The Athlete

When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town in 1991; people wanted to hear about my adventures. When I started this blog I promised to republish some of those old pieces, then I got sidetracked. 

 Over the next little while I want to revisit some of the articles that have stood the test of time. Or at least I think they have. They’ll be a change of pace anyway. I don’t intend to do much in the way of editing, but may make the odd comment in italics. This one seemed appropriate for this time of yer with the NHL playoffs on TV every night.

I really hadn’t given a sports career for my children much thought before Paul was born. I’m not the athletic type; my sports career peaked at road hockey in my pre-teen years.

I did try organized baseball for one season. I was the reserve right fielder for a house league team. (For those of you who haven’t played the game, you stick your worst player in right field where he or she can do the least damage. To be a reserve right fielder meant you couldn’t be trusted to catch the ball if it was hit in your direction.)

So how did I wind up with a two-and-a-half year old jock?

You name it, he plays it. The hall in our apartment has been used for hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis and basketball – and that is just this week. (Not much has changed in the past 24 years. I don’t think Paul has ever found a sport he wouldn’t try, and be good at.)

Paul can barely stand on skates (and bob skates at that) unless you put a hockey stick in his hand. One evening this past winter he found a five-year-old at an outdoor rink who was willing to  let him play. His mother literally had to carry him away after half an hour – because she was cold. He would have stayed all night.

Of course this is his favorite time of year for television viewing. For the first part of the NHL playoffs there’s a hockey game on every night. He enjoyed the winter Olympics too, especially since the games were often on television in the mornings. He complained bitterly about switching to skiing or skating between periods – he would prefer to see the Zamboni at work.

Mind you, I wasn’t thrilled with who he decided to cheer for. His favourite team was the Russians, for reasons only he knows. Team Canada didn’t seem to cut it for him.

Going to games here he was even more excited. He doesn’t make a distinction between junior, the NHL and international levels of hockey. It is all the same to him, with some notable exceptions.

We went to see the Flying Fathers play last fall. What they do is as more entertainment than hockey, and Paul really enjoyed it. But the next time we went to see the Lumber Kings play he was a little upset – there was no clown perched on top of the boards by the goal judge. He wanted to know why not? I am not sure he accepted my explanation.

So I guess I am doomed to an existence my father never had to worry about. Getting up to drive a kid to the arena for a 6 a.m. practice won’t bother me – I’m awake early anyway. The cost of equipment is more my concern. The most I ever paid for a hockey stick in my road hockey days was $5. These days I doubt you could buy a broken one for that price. (The cheapest child’s hockey stick I could find was on sale for $30. You don’t want to know what a adult stick costs!)

Paul already has a hockey stick, three of them in fact. One is a Lumber Kings souvenir stick that was too big for him a year ago and is too small now. It was $2.50 and a great investment for the amount of fun he’s gotten out of it. The second stick, the one I use, is somebody’s castoff that we found in a field last spring. The blade is short and the shaft had to be trimmed to size, but it fits the bill for us. His third stick, a plastic and sponge thing we usually use as a goalie stick, cost less than $5. The sponge puck that came with it is useless in our carpeted hallway, but we prefer to use balls anyway.

Skates haven’t been a major expense yet as bob skates fit nicely over Paul’s boots. I suppose next year we will have to go for something with only one blade, but maybe by then the hockey mania will have faded. (It didn’t. He played organized hockey starting at age 6 for several years, but soccer and badminton eventually supplanted it.)

I suppose it is quintessentially Canadian to have a hockey player in the family. At least if he makes it to the NHL he will be able to buy his parents tickets to the games. We’ll never be able to afford it otherwise.

Most importantly though, I want him to enjoy hockey. If he has the talent and the desire to play professionally, we will support him in that. (I’ll never know if he had the talent to make it to the NHL. His closest friends weren’t playing hockey, so we didn’t push it. I like to think he could have made it, but we’ll never know.)  But it can’t be talent alone. I won’t push him into a hockey career to live out my frustrated dreams. I’ve seen too many parents who take the fun in sports away from their children. The choice is his.

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