriend/boyfriend and they're all ga-ga talking about how awesome they are and when you meet them you're thinking "Really?" Asking a parent to describe their kid is bound to bear little relation to reality.

I pride myself on not having illusions about who my kids are - but I likely err in the other direction. My favourite question on the Kindergartener's Profile: How does your child respond to a difficult task? My answer: "He'll pretend not to know how to do it and then use his tremendous charm to get others to do it for him. And it works." Bet the teacher doesn't get many of those. Or this one: How do you deal with your child's frustration when he runs into conflict or difficulty? "I tell him to smarten up and I don't have time for his nonsense." Does that help, teacher? Or does it just reveal my limitations as a parent?

If it were up to me I'd just skip these Profiles but my wife is responsible and so she spends an hour or so filling in all these things while asking for my input. Bringing up another issue - parents who don't agree on the profile. My wife and I get along very well but are both very strong minded so we have engaged in extensive negotiations on these. It's got to the point where we're bargaining and I will get my answer to one question so long as she gets her answer for another. Leads to a fairly schizophrenic portrait, I'm sure. How separated/divorced parents deal with this I have no idea. And how about those parents who don't fill them out at all? What is the teacher supposed to do in these circumstances? The whole process reeks of futility - unless they are truly about something else...

I believe that these profiles are like an elaborate psychology test you get in University where you think it's testing one thing when in fact it tests another. These profiles are really about the parents. Those who go on and on - watch out for these parents - they need hand holding. Those brutally honest ones - hm they might want to know what's really going on. Those who skip the whole thing? Too busy, don't care, can't speak/write English - ignore them.

I'm currently trying to come up with answers that will really mess with the teacher's head.