I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad for the last few days.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, Sister Rose (and not Sister Ray) sent me a text about him a few days ago. I didn’t read it right away because I had, um, ‘misplaced’ my phone. It had fallen out of my pocket without me noticing so I didn’t feel the little vibration or hear the little ‘Woo Hoo!’ when the text arrived and I remained blissfully unaware of the message and its contents while I raked leaves, got ridiculed by complete strangers, drove people to the wrong place and grappled (successfully, I might add) with the owner of the ugliest piece of furniture in all of Canada. (While looking for a reference for this my search-fu led me to an article about an Austrian philosopher. Clearly my search-fu kind of sucks. I eventually did find the story in question but it was behind a page with credit card icons so I didn’t proceed, I have no link to share and I have to rely totally on memory. To the best of my recollection, though, the Toronto Star had a contest back in ’02 to find the ugliest furniture in the country. This guy ‘won.’ I’ve seen a picture of the furniture in question (it was a lamp) and he may have won but his wife sure lost. For about twenty-five years.)
But I was talking about my dad.
I eventually found my phone but didn’t actually look at it until I was in the dressing room after playing hockey. (This was Monday and Monday is, as I’ve mentioned before, hockey day.) I looked at it because it made the ‘Woo Hoo!’ noise and this time I heard it — Sister Rose had sent me a second text. It turns out that the first text — the one that I hadn’t read — said that my dad was being taken to hospital for unspecified reasons. The second text said that he was being sent home. Oh.
On the plus side, this meant that I didn’t spend seven and a half hours fearing the worst. On the minus side, even if it wasn’t “the worst”, when an octogenerian gets taken to the hospital, it’s never a good thing. Plus I got a whole day’s worth of guilt in about five seconds. As a result, I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about my dad, thinking about mortality, thinking about aging, thinking about inadequacy. (That last one has nothing to do with my dad; I often think about inadequacy. In any context that includes the word ‘hockey’, for example, I almost always do. When I blow a seven point lead in a curling game I do as well. And when I miss an important message and look like a schmuck for an entire day? I definitely think of it then.)
Two other things have crossed my mind: first of all, my next post (this one, I guess) will be my hundredth. While I don’t feel obligated to produce something of quality (god knows I’m not really able), it sure would be nice for it not to suck. But what would I talk about? Then I remembered that Saturday is my dad’s birthday. What better gift could I give him than a blog posting about him that he’ll never read, that he’ll never even know about?
So a story about my dad. I could do that — I have a few of them. Two come to mind; they’re both about curling and aging — two subjects that I’ve touched on before. Heck, they have their own tags.
Many sports have different (for lack of a better word) age ‘categories’. In hockey, for example, there is something called ‘oldtimers’ hockey. (There should probably be an apostrophe in there but I’m writing this at 2 AM and I can’t be bothered to figure out where it should go.) Oldtimers are 35 and older — not really old by any definition. In curling the (roughly) corresponding category is called ‘seniors’; seniors are 50+. In that context I’m a senior (but sometimes I don’t like to dwell on that a whole lot.) For some time my ‘competitive’ team was a seniors team — we had two grandfathers who did all the work and two non-grandfathers who yelled and took all the credit. I spare in a seniors league on Mondays. (Mondays aren’t just for hockey.) Unlike me, though, my dad was… reluctant to curl with the seniors; he held out until some time in his 70s. I sort of assumed it was mostly denial until the first year that he capitulated and joined his local seniors league. I talked to him about it when I visited for October Turkey Day.
At this point a brief aside would probably be in order. A curling team is composed of four players, each of whom throws two stones. The lead-off player, the one who throws the first two stones of an ‘end’ is called ‘the lead.’ The player who throws the second two stones is called, in an unbelievable display of originality, ‘the second’. The player that throws the third two stones is called ‘the third’ or ‘the vice-skip’ or ‘the vice’ or, in some places, ‘the mate’. Finally, the player that throws the last two stones and ‘quarterbacks’ the game is called ‘the skip’ or ‘the skipper’ or ‘the egomaniac down there yelling like an idiot.’ All other things being equal, it’s helpful if the lead is very consistent with good ‘weight‘ control. The second should be good at throwing takeouts (shots thrown hard enough and accurately enough to hit a rock and remove it from play), the third should be able to do pretty much anything and the skip should have unshakeable confidence in his abilities (hence ‘egomaniac’ above) and excellent ‘weight’ control.
So on Turkey Day I asked my dad how his seniors team was going. He looked a little irate and picked a list of names off of the dining room table. “Just look at my team” he said. The names, of course, meant nothing to me. “These names mean nothing to me. I live two hundred kilometers away, remember?” He pointed to the name of his second. “My second is ninety-five. NINETY-FIVE. How the HELL am I going to get him to throw a hit?”
So it wasn’t just denial.
There’s this bonspiel (tournament, more or less, usually without iconic figures of evil) in ‘my’ city every February. It’s a mixed bonspiel. (‘Mixed’ means that each team of four must be composed of two men and two women.) For some years Ms. Rose and I played in this bonspiel with Sister Rose and Billyrose. (Sister Rose has the brains, looks and talent in the family — she’s made it to a couple of national championships and almost made it to at least three more. Me? I have… attitude. And mismatched shoes.) We had pretty good luck over the years — we almost always did reasonably well and we actually won the spiel twice. (No naked lady on the trophy, though.)
One year, though, Billyrose couldn’t make it — he had been called out of the country for some sort of family thing — and that put us a man down for the spiel. (And, being a mixed spiel, it was definitely a MAN down.) Emails and phone calls flew back and forth: “We need a man.” Names were suggested and quickly rejected but then someone made an unexpected suggestion: “How about dad?” Well, how about dad? He’s male, he can curl, we know that we can get along (team dynamics can be very important in curling) and he can ride down with Sis. “Is he free that weekend? Would he play with us?” Turns out he was and he would so it was settled. We had a team. Then we had to decide the lineup: “What position will we have him play?” He hadn’t played much that year so we decided to make him play second. The only problem was that, in addition to throwing takeouts (see above), seconds have to sweep their brains out and dad was in his 70s. But that wouldn’t be a huge problem for a few games, would it?
A few games. Yeah, right. In that spiel we played two games in six hours on Friday evening and a third game Saturday morning. We won that game so we played again on Saturday afternoon. We made him play four games in twenty-two hours. Eventually we took pity on him and stopped making him sweep but even so, after the fourth game he was in pretty rough shape. (There was a fifth game but we found him a spare and let him sit at the bar and drink rum.)
Of course, when I next saw mom (Sir Rose), she was incensed. Was she incensed because I worked my seventysomething father to exhaustion? Was she incensed because we made him gallivant around on large sheets of ice, fall, and hurt himself? Was she incensed because we left him alone in a bar to drink rum? No — she was incensed because we asked him and not her. “What’s he got that I don’t?” she thundered.
Ms. Rose and I looked at each other before answering.
She had no comeback for that.
Happy Birthday, Dad.