It takes over your schedule, your Sundays, your holidays. It takes over your budget, your social life, your spare time. It takes over your mind, your vision, your soul.
It's hockey; another great game ruined by adults. The idea that a bunch of kids could get together and slap a puck around without coaches, referees, clocks is a Norman Rockwell vision long dead.
The season starts and you face 26 weeks of running, spending and dealing with people you'd normally never know. You'll drive hundreds of miles, eat who knows how much crap from rink concession stands, and then get up and do it again. And again.
And it's never enough. You have to go to tournaments where you try to sleep in overpriced motels and spend more money on crap food and more time running to ice rinks with people you'd wonder about if you ran into them anywhere else.
That's all so the kid can play another game or two of hockey; a great game ruined by adults.
So, I try to maintain a perspective. Hockey is a helluva workout for the kid. If he's playing hockey he isn't doing something else. Hockey won't preclude bad behavior but I still figure every hour spent with hockey is at least that hour stolen from booze, drugs and unprotected sex. Like buying time and banking it.
And now, most suddenly, we see this coming to an end. The time is fast arriving where if he wants to play hockey it'll be on his own. No more, "time to take me to the rink, dad." No more, "did you see the way I skated that guy down?" No more, "Man, did you see Dave and I set that goalie up?"
No more long drives through bleak winterscapes talking about life, music, movies, getting a muffler for the old truck, people, how to behave, school, building new pig pens. No more guys hanging around in the garage goofing off and farting.
That'll all end with the hockey, too. And the kid will move along to his own life whatever that may be. And he'll have what we shared, too, I hope. The whole thing was special. Every challenge, every time I shook my head and wondered what the hell. All of it is growing up.
Tonight, when I drop him off at the rink, I'll bite my tongue, and when I drive back through town I'll look around on the streets for kids his age and I'll think, "My kid's playing hockey."