And She Lived…

{September 28, 2008}   hockey was life

How many of us can say that we actually chose our careers as children? I know I certainly can’t. I’m 36 and I still haven’t figured out what the heck I want to be when I grow up. This, however, is the story of a man who is one of those rare people who knew what he wanted to do when he was a very young child and actually grew up and did it.

Did it. Not does it. A very big difference. And it was not his choice to stop.How does a man who decided what he wanted do in life when he was just 4 years old cope with losing his chosen career? In my experience, he doesn’t. He doesn’t deal with it at all. He acts as if it doesn’t matter. He acts as if he was going to make the choice to walk away from that life anyway. He acts as if there is nothing wrong. But an act is all it is.

Deep down he is angry. He is hurt. He questions everything he has ever done and what he could have done differently. He is resentful and bitter as well. He doesn’t show these things. At least not often. But for the one person who knows him better than anyone else, it all shows.

His wife can see all the emotions that he holds inside. She can see it in his eyes and hear it in words he doesn’t say. She can tell that when he doesn’t want to talk to an old friend that it is because that friend is a reminder of what’s gone. She knows that when he sits and reads books about hockey teams that it is because he misses the game.

I barely remember when I was 4 years old. I certainly don’t remember what I might have thought I wanted to be when I grew up. Not him though. He remembers. He remembers walking into a locker room and seeing the sticks and skates. The jerseys and helmets. He remembers being in awe of it all. And what’s more, he remember the man who let him help hang up all those jerseys. Each one hung just so in each players locker. He remembers because that is the day he knew what he wanted to do.

It may not have been a definite plan. He was too young to know exactly what he wanted in life. But he knew it involved hockey. He knew that he belonged in a locker room. He knew it as much as he knew he needed to breath. Hockey was life.

For years he played the game. Pee Wee hockey was more than just fun for him. It was the one thing he truly enjoyed. Afternoons he would play. At night he would return to the rink and work. Baseball has batboys and hockey has stickboys. Stickboy. He’d been one since he was 4. Helping with the equipment. Throwing pucks on the ice. Being around the players. It was a thrill. It made a kid feel connected. A part of the team. Hockey was life.

As he grew older he realized that any dreams he had of becoming a player would never come true. He’d stopped growing long before the other boys. He would never stand much more than five foot. Much too short to be a player. The game was still in his blood and in his lungs. If he couldn’t play he would still be a part of the game the only other way he knew how. He would work with the equipment. Still be a part of the locker room. Still a part of the team. He learned to sharpen skates and to repair equipment. All through high school he continued to work as a stick boy for the team. Until his senior year when he was officially made the assistant equipment manager. At 17 he was finally being paid to work the game he loved.

After high school he went to college with intentions of focusing his studies on athletics and management. One year into college he was offered a full time job with a team out of state as their equipment manager. Unable to resist the lure of travel and of working the game… he took the job.

Hockey truly was life now. He traveled with the team from city to city. And when a team would fold or a better opportunity would come along he would move on to another state, another team. Over the years he worked in almost every state in the country, including Alaska. There was always travel. There were always parties. Always fun and excitement. It was the life he had wanted. A life of hockey. It was a young man’s dream.

As he got older he still loved the game. Loved working a few hours a day while the team practised. Loved that two or three nights a week his work mostly involved sitting on the bench watching the game from the best seats in the house. The party’s didn’t matter anymore. The travel wasn’t as exciting as it had been. But he still loved the game and loved working it.

He had tried marriage once as a young man. The travel, the parties, it was too much for his young wife. It didn’t work. Now as he grew older and the partying was getting tiresome he was pleasantly surprised to find a woman he wanted to marry. He made sure she knew about all the travel. Made sure she could handle him being gone for days or weeks at a time. She could. They married and she became the one person in the world who truly knew him. She knew his heart. She knew she filled one part, her kids filled another and hockey, always hockey, would fill still another part.

It was a few years later they decided to make the decision that would change their lives. They decided to adopt. The process was long. Longer than they had anticipated. It was hard. Harder than they anticipated. It was expensive. More expensive than they had anticipated. At the end of the long, hard, expensive journey there was their son. He was worth it. Worth it all.

There would be one more price to pay for this journey of the heart they had taken together. That price would be hockey.

You see, when it came time to go get their son it was March. March meant playoffs. Playoffs meant the man was supposed to be busy with work. With travel for work. Instead he traveled for his son.

Now there are good people and bad people in the world. The good people would understand the importance of traveling to adopt a child. They would see it as a blessing and a wonderful thing to do. As more important than a game. The bad people would see the act of traveling to adopt a child, instead of working the game, as a betrayal. As failing to meet a commitment. They would fail to care that someone else was trained to do the job while the man was gone, so the work would indeed be done. They would fail to see the placement of an orphaned child with a loving family as more important than a game.

Unfortunately the man’s boss was one of the bad people of the world. Even more unfortunate, the someone the man trained to fill in for him while he was gone, the man who was supposed to be a close friend… well, that someone turned out to be a bad person too. The kind of person who would lie and say terrible things about someone in order to take their job away.

So when the man and his wife return home with their beautiful new son…. his career is gone. Stolen away. He is paid for the rest of his contract and then let go. For over 20 years hockey had been his life. It had been the air he breathed. Now, it was gone.

The chance to find a job with another team at his age was low, but it could be done. That meant moving. Moving his wife, new son and step children. Maybe the step children, because moving them meant a custody battle. Hockey had been life until he had a family. Now they were life. He had to make a choice. He could choose to do what he knew would be best for the family or he could choose hockey.

Hockey was no longer life.

He misses it though. His wife knows he does. Even when he says he was ready to walk away. Even when he says he didn’t want to travel anymore because he wanted more time with her and their son. Even when he tries to act like it hadn’t been stolen away from him. I KNOW.




Chel says:

Sure, he misses it. And some days, there’s probably a part of him that aches for it. But he made a choice. And he made a good one. Sometimes things are less about good and bad people and more about simply making choices and accepting that they are what they are.

I say that coming from the opposite side of the situation. When we moved several years ago for my husband’s job, I never dreamed I wouldn’t be able to find a job in my field. I was really good at what I did, and I miss it. The list of things I miss, not only about the job but about that place, is too long to list.

But I know we made the right choice for our family. I’m guessing your husband feels the same way.

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