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The Wonder Of Fathers

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Just one chance: The wonder of Fathers.


Yesterday, I was talking with a woman from work about The Godfather.

We were talking about the scene where Michael gives his brother-in-law one chance to admit his role in the murder of Sonny Corleone.

My friend smiled ruefully, “That’s the way my Dad was,” she said. “Whenever I did something wrong, he would give me one chance to come clean. Just one chance.”

Nothing she had done, nothing she could do, would be worse than lying to her dad. She never knew whether he had the goods on her when he confronted her with that one, devastating question. She does know that if and when children come, she will use the question on her own kids. Just one chance.

This morning I was speaking with my wife. It was the hour of the morning where guile has yet to arrive. Everything you say is dipped in truth.

I was talking about my daughters, my three self-deprecating, funny, spoiled, beautiful, slothful, cunning, wise, irresponsible, inspiring daughters. As the sun streamed through the blinds, I looked for the word to describe children who made it seem like the world was created, with all its impediments and injustices, just for them to kick back into orbit.

My head was wresting on my wife’s shoulder. I pushed up to go. Left behind was a tiny pool of morning tears.

It should not surprise you, but fathers and mothers play differently with their children. It’s something about non-toy stimulated play. Women deal in imagination and practicality and skills. We throw babies in the air. Mothers keep them on the ground. They give them the earth. We give them the sky.

I will always be a father but my days as a son are narrowing. The sun that streamed in this morning moves, irrevocably, toward the west. Just one chance.

You can’t write about hockey players without writing about their fathers. Friday, they will fill the seats at the Bell Centre for the NHL Entry Draft. They will wear dark suits or blue short sleeve shirts and when the prospect is selected, he will leave his Dad and his family and step forward into the light.

Don Gilmour coached Doug for years and kept him on defence to get him more ice time and allow him to see better see the game. To know Wendel Clark is to know his father, Les, who built the arena in Kelvington. Tomas Kaberle’s most influential coach was his father. You could say that about most players.

Fathers have fashioned players through the wreckage of a marriage. Look no further than Bobby and Brett Hull. Even their absence has somehow steeled young boys. Leafs’ great Ted Kennedy was born a month after his father was killed in a hunting accident. The great Syl Apps lost his father in Paris, Ontario, when the boy was only 16. The loss of their father had to have hardened these men, compounding their desire to achieve.

Departing fathers leave a never-ending wake.

I have a kid going to university this fall and my anxiety will be no less profound than that of the father who sees his newly-drafted kid swallowed up by the horde of media and team officials.

I will replay her 19 years and hope, with all of my being, that I did right by her. It’s true for the fathers as well as the children. Just one chance.
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