After turning 40 recently, I finally got to experience my childhood dream -- to play in a real ice hockey game.
Even better, I got to face off against my six-year-old son, Zachary, in a parents vs. kids showdown.
Before I share the guts and glory of the big game, a little context on why it mattered so much. And why the demands of being a hockey dad are worth it.
I grew up watching hockey religiously. I traded hockey cards. I went public skating. I played on the street. But the option to play the real game, on ice, wasn't there. My parents didn't have deep pockets. My mom saw it as a boorish, stick wielding fest of violence.
So I have spent nearly four decades wondering what it would be like to take a shot, make a pass or just be in the dressing room with teammates. Realizing that opportunity was slipping away as the years passed, I looked to the future. I resolved if I ever had a son, I would bend over backwards to give him the chance to play.
I don't pressure Zach -- ever. I encourage him and he loves it.
So Zach was on skates at three and playing houseleague at five. This year, he made a select team, the Thornhill Rebels. This was exciting, but challenging.
I'm a single dad. Dashing off to practice and games right after work is a mission. Getting him geared is often a frantic rush. It can be exhausting. The cost is high. It's a real sacrifice.
But there is something magical about it all. His team has bonded like brothers. I watch Zach skate with speed I could only dream to match. He's a defenceman and guards the blue line with commitment and authority beyond his years.
Then there are the parents. We are bonding just like the kids. Every game and practice is a social outing.
Am I living vicariously? Sure. But it's not unhealthy, as far as I can tell. I don't pressure Zach -- ever. I encourage him and he loves it.
So when I donned my vintage Mario Lemieux, strapped on a helmet, grabbed hold of a hockey stick and played in a real game, I was in heaven.
Well, it was a bit of a slippery heaven. It wasn't that I was nervous. On the contrary, I felt a sense of relief that I was finally living my dream. But I didn't skate smoothly at first. I 'accidentally' knocked over Zach! And I garnered a rink full of laughter when my shot hit the referees' backside.
But with each shift, I got smoother. I smiled. I joked with the other dads. Gave Zach a fatherly bump. I even rang a shot off the post. I was really playing hockey!
And I did it at the exact same moment my boy was on the ice with me. I couldn't have entered my 40s and ended my hockey virginity feeling any better. Final score: 11-4 for the kids. Never felt better losing.
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