Posts Tagged ‘shinny hockey’

The Gold Medal for Dad or Oh Canada!

March 3, 2010

Horace Stewart turned fifty years old on February 28, 2010. To look at Horace, you’d never know that he was half a century old. Horace spent his free time biking, running, swimming and playing ice hockey. Horace played ice hockey four days a week. He played on a forty and over men’s team in Brampton and then with the Toronto area Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s second team of men over the age of thirty five. Then there was the Sunday night shinny hockey or open hockey, as it is widely known as in the United States.
Horace woke up that Sunday morning and went to the local Catholic Church. Horace was raised Anglican as he was of British descent but after his wife left him nearly ten years earlier, Horace began to go to the Catholic church to meet other single or divorced people. Horace had been seeing a few women but they all seemed to come apart after the age of forty five. It was as if a bomb went off inside each and every one of the women he met. Horace was never sure what the cause of the interior combustion was but he suspected it was menopause compounded by the realization that life was changing in tangible ways like falling summer leaves in a cold stark autumn. There were always the rink rat women who hung around the lounge above the hockey arenas who watched the games and then chatted with the players after. Some found their way into the homes and beds of the various adult male hockey players and occasionally Horace was driven by loneliness to take on one of the rink matrons for the night. Mostly though, Horace was alone.
Horace’s job kept him busy and he had moved all over Canada working for the RCMP. He helped bust drug rings in aboriginal areas and murder cases in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Horace put in for a permanent post in Ontario when his wife left him after twenty years of marriage. His wife Madeline had met a real estate investor from the United States and was living in San Diego, California. Horace never spoke to Madeline but could not refrain from asking his son and daughter how there mother was. Bill was on the cusp of thirty years of age and Alison was twenty six years old. Neither of Horace’s offspring was married but each had jobs and busy lives. They usually checked in with their dad by leaving him messages on his antiquated answering machine at home that had the same recording on it since they were children.
“Hello… You’ve reached the Stewart Family… We’re not in but if you’d kindly leave a message, we will be sure to return your call… BEEP.”
Horace returned home from church the Sunday of his birthday and saw the digital display showing that he had three messages, one from Bill, one from Alison and one from a woman he had met at a bar the week before. The woman lived near Vaughan and she bred some kind of little dogs that looked like their faces were smashed at birth with a frying pan. Horace had finished playing his league game and engaged the woman in a conversation on which nation was going to win the gold, silver and bronze in the winter Olympics in Vancouver. The woman believed that it would be the Russians, Swedes and Czechs. Horace didn’t agree.
“The Russians have no work ethic anymore. Ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, they don’t have anyone there to put a bayonet in their spines and tell them that they will excel or go to the gulag… Swedes? Maybe bronze. Most of them are playing for Detroit and Detroit is suffering this year. Czechs… Maybe silver. Gold is going to Canada. This is our sport and it is being played in this country in front of thousands of cheering fans. It will be Canada eh?” said Horace passionately.
“Well Mr. Mountie… Care to see my pugs?”
Horace woke up with his arm underneath a woman with more lumps than half day old oatmeal, varicose veins, sags, cellulite and a hairy bush. Horace was afraid to wake the pug farmer. Somehow he was able to slip his arm free, dress and escape before breakfast was forced upon him. The woman had his number but little else.
“Hey baby… I had a great time the other night. Why don’t you give me a call so we can figure out where we’re going for Italian in Toronto … Gimme a call, babe. Okay, hope to hear from you soon… BEEP.”
Next message.
“Eh Dad… Was hoping to tell you happy birthday live… Well um… Hope you’re doing something special today… Talk to you later,” said his son Bill.
Next message.
“Hi daddy… Happy birthday… You might be a year older but you’ll always be like Peter Pan. If you get a chance, call me back… Okay daddy, be good and no fighting,” said Alison.
Be good and no fighting was what Horace had always said to his children all while they were growing up. It was his way of saying, I have to leave now and I love you. Horace was an involved father who saw above average abilities in his two children in the sport of ice hockey. Horace coached his children locally until they moved on to higher levels of play. His children’s hockey was his love and hobby. Bill quit around the age of eighteen even though he could have gone on to play juniors and then Alison went to the states to play division I college hockey for a year, quit and returned home to learn how to play an acoustic guitar and mentored poor students from India and Pakistan in after school programs in Toronto. Both children quitting hockey crushed Horace. The final blow was the letter from his wife Madeline when she had moved to the United States to be with her investor.

Dearest Horace,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you. There is nothing that you did in particular to warrant my departure. You are at face value, a good and simple man and it might be the predictability and realization that I will not live forever and may never see, do and experience all the things in life that I had hope to experience when I met and married you as a young woman who was little more than a child. You’ll have your hockey and other exercise to occupy your time. Know that I love you even though I have out grown this relationship. I wish you all the best.



Horace repeated “all the best” to himself over and over again the night he found the letter and noticed that his wife’s wardrobe had vanished with nearly a hundred pairs of shoes. Horace marveled at the fete of moving so many things during the course of eight hours. It was a monumental task that had to have been orchestrated carefully and pulled off with blistering speed. When Horace returned the house nearly echoed with emptiness. It had been ten years and the emptiness, loneliness and regret over not being a more well rounded and interesting man, constantly haunted him.

