I spent all my life dreaming that I would make it in the bigs, playing hockey professionally, being a star in the NHL, and putting up with all the glory that comes with it. Yes, the money. I could almost touch it.
I’m thirty-four years old and I still have the fire in me. Lying on the couch, watching hockey with my dad, sipping beer, brings back memories of what I could have been. I turned and looked at my dad stuffing his face with chips, dipping them in his own special sauce (ketchup with salt and pepper) and washing down the concoction with an old Milwaukee.
He sensed that I was watching him, so he stopped mid-chip, turned his head and stared at me. “What are you looking at son? You think it is all my fault because you couldn’t make it to the bigs. Look at the TV son. That is the closest you will ever come to the National Hockey League. In fact, the closest you will ever come to the Stanley Cup is if you pay your money and go stand beside it at the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
I was starting to feel uneasy. I knew where this was headed. The same place it had gone hundreds of times before. It was now as if I had switched on a tape and out came the noise.
“You know son, I think about it sometimes. If only you were five inches taller, I would be basking in the glory of having a son playing in the NHL. Everybody in the neighbourhood would be proud of me, especially your mom. God only knows where she is now or with what type of man she’s sleeping with. For all I know she could be a damn dirty hooker. She never could tolerate failure. Having two failures in a family were enough to send her packing.
Your mom and I only wanted the best for you, but Butch, you can’t blame us for your failure. Who flooded the backyard so you could have a rink and skate for three hours everyday? Who got up and drove you to the arena at those ungodly hours so you can play? Who took you to those hockey schools? Those skating lessons? Me, that’s who. With all of the effort I put into you, you disappointed me. You let me down. Not only that, you let everyone in the NHL down. I told you boy, dream big and you’ll get there.”
He was shouting at me. He told me to go to the door jamb and measure myself. I looked at my dad in disbelief. I told him I had gone to the wall yesterday and my height had not changed. I am the same height I was when I was fourteen years old. Back then, I was the tallest kid on my team. Then everybody, it seemed, passed me. They grew and I stayed 5 feet, 6 inches, and three quarter inches. I stressed the three quarter inches.
I shouted, “You go to the wall. You measure yourself. See how you like it. 20 years of going to the wall and my height is still the same. I can’t relax anymore. Can’t you let me watch the game and drink my beer in peace? No, you have to keep opening your mouth. Telling everyone I was going to be a millionaire before I was twenty. How I was going to be the next Orr. You and mom always meddled in my affairs. Always with the calculator. Adding up what I owed you. Every dime you gave me. You promised me a buck a goal. Then I discovered that it wasn’t a reward, it was a loan. Everyone of those dollars went into the total. Always looming in the background. You made me into a pigeon. Yes, a pigeon without a purpose.
I might have come face to face with myself and realized that I was better than you. I could measure up to my own standards, but I was never allowed to set my own standards. I hate myself and what I’ve become because I had ended up just like you. Sitting here on a couch, getting drunk and blaming everything on everyone else except you. You made my life miserable and you have absolutely no clue why. You keep telling me about the dream, where the hell is the goddamn dream? Is it underneath the couch? Is it the beer you’re drinking? That is your dream daddy.
There’s only one person I blame. You, you destroyed the game for me. It used to be fun and I was good. But I was never good enough for you, I had to be better. At the end, I hated the game. I hated coming home, because I knew two hundred pucks would be waiting for me in the backyard. I knew you would be standing there, waiting for me, whistle in hand, skating me until I threw up, and then skating me some more. Dad, I remember you getting into a fight with the cops because they would not let me play in a hockey tournament. Mom didn’t want me to play. You wanted me to play, so I had to play. How the cops found out I had my appendix removed ten days before, is beyond me. But looking back, you could have killed me. But that would have been okay, I would have died playing hockey. You would have been a hero.
Harry, the guy who had a son, who would have made it. Poor Harry, his son was killed on the ice. He was 10. He could have been the next Orr. The only time the game was fun was the rare occasion when you were not at the rink. I could go out and play my game, not yours. Then I was happy.
Dad, I’m sorry you were never good enough to make it. I’m sorry I wasn’t tall enough to make it on your behalf.” He was still shouting at me to go to the wall. He hadn’t heard a word I said. “You could have grown an inch in the last hour, lying on the couch eating chips and drinking beer. Don’t you want to succeed? Don’t you want to make something of yourself, like some of your teammates? A couple of them played in the O and you were better than they were. At least you haven’t ended up like that one kid. Remember the goalie? He was drunk by the time he was 16. Not my son. I made sure that wouldn’t happen to you. I pushed you so you wouldn’t end up like him.
He’s probably dead now. He wasted his life with booze. Sure, we drink, but we aren’t like him. His whole life was drinking. I know, we both get drunk sometime, but who doesn’t? We can stop anytime we want. The reason why I drink is because you failed. You gave up on your dream, it’s not my fault boy. We can still get the job done. Son, you have to be positive about life. You have to take life for what it is. Right now, it may not smell too good for you. That can change. I know that your mom would run back home if you made it into the bigs. When the money starts pouring in. A little hope would go a long way.”
Despite the fact that I knew I was going to be ignored, I started shouting over him. “You know dad, when I raise my son, everybody will love me. You know why dad? My son will make it big in the NHL. Unlike your son, everyone will know his name and mine. I’ll be rolling in dough. I’m going to marry a tall woman, so my son will be tall. I won’t make the same mistakes you did. I learned from your mistakes, my wife will never leave us or call me and my son failures. God help them if they do.”