This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
It was my first meeting of the L.A. chapter of Sports Parents Anonymous. I was a little nervous, but as I had read about other Anonymous programs I sort of knew what to expect (okay so this is fiction, just go with it for a minute). When it came my turn I stood, cleared my throat, and said Hi my name is Jeff and I'm addicted to figure skating. A couple SPA patrons gasped mockingly and several folks sitting near me seemed uncomfortable, but an elderly gentlemen up front nodded slowly to show his understanding.
It started when my daughter was six: during one of my weekend visitations she said her mom had taken her skating and now she wanted to take a class. She handed me the school schedule: the Spring session had already started but she thought they would still let her in. We drove down to the rink where we signed her up for Pre-Alpha, rented her skates, and waited for the class to start. Kids trickled on to the ice and in a few minutes the rink hosted about four different sessions: one was a group of ten year olds doing half jumps, two classes were six or seven year olds learning to skate backwards, and my daughter was the eldest in a group of ten little angels, most of them just getting their bearings for how to shuffle around the ice.
Ah sure, old man calls out, they all start out as little angels. A lady across the room with a crazy floppy hat says Skating angels are always the gateway drug. I hang my head quietly for a moment. Well, I continue, they were a motley group of angels, some in jeans, about half in rental boots, a few with their hair all frizzled out. I realized I was digressing; I focused again on my addiction.
I think some of it was the novelty of the skate teachers and the, ahem, skate moms. I felt my face reddening. A young dad wearing a Yankees cap yelled: So are you addicted to skating, or to moms? The class tittered. I actually had to think about it a minute.
Well maybe both to start, but after a year of classes you grow to know the same people, so the novelty of their looks wears off. But an interesting thing happens: you also start to identify and sympathize with the struggles and personalities of each of the young skaters. They work so hard. And when they finally accomplish something they've been struggling with for months, when they finally get the balance or the rhythm of the weight shifting -- when it all "clicks" -- oh my god the look of joy on their faces.
Yes! exclaimed Yankees hat dude, raising a fist in the air and pumping his arm down. You're addicted to living vicariously through the success of others! I had to stop to think about that a minute. It was a bit odd being psychologically analyzed in public, but this revelation seemed to be striking a chord of truth. As my life at that time was generally falling apart it was nice to see success somewhere. But after more thought I recognized that my addiction continued much longer than that.
Okay I said, that was it for a short while, but some time around the third year of skating school that wasn't true any longer. By then I had seen enough little two foot sliding kids advance to gliding backwards, but I was still showing up every week enthralled. Something else had sunk a hook into me.
By the time she was approaching nine, my daughter was starting to stand out for her spirals and her scratch spins. We'd moved up to her second pair of real skates, and she wanted a personal coach. I guess I figured at that point that she had potential: she was showing some real skill and commitment. She wanted to compete, and frankly I was starting to get technically fascinated.
So, said the old guy up in front, are you saying you became addicted to the idea of your daughter becoming famous, or is it just that you're a thinker that gets addicted to complexity? Well, now I'm thinking it's a little bit of all that, combined. The room fell quiet as there was some general mental review and addictive recognition in us all. The facilitator asked What did this addiction do to your life?
Well like all addictions it soaked up all of my time and money, naturally. I'd spend twelve hours a week at the rink or in transit, sixty bucks a week on coaching fees, not to mention the costumes, competitions, and what not. But it was all for my daughter, really. Oh sure, said old guy, And when you're addicted to the big H it's all for the soul of art.
I countered, So you're saying I should have just ignored my daughter's wishes? No way. Why not, asked the facilitator. If she had instead asked for sixty dollars a week in toys and then wanted you to play with those toys with her for two hours every day would you have done it? It's the same thing.
No it's not, I replied, on the cusp of trying to explain why.