“The Ritual” – My Dad, My Family and Hockey
“Button, you silly cat, get off of that window ledge!”
I remember being awakened by my father’s persistent yelling at our mischievous cat one Saturday morning. Then again, when you are 14 years old and jaded everything your parents say is somewhat annoying. I’m not sure whether it was what he said or how he said it. Regardless, it made me roll my eyes as only a teenager can.
I was just a typical Canadian kid. I liked hockey – it was as cemented in my DNA as my eye colour or the fact that I write with my right hand. I had played and watched the game as far back as I could remember. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of my father allowing me to sneak out of my room and join him to watch “Hockey Night in Canada” (Canada’s version of Monday Night Football) while my mother lay in bed pretending not to notice. It was this ritual that I remember, not the game itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about a single game I ever watched as a young kid because that wasn’t what drew me to the television. Rather, it was the flicking on and off of the lights by my father to signal that “it was time” that made the game special.
I will always be thankful for my mother. “What about your father?” you might ask. That seems so obvious, but I argue that he got to have the fun. It was my mother who sacrificed sharing in this ritual so that we, my father and I, could have that bond, which we have to this day. I have never told her that.
My brother, Jeff, played hockey too, but he gave it up after only a few seasons. I guess it just didn’t go well for him and he didn’t have the interest. He didn’t really watch it on television either, even though we asked him countless times to share in our ritual. For the record, this wouldn’t be the first time that Jeff was left out despite our pleading. I wonder if this bothered him.
Most evenings of my childhood were spent playing road hockey until the streetlights came on. Winters were always a struggle, but not because of the five or more inches of snow that slowed the frozen tennis ball down considerably; that was just one more element to add to the fun. Instead, we dreaded winter because it meant that the streetlights would come on by 6:00pm. A dozen or so familiar faces from around my neighbourhood would join in the game each night, including my father. He was the only dad that played. It was all perfect. Hockey was more than just a game; it was a culture, even for a young boy.
By the time I was about nine or ten, I can remember not finding the ritual of watching Hockey Night in Canada with my father to be as interesting. He was just as enthusiastic about the ritual, and my mother was trying her best to continue her role, but it was me that was having the difficulty. I don’t know why, but it lost its luster. I still liked hockey; it just wasn’t as fun to sneak out of my room. Of course by this age I knew my mother wasn’t really sleeping, so perhaps that took away some of the magic, kind of like finding out that Santa was really my dad.
As I got a bit older, into my teens, my relationship changed drastically with my father, and the horrible part is that I know the exact minute when that happened. We were going to the park with our hockey nets and my father was putting on his shoes, getting ready to come and play. Carelessly I said to him, “Dad, I think I’m just gonna play with my friends today.”
“Okay”, he said, as he took off his shoes and placed them by the front door. I didn’t try to hurt him, but I knew I had.
The next morning, as my tabby-coloured cat was perched in the morning sun on our window ledge, I had the nerve to be annoyed at my father. That was the exact moment when our relationship changed once more. I was wrong, completely wrong. This is when I learned what it meant to take something, or someone, for granted. As I lay in my bed, memories raced through my mind. I remembered the “ritual” and what it really stood for – the uncompromising bond between father and son.
Though we don’t play hockey together any more, that game has shifted to my two-year old son, Nicholas, we still watch it on television. For the first 14 years of my life my parents sacrificed so much. Of course my mother would have, and did, everything for me, but the difference was that I never wounded her like I did my father. It is not the fact that I asked my father not to play hockey with me and my friends anymore that I regret most, as that day comes for all fathers. Rather, it is that I have never spoken about it with him and offered any form of explanation or apology.
Now, as I play with Nicholas and Thomas, I wonder how long our rituals will last.
I should call my father, maybe there is a football or baseball game we can watch tonight.