I would like to preface this article by sharing the fact that I am proud Father of two great adult sons that grew up playing the game of hockey. Both continue to be fans of the game supporting their sons, my grandsons enjoying the game. I mean no disrespect to Mothers and Daughters within this article. What
I share within this article are my thoughts from my own perspective from a lifetime involved in the game of hockey. The focus below is a few thoughts related to how the game of hockey can affect the Father and Son relationship.

This simple animated illustration about Fathers and Sons can speak volumes to men. Any man that has experienced a positive relationship as a Father with his son is fortunate. It has been said that a loving Father gives pieces of himself to his son. Children want to make their parents proud.

Involved Fathers promote inner growth and strength. Studies have shown that when Fathers are affectionate and supportive, it greatly affects a child’s cognitive and social development. It also instills an overall sense of well-being and self confidence.

The game of hockey is certainly an activity that can bring men and their sons closer together if it is something, they both enjoy. The game can also create challenges that sometimes causes strain in the relationship. When that happens, it can take years to overcome.

There have been some high-profile Father and Son relationships related to the game of hockey. Walter Gretzky showed incredible examples of how supporting, your son, even in difficult situations in his younger years proved to be both beneficial and just what was required. Both Walter and Wayne navigated some difficult times through the challenges of youth hockey. Sometimes jealous parents looking through “Rose Coloured” glasses related to their own son’s talents and abilities can create a cruel and difficult environment. Walter’s son Wayne turned out to be a special athlete and I think everyone in the hockey world would tell you a fine man.

In today’s hockey world the toughest thing to do sometimes is to limit your involvement as a Father. The Coaches or General Managers of the team your son would like to play for does not want to take calls from Fathers promoting their son. Although as Fathers our intention is always positive, those calls create only negativity. In many situations it is viewed that as Fathers we tend to evaluate our son’s ability in a different light than reality. It is perceived that we can be a negative distraction to the player or in some cases the team. The Coaches or General Managers at the U14 level right through college to professional hockey rely on evaluations of players done by scouts, coaches, GM’s, and agencies. Unfortunately, when Fathers call to promote their son it usually falls on deaf ears. It also tends to work against the player. The best thing the Father of a player can do is be supportive of your son. Be visible at the rink supporting your son but quiet in your appearance. This tendency to be seen and not heard will be more effective in your son’s favour. Let the player’s ability speak volumes instead of the sales pitch of good intention.

The greatest hockey Father whose presence of being seen and not heard was the late great Gordie Howe. Playing professionally till age fifty-two and the last few years with his two sons. The hockey world was provided with legendary stories about Gordie being the Father figure we all wish we could be. Father-son relationships can be special. As a boy grows up, there are many people who influence him in is his development into becoming a man. As a Father, you should be one of his most important role models.

After coaching junior hockey for many years, I had the opportunity to be involved with so many great young men and their families. I learned many things from the experience. I have been able to cultivate many thoughts about my own relationships with my sons and the players I was fortunate to coach. Here are some thoughts about the relationship with sons.

As a Father He needs you to be there. As you partake in all the different roles you have, you may be pulled in many directions. He needs you to be involved in his education, in his social life, in all areas of his life. Some areas are not intended for Mom only, or for his friends only. Your presence in all areas will give him the support he needs.

He needs your love regardless of his choices. No matter what choices your son makes, he needs you to love him even if the choices are different than yours. Even when they are viewed as wrong choices. Your love and guidance will open the door to trust and acceptance that build your relationship. And it will build his self-esteem.

He needs you to support him. He needs to hear things like “I love you, son.” “I’m proud of you, son.” “I know you can do it, son.” “That was a good play you made!” “You are a hard worker.” “You had a tough time, but I know you’ll bounce back.” Your son needs your encouragement. He needs to hear the words that let him know you love having him as a son.

He needs you to love/respect his mother. When you love your wife, or the mother of your son, you are showing him how to treat his mother, his sisters, and all the women he will meet in his life. This will set the foundation for the relationships he will have later in his life. If you are divorced and the relationship is difficult, do what you can to treat his Mother with respect.

He needs to see you fail, not just succeed. The best teacher is failure. Your son will learn from you on how you respond to difficult situations. When your son sees you fail, and handle the failure well, he sees that it is ok to make mistakes and that mistakes can be great lessons. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. A youngster who is not afraid of making mistakes will grow into a man willing to accept and overcome great challenges.

He needs to see your leadership. You may not be the top guy at your job or may not be the leader in your field of work or may not be a leader in your community. When you are working with his Mother showing leadership together it shows great qualities to your family. Your son needs to see leadership in your home. He needs to see leadership by example. When he sees you leading or serving others, he will better understand leadership. He will be better equipped to lead rather than follow his peers. When it is required, he will better lead his family, lead his team, lead at work, and lead in his community. Hockey coaches today say finding good leadership is a challenge.

He needs you to discipline him in love. When you discipline your son, you are setting boundaries and expectations. He is going to make mistakes just like you did, and just like you do now. But he also needs to know that his actions have consequences. Disciplining him in love will teach him to consider the consequences his actions will have. This will prepare him to think and evaluate the choices he makes both now and in the future.

Those of us that have grown to love the game of hockey through playing as a youngster or developing to a high level should love our sons more than we love the game. Sometimes one of the greatest gifts we can give our sons is to step back and stay out of the way Support him and not hinder him with good intentions. For me personally the following story resonates in my mind and makes me proud years later. My Father and I both loved the game of hockey. He handled the Father and Son relationship in a great way. It took me years to realize it, but it is never to late to learn.

I would get in the family car after my game to head home following another less than stellar performance by myself. My Mother would do her job the best way she knew how and would tell me I played great tonight. Seated right behind my Dad in the car I could see him looking at me in his rearview mirror and his facial expression would say it all without a word being said. Showing the respect my Mother deserved he would allow her to say her piece and not show disagreement, because he knew she cared. In a few minutes while still heading toward home my Father would simply say, “how did you think you played tonight son”? A loaded question for sure that initiated the thought, I know I cannot lie to my Dad. He already knows the answer, so I need to take ownership. My response would go something like this. “I thought I struggled tonight Dad; I don’t think I played very well”. There would be a short pause that although it was only eight to ten seconds it felt like eternity. He would gently
reply, “yeah son I thought you had a tough night”. “Can you play better and help your team out”? He would then ask me if I enjoyed playing the game. Then most importantly he would say “you can be better next game, work hard”. He finished by saying “I love you son, are you hungry”?

Well fast forward, I was blessed with two sons that love the game and I would find myself in the same scenario driving them home from their games in some unbelievable locations like Casper Wyoming and Bozeman Montana. I would find myself remembering those drives with my Father, no criticism no harsh words or loud voices. I would try to repeat the process.

Two years ago, while driving home in the rear seat of the truck with two of my five grandsons, I quietly observed my son say almost verbatim to one of his sons, “how did you think you played tonight? “That was a tough one, don’t worry you will be better next game, work hard. Did you have fun? I love you, where do you want to eat?

What a tremendous lesson that has been passed on through three generations now. I didn’t realize it the first time I heard it. When I did hear it forty-five years later, I realized the bigger picture was more important than I ever imagined. That approach has stood the test of time. Thanks Dad I miss you everyday!

Fathers and Sons…relationships can be special for sure!

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