My dad loves hockey, yet he does not enjoy a hockey game. He yells, swears, bangs his fists. Storms out of the room during breaks. Not that we all don’t do that sometimes–we do. But not all the time. Not every game.
He sees only the mistakes, the missed passes, the non-calls, or the bad calls by the referees. I know this is true because he says it. “Did you see that interference?” or “Did you see that slash?” He does not see, at least not while he is watching, the coordination, the athleticism, the up and down and back and forth that looks like it has been choreographed but couldn’t possibly have been.
He can appreciate it in hindsight, say things the next day like “what a great game.” But in the moment, there is little such recognition. I think back to when I was a competitive figure skater. I was pretty good. But I do not remember ever hearing a compliment; or if I did it was bound up with “but.” Pointing out the two-footed landings, the off-center spins. As if he could do it, I always thought. He never pretended that he could do it. He just saw the errors, the missteps.
From watching hockey with him I have realized: It’s his focus. When he looks at the glass, it’s half empty.
And so it is with his life.
I have never understood why my dad is so angry. Sure, he had a tough childhood, brutal brothers renowned for their violence and intimidation; a lying mother who tried to keep loving relationships from being; sisters who were not, were nieces, somehow, from a prior marriage of his father’s which was never discussed. But he married my mom, graduated from Northeastern with a degree in electrical engineering, had a good job, five kids, nice home. And then a succesful retirement to Florida, half the year there, half the year here with me and my family.
Yet every day he gripes, almost whispering to my mom hoping I cannot hear him and therefore won’t challenge him. About the immigrants, about the liberals, about Obama. About gas prices, and taxes. About teenage mothers, welfare, the war on Christians. My god.
I have always thought it was some kind of middle-class or middle-aged white guy syndrome, because he is hardly alone in this world view. The belief that every one else has been handed what they have, “while I worked my ass off.” Bill Clinton was the poster boy for “getting away with it,” and my father, like so many men like him, hates Bill Clinton with a white hot passion. I cannot for the life of me figure out how my dad justifies still rooting for Tiger Woods. And I cannot understand how a man who has so much can act like he has been cheated.
Can this perspective be chalked up to bad habit? And if so, can it be changed at this late stage of his life? I’m gonna give it the old college try. I am on a one-woman crusade. To adjust his frame of reference. If we are stuck in traffic, I tell him it gives us more quality uninterrupted time. When the weather turns rainy and cold? I remind him that we are warm and cozy and all together in our beautiful home. We buy Powerball tickets, and knowing our numbers will never come up I tell him we have already won the lottery of life.
And now that the Bruins are set to play in the Eastern Conference Finals, I say how lucky we are to have more hockey.
I hope he sees that at least he has a glass, and that there’s something in it.
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