It was a few minutes past three in the afternoon when Horace returned home from the gym and had picked up a sandwich and soup at Tim Horton’s. The gold medal match between the United States and Canada was about to begin. Horace spread the sandwich out on the coffee table and dipped the sandwich into the soup in between swigs of his favorite beer called Rickard’s Red. Horace was as charged up as he had been as a young boy listening to Hockey Night in Canada on his transistor radio in his bed as a boy when he was supposed to be sleeping. Horace yelled and clapped and made comments that were inaudible to anyone but his Dalmatian that he named Stripes.
It was during the beginning of the third period when Bill and Alison showed up together with a cake. Both were aware that their father was going to be deeply engrossed in the most important hockey game for Canada in years. Horace greeted his children the way children greet their parents while playing a video game; a head flip for a hello and a raise of the eyebrows. Bill and Alison sat on the couch beside their father and watched as the seconds ticked away towards a Canadian victory. With less than thirty seconds to go in the game, the United States pulled their goalie to gain another attacker or a 6 to 5 man advantage.
“Holy cats! All they had to do was get the blaming puck oat of the zone. It’s a simple, basic thing you teach the youngsters at the age of five. You put a little English on the puck so it dies just before the goal line so there’s no icing, for the love of god. Now over time… You know if the Americans win, nobody will give a damn the day after. They probably got more people watching college basketball right now in the states than this game. I heard they put all the hockey games on some kind of cable news program where hardly nobody could find it… Send more men to the damn moon, will ya? For Pete’s sake… This will be the national disgrace if we lose this one.”
Now Bill and Alison really wanted the Canadian national team to win. Alison knew a few of the woman who had played on the women’s hockey team and was happy to see them win a few days earlier against the United States. Bill still played occasionally but had become so burned out on the necessity to excel, that his love for the game was all but killed off. They both saw their father as a one dimensional character as did their mom and had resented the fact that hockey and their ability to excel at the highest level, was what seemed to matter most to their father. Alison was annoyed with the passion and let her father know indirectly.
“I sure hope they win the gold for your sake, dad… I don’t know if the world will still be spinning tomorrow if Team Canada loses. People are dying in Haiti and Chile from natural disasters but I’m sure god has made Canadian Hockey a priority today,” said Alison sarcastically.
Horace was taken back. He never asked for either of his children to come visit him for his birthday and certainly would not have asked for them to come in the middle of the gold medal game. Horace was on his fourth Rickard’s Red and could not prevent himself from speaking without great emotion instead of thoughtful consideration.
“That’s the kind of stuff I’d have expected from your mum, eh? Who asked either one of you to come here today, eh? I did what I was supposed to as a father and I did what I thought was right. You kids were never beat or starved or belittled by me or your mum. My mistake was assuming that hockey meant as much to you as it did to me. I love the sport for everything it isn’t. It isn’t work and my whole life ever since I married has been work and the need to provide and hockey has and always been my escape. I don’t know what your escape is but I hope whatever it is doesn’t kill you… You two can take your cake and get the hell out of here. You both felt some sort of guilt or obligation to come see me for my birthday, eh? Well let me absolve you of any obligatory visits in the future. I wasn’t and am not what you wanted or expected of me as a father? Well I have a few dashed expectations when it comes to you two and your mum. Take your cake and get the hell out of my life. Let me watch the damn game in peace.”
With that, Bill and Alison grabbed the cake and left without saying another word or making eye contact with their father. Horace sat on the couch regretting all he had said to both of his children. The game resumed in overtime and concluded with a give and go play between Jerome Iginla and Sydney Crosby. Crosby scored the winning goal. Horace cried as he sat on his couch. The win was an empty win. Horace had driven away two of the most important people in his life because he was hurt. He wanted to say something else and it came out the wrong way. It was during the national anthem that Horace got on his computer and sent an email to both his children in attempt to apologize.

Dear Bill and Alison,
There are few days such as today that will live in the memories of Canadians everywhere and it is not one that I will ever forget. What will stay with me more is how I sent my children out of my home on my fiftieth birthday. Few days live in our minds and days get blurred and forgotten with the hectic pace of life. The days that each of you entered this world are and will always be with me as the happiest days of my life. There I was a brand new parent with Bill weighing almost nothing in my arms, so helpless and fragile and he grew to be a big strong man who is a good man. Then a few years later came Alison and I held her wondering what I would ever have in common with such a beautiful little girl. I shared with you the things in life that I loved most. I’m sorry if you ever felt that your success in hockey determined your worth with me. I have and do love you because you are a part of me and your mom and are evidence of a time that I loved your mom and she loved me. I want you to know that I am sorry for what I said today. If I don’t hear from you either of you for a while, I understand. I’m not a perfect man and might never be. I just want you to know that I tried the best I knew how to and I hope you can appreciate me for that.

Love Dad

Horace shut down the computer and watched the post game interviews along with clips of a beaming prime minister and Wayne Gretsky until he dozed off on the couch. When Horace woke, the sun had nearly set and trees outside the window stood out against a bluish black sky. Horace tried to decide if he was going to go play shinny at nine in the evening with the group he had played with for over twenty years. Horace was feeling a bit too despondent to want to play but far too lonely to just stay home. In the locker room, men put on their hockey equipment and discussed various points of the game. Horace just listened. One of the men asked Horace why he was so quiet. Horace attributed it to his birthday. Everyone laughed. The men warmed up and began to play. Horace was at the far end of the ice when the door opened and two skaters skated across the ice to get on the bench. Horace could tell by the way the two carried their bodies who they were immediately. Tears welled up in Horace’s eyes and he just stood for a moment as his son and daughter waved to him. The tears dried as Horace raced to the corner to beat the opponent to the puck. Players began to change and Horace could hear his daughter bang her stick and call for the puck at the blue line. More than the cake or the gold medal for the nation, playing pick up hockey on a Sunday night with his children was the greatest thing to Horace. It was an event that will stay with him as a special moment for the rest of his life.