Updated: Jun 12
My father is a wonderful man. Kind, honest, humble and respectful of everyone around him. A man who moved his family to a different country so that his children could have a better life.
However, as an immigrant, he committed the unforgivable sin of not knowing how important hockey was to Canadian culture when we moved to Canada in 1972! We moved here from Tanzania two weeks before the start of the Summit Series. I was four years old. Clearly, he wanted us all to get here on time to watch that, no?
Dad is a huge hockey fan now, but back then? Not so much. As a result, I spent my years in elementary school begging my parents to let me join hockey. The answer was always no. Too expensive. So, I grew up playing soccer and other sports not named hockey. In the 4th grade, they asked me what I wanted for my birthday: a new bike or the chance to play hockey? I chose hockey. I got a bike.
Finally in the 6th grade, they let me join. By the time I finally got on the ice, I was behind. Everyone else had been playing for years, even back then. By the end of the year, I went from awful to average. I even scored a couple of goals (I think). But I loved everything about it. From the early morning practices to falling on my ass, I felt Canadian!
At the end of the season, dad said no more. The early morning practices were too much. So that was it. My minor hockey career lasted one year. But that’s ok. A few years later I began to play the greatest team sport ever invented, Football. It changed my life forever.
But, when hockey ended for me at the age of 11, I came to one conclusion. I made a promise to myself - that if I ever had a son, he would get to play hockey. As the realities of what minor hockey looked like became evident to me as a sportscaster, a private wish accompanied my promise. I hoped that my hockey-playing son would either hate it or suck. Well neither happened, so now I’m living my dad’s life.
My son Luke is far from a prodigy, but he’s a good player. Good enough to skate with the top kids and compete for spots on the top teams. Most importantly, he loves it and he likes to compete. Same story in football… and lacrosse…and basketball.
This isn’t meant to be humble brag, he just loves sports. With a dad who is a sportscaster and a coach, he’s been around it a lot. He’s grown up at BC Lions practices, playing catch with the players, and talking to the Sedins and Elias Petterson in the Canucks locker room. He’s had experiences most kids haven’t.
But at the same time, I’ve tried to make sure I wasn’t pushing him too hard. And, that he wasn’t doing it for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever know if I succeeded, but most people who’ve been around him can attest the love he has for it is real.
And it’s because of that love that I’ve tried to give him as much as possible. But not gonna lie, it’s been hard. Dad was right: It’s too expensive. The more he wants to do, the more we try to make it work. There’s always a camp, spring hockey, private instruction or a club. Despite all that we do, I can honestly say I feel like sometimes we don’t do enough. The people around us do significantly more.
Most of Luke’s teammates last year made the decision at age 13, to attend various hockey academies around the province that will cost $20,000 to $50,000 per year. With Luke now wanting to prioritize football, we have made different decisions regarding sports, which have their own costs.
This is not a criticism of anyone involved. My son has met fantastic people throughout his time in all his sports so far. The coaches and trainers he’s had have been incredibly positive influences in his life. And while I’m far from rich, I’m certainly aware that there are many other people who have it far worse than me and have had to tap out of hockey far earlier than we will.
No one should feel sorry for us. You know why? Because we also bought our nine-year-old daughter a horse! Yes, Hockey and Horses, also known as SPS (Stupid Parents Syndrome). Not sure how I was going to say no to Nora, given what we were doing for Luke.
Nora’s interest in team sports is… meh… She’s tough as nails and could be a better athlete than Luke. But for her, team sports are more like playdates with balls, sticks and stuff. It breaks my heart, but seeing her on that horse also melts my heart.
Nora is generally a bull in a china shop, who is constantly distracted. But on that horse, she is locked in – completely focused. My only saving grace is that she has no desire to compete in equestrian shows (or whatever they’re called). She tells me flat out that she “does not want to be judged” and that she never wants to be upset at her horse if things don’t go well. Who could argue with that?
Some parents with more than one child play “zone.” But, my wife Mary and I play “man to man”. Mary grew up on a farm with a horse and she now has her farm girl. So, she does most of the work when it comes to riding. I’m the definition of unhandy and am useless on a farm.
When I go watch Nora ride, everything she does is awesome to me. Mary critiques her posture and other details. We reverse roles at Luke’s football games, where I’ve been lucky enough to coach him since he was five.
For Nora if it’s not horses its cheer. She is there to cheer on her brother at all of his football games. But once the games end, she doesn’t stop trying to tell him that cheer is harder than football. Plus, “cheer gives me confidence in myself… and it helps me to find my voice and use it loud and proud!” Boy, does it ever!
In the moment, those conversations can be annoying. But ultimately, I think they might be what I miss most in my entire “career” as a sports dad. I will miss the drives. Both kids talking about what they did well or wish they had done better. Even in this strange year where I couldn’t watch any of Luke’s practices or games, I got to drive him there. For Nora, that darn farm is 45 min away! But, whenever I take her I love the conversations. No devices or air pods, just talking. That girl has always been able to tell stories. She always asks me “would you rather…” questions, and we always play the alphabet game.
I know this is meant to be a Father’s Day blog and not an advice column, but please let me offer this. Every spring when I coached football, I would bring the parents in for a meeting. I would emphasize to them the biggest disconnect for sports parents comes when their kids transition from club sports to school sports. In club sports, we drive them everywhere and we can keep the conversation going. Once they join school sports, the kids stay after school for practice and are generally old enough to make their way home. So, we lose that connection from that drive.
Sports always provides a common bond and gives you something to talk about. It gives you moments to celebrate and moments to commiserate. The lessons kids learn are real, and sometimes parents are needed to interpret the message and at other times, to pick up the pieces. My goal in the coming years, as I’ve asked so many parents to do, is to find new ways to keep that connection.
When my wife and I most recently did an annual budget, we took a look at a Canadian budget guide. We were basically in the ballpark in every category, except kid’s activities. I think we spent around 30% more than we should. As a result, I may need a few extra years to retire. But, I’m not sure I would change a thing.
We’ve had so many great experiences and made so many great relationships. My best friends are the parents of my kid’s teammates, even if the kids no longer play together. Ultimately, we made our choices and have no regrets. But I do see the end of the road coming, so I will appreciate another Father’s Day as a sports dad, and enjoy every minute.
And to my own dad, thanks for giving us everything you could, for teaching me about sacrifice, and for coming to so many of Luke and Nora’s games.
In the meantime, both Luke and Nora are grinding me hard to get a dog - something I want no part of. I told Luke, “It’s because I didn’t get to play hockey that you did. So, you can tell your own son the same thing when it comes to a dog!”
Happy Father’s Day…
In honour of Father’s day and family I will personally be donating the net proceeds of sales from my websites on line store from June 11th to June 30th, 2021 to two charitable organizations that are close to my heart and mind:
Please go to the store now and shop for two great causes.
Please also drop me a line on the Get in Touch with Farhan tab.