It is funny how things in life come full circle. Our neighbors put up an ice rink every winter and my two oldest girls will often go over and skate with our neighbor’s kids. I say skate but my girls are really just learning at this point. For my wife and me it is all about getting them to try new things and have new experiences and embrace the winter months. Both our girls seem to really enjoy learning and being out on the ice- my oldest who is now five years old has pretty good balance and can kind of skate on her own a bit, whereas my middle girl, a soon to be four year old still needs assistance and guidance in pushing her legs and maintaining balance.
Growing up we had an ice rink in our backyard. I think it was the winter of 1980 where our first ice rink was laid down. Unlike today where most folks put down a liner or plastic with wooden boards my father packed down the snow in our backyard and put out a sprinkler. Snow pushed to the side would be our boards in the early years. Slowly but surely over the course of a couple of weeks ice would form and a rink would be born. Since we did not use plastic and our backyard like most backyards was not completely level the first week of skating was rather difficult. One could hardly call it skating. The ice and therefore the rink was not flat; you had to skate over the bumps to make it so. However, through this early season of skating combined with cold days and warm days the rink eventually smoothed out. We would spend hours on the rink- morning, day and night. Any given weekend our backyard was filled with kids playing pickup hockey. Looking back on it all I realize just how much work was involved for my dad. But he loved it. Real cold nights my father made sure the rink was watered by using our hose and attaching it to the faucet of our wash basin in the basement. After each resurfacing the hose was brought inside through the basement window above the wash basin or else you ran the risk of having a frozen hose. As we got older myself and my siblings took on the responsibilities of watering and shoveling the ice.
My parents especially loved having the rink because it meant that our house was a destination in the winter for our friends to come over to skate and play hockey. They didn’t have to drive us from one place to another, instead they just kept an eye on all of us by watching out the kitchen window. The rink was the ultimate babysitter. Hockey related equipment became big items for Christmas each year from sticks, to skates, to gloves, to pads, to stick tape and helmets. A helmet was your ticket on the ice. No helmet meant no skating.
The fact that my children today are learning to skate in a backyard rink is proof that things in life do come full circle. But this fact became even more evident to me the other week when I was lacing up my middle daughter’s skates. As I was tightening her skates she asked me if when I was her age “Teets” tied my skates. Teets is the nickname for my father that all the grandkids called him. I said “yes.” She looked at me and smiled and then said “daddy you tied my skates too tight.”
My middle daughter never had a relationship with my dad, really the same is true for my oldest daughter as well. By the time both my two older children came onto the scene dementia had gotten a good hold on him. That said, my older daughter is in a number of pictures with him- holding her in the hospital when she was born or holding her in his lap from time to time. Looking back at some of those pictures and thinking about those moments it is hard to tell if my dad actually knew he was holding his granddaughter or not. I think at times he did and at times he did not. None of my kids however have actual memories of my dad. My middle was born in January of 2014 and my dad died in October of 2014.
When I was younger if my dad was not around and my mom was busy I would tie and tighten my own skates. I did not do a particularly good job and I can distinctly remember the feeling of pain as I was more or less skating on my ankles after about fifteen minutes. Many times I would hobble back inside all upset.
If my dad was around he would tighten my skates so tight that it would almost cut off my circulation. I could skate for at least an hour or so on one of his “tightenings.” My ankles felt great and I did not miss a beat playing hockey with my older brother and our friends. That was my dad- the ultimate skate tightener. All great dads are skate tighteners- he was the best!
I can only hope my girls find whatever in life will make them happy and if one becomes a professional figure skater so be it (highly doubtful) but I want them to know that I will always be there to tighten their skates like my dad.
It is still hard not having my dad around to bounce off ideas, seek advice, etc. to get my skates tightened whenever I want. I miss all of that very much; indeed, it was difficult even when he was around knowing that all our conversations were entirely one way the last couple of years of his life due to his dementia. But I also find a tremendous amount of happiness in the fact that he provided a wonderful gift and example to me and my siblings of how great dads (and parents) should be and act. We learned from the best and it’s my obligation to do the same for my own children.