I hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day.
Even though we are in the middle of a new, it-gets-worse-before-it-gets-better disciplinary approach with Ryan, who is somewhat of a behavioral rut of late, I managed to enjoy my weekend immensely.
I used the Father’s Day card to log plenty of time in front of the television watching the U.S. Open. I slept in. I had breakfast in bed. Saturday evening, the family literally kidnapped me — blindfold and all — to take me to a surprise dinner at a local steakhouse. We spent Sunday morning seeing Madagascar 3 as a family. And I capped my weekend with a men’s league hockey game Sunday night. All-in-all, quite relaxing and wonderful.
I’m not huge on the sentimental value of Father’s Day. I know it’s a Hallmark holiday. I mostly enjoy that it allows me to watch hours of golf, guilt-free, once a year. But if asked to recall my best-ever Father’s Day — that’s easy.
Two years ago, the hockey clinic that Ryan was attending offered a special father/son edition on Father’s Day. I quickly signed us up and the family came to watch. I remember standing by the door with Ryan, waiting for the Zamboni to finish cleaning the ice, feeling distinctly like a child. Stepping on to the ice with him, each of us in full hockey gear, was a memory I will cherish forever.
When the drills began, the coaches called out Ryan to lead some of them for the group. When the coach told him to “bring his dad,” Ryan broke out in an ear-to-ear grin that was easily visible through his face mask. And drill we did: Superman rolls (I think I tore all my abdominal muscles on that one), wagon pulls, broken-wheel wagon pulls, passing, shooting.
It was just a one-hour session, and I kept looking up to the scoreboard clock, hoping it would slow down. As tired as I was from trying to keep up with a nine-year-old, I wanted it to go on forever. We kept looking over and waving to Veronica and Riley, who were busy snapping pictures.
One of those shots became the cover photo for this blog, and it is easily my favorite picture ever of Ryan and me. There is something in the way he is looking up at me that just signals a very deep connection. It gets a little dusty in the room any time I look at it for long.
The clock refused to coöperate. It sped towards the conclusion of the clinic, but the best was yet to come. The last 10-15 minutes were always reserved for the kids to scrimmage, and this would be no different. The clinic was crowded. Ryan and I would get perhaps two shifts together. We needed to make them count.
Like most of the parents, if the puck came to me I tried to quickly feed it to the nearest kid. But towards the end of our final shift, I found myself with the puck just inside the attacking blue line. I looked up and spotted Ryan cruising down the center of the ice all alone. I slid him the puck. He received it cleanly, shot, and scored!
Ryan never gets cheated on his goal celebrations and this one was extra enthusiastic. We high-fived. We hugged. We yelled. We smiled for Veronica and Riley. It took a moment to sink in what has just happened. I had shared the ice with my son, and set him up for a goal. I’m pretty sure that’s as close as I will ever come to understanding what it feels like to score an overtime goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As the clinic ended, I went to thank the coaches. They had worked with Ryan for a year and were wonderful with him. They knew about his autism, but I don’t think they knew what that hour meant to me. I had trouble getting words out and I was fighting back tears. About all I could mange was to say “that was one of the best hours of my life.”
Last summer, Dhani Jones, a former NFL and Michigan football player who now hosts a show on the Travel Channel, held an impromptu Twitter contest. He asked his followers to Tweet him pictures of their idea of paradise. I don’t know why I even thought to respond. I sent a picture of Ryan and me from our Father’s Day hockey session. I wrote something like “My idea of paradise: sharing the ice with my son, something I didn’t always think would be possible. #autism”
Dhani picked two winners. One was a military pilot who sent an aerial shot of an Air Force plane, which he was escorting in a fighter jet above some exotic locale. The other was me. It wasn’t that I cared so much about the prize — signature Dhani Jones bow ties for Ryan and me — but I loved that someone else had seen the same thing in the picture that I had: connection, communication, love.
I’m pretty sure that not too many municipal ice rinks have been described as “paradise.” The smell alone should disqualify them. But for me, on Father’s Day 2010, there was no more perfect spot on earth.