Originally published February 2003
-- Greg Meakin
It’s 5:30 Saturday morning. Outside, it’s pitch dark. A blistering Canadian winter awaits, scowling. Only a few courageous souls will venture out, only to be met by the ferocious wrath known as January in the northeast.
The temperature appears to be hovering right around five thousand degrees below zero. Being a dual citizen, it’s unclear to me whether it’s five thousand below Fahrenheit or Celsius. Whichever is coldest would be my guess.
Only cars with block heaters will even discuss starting-up this morning. Very large shovels will be essential to open negotiations leading to a peaceful settlement with the driveway.
Inside, it’s cozy in the tiny flat. A single lamp embraces the kitchen with a warm glow. A steaming bowl of Quaker Oats Cream of Wheat invites the sleepy ten year-old to the table. With Nestlé’s Quik mixed in, no less. You know, the way only moms used to make cool stuff like that!
The good old days when mothers could feed fun doses of sugar and fried foods to their kids without having CPS called.
Forget logic or health issues here anyway. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve tasted chocolate Cream of Wheat!
A peek at the clock and a tired mother hides her dread and says quietly, “Your hockey game starts at 6:30. We need to get going pretty soon.” She knows she’s facing the driveway, hoping the car starts, scraping the icy windows and the treacherous drive to the arena.
The freckle-faced, sandy-haired boy, sporting the Standard Issue brush cut and ‘60s plaid pajamas, sat reveling in the serenity and warmth of the moment in that kitchen.
He looked up smiling and said, “Isn’t this fun, Mum?”
I have listened to my mother tell that story to many people over the years. She would laugh because FUN was the LAST thing in the world she was having that winter morning in 1969. For adults, after a grueling and stressful workweek, a 5:15 alarm clock on a freezing Saturday morning is not historically known as a good thing.
My mother had no idea what the moment meant to me. The child was oblivious to the cold outside, and simply experienced the warm and cozy moment inside. Once she realized, it became a Kodak Moment for her, as well.
And such is the life of hockey moms and dads. It can be an ordeal, as I’m sure it was for my mother. But from all accounts, it is remembered as an equally fun time.
Obviously, this is not exclusive to hockey. It includes all sports, activities and interests that our young people pursue, or trip into.
And we’re not talking here about the handful of idiot parents who give youth sports a black eye, such as the “hockey dad” incident last year. It is widely recognized that – as with behaviors like “road rage” – such incidents are a social problem, an industry issue, not a hockey issue.
And that includes crazy parents that push their kids too hard, usually trying to have the child fulfill past dreams of the parent. Let the kid do what he or she loves. The youngster will let you know if hockey or figure skating is something to be taken seriously. Most parents oblige -- financial issues and scheduling allowing of course.
But it is indeed disappointing that since the dawn of time, it seems, a few bad apples can spoil it for all.
Adding to negative public perceptions is a national media, which tends not to write “boring” stories about the millions – indeed the great majority – of people in North America who are nice, regular folks and good parents.
Wherever there is an athlete who is too young to drive an automobile, there will be honorable parents or guardians hauling him or her to games and activities. It was then. It is now. And tomorrow holds the same promise. Promise or threat, depending on how you look at it!
The Ultimate Hockey Dad
A recent flashback: I’m seventeen and a brash Canadian midget hockey player. I stroll into the Dorval arena. Dorval is the airport town where I grew up, twelve miles from Montreal. Anyhow, I am being very cool, glancing for chicks or something, when my jaw drops. I look
onto the ice and gaze at Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, cruising the ice with a sweeping command of his stride.
The Boomer – retired NHL Hall of Famer and legend of 1950s Montreal Canadien folklore – was playing an adult house league game! I mean a guy who played with the likes of Béliveau and the Rocket. And demi-gods like Jacques Plante. Or being coached by, oh, eight-cup Toe Blake.
Geoffrion, as many Habs did back then, lived in Dorval while he coached his fabled Canadiens. His son Danny played Junior B for the Dorval Jets. Danny was just like his hockey dad – the big strides and the booming shot.
Despite being older, Geoffrion was still a frightening man on the ice. A “no slap shot” game only meant the goaltender’s mask being ripped off by a Bernie wrist shot! Or how ‘bout a snap shot? Yeah, a ninety-five mile an hour snap shot, eh goalie? The man is kind of an ageless wonder, à la Nolan Ryan, who will be a fireballer at eighty, for sure! You know, like a Dick Clark of sports.
This situation would be akin to say, John Elway dropping by to play touch football with a bunch of over-forty guys. They play poor, pick-up ball on Sundays just to get the collective hears pumping at least once a week.
Ok, let’s pick teams. I’ll take, uh, Elway. Hey John, you play, oh, quarterback. Like that.
Now Boom Boom Geoffrion is an exceptionally visible hockey dad, but everywhere I look even today, I see astonishing dedication and commitment made by so many “regular” parents when it comes to their kids’ sporting activities.
And it’s not just mothers and fathers. Don’t forget other guardians and supervisors such as uncles and aunts, big brother and sisters, coaches and family friends. Cheers to all of you.
Right there with our men and women in the armed forces, you are true heroes.