Zombie Hockey Dad Fights for his Right to Cheer

Photo US National Archives/Flickr

Son’s tryouts cause conflicting response from his number one fan

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. Not much matches the moment when the ball or puck suddenly ends up in front of your kid and he takes it down to the opposing end for a shot at a goal. I find myself actually moving my body as if I were steering a high-speed race car down the track. That said, I would probably be as invested to watch them write a math test but they don’t have spectators for those.

One time I was cheering on my son on a breakaway and, after the shot didn’t go in, I let out a cry of disappointment. 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 – the ones who bang on the glass and fog it up with their arena coffee breath chewing out their kid on the ice? 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. I am a cheering parent, not a hectoring or belittling one. There’s a big difference. 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 to aim for a big challenge. I was pretty ambivalent 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 heart-breaking disappointment on his face if he didn’t make it.

This process 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 colors 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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWB_COSUXMw

I feel taken over by something which causes me engage in equally self-destructive behaviour as the snail crawling out into the sun, eyestalks blazing. Why do I demand he 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 will at best reap the harvest of tears and disappointment, and at worst be condemned to three seasons of travel and endless hours in arenas—does this make sense? I tell myself I’m trying to impart to him that you have to work for your goals but I know I just come across as a nag and, even worse, 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 Plexiglas 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. He was a little teary and red-faced but 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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About Christopher Sweeney

Christopher Sweeney is a chauffeur, short order cook, quartermaster, frontline medic, and a laundryman – i.e. a Modern Dad. He is also a lawyer, University lecturer and writes award-winning graphic novels, screenplays, online games and other transmedia projects - as well as his blog and column Pop Culture about being a Modern Dad which also appears in Village Living Magazine. You can follow his ravings on Twitter @SweeneyWriter.

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