As a parent you consider the obvious challenges like drugs, and sex, and whatever to make of Justin Bieber. But it turns out there is no preparing for when your son announces he is rooting for the wrong hockey team.
My family has always placed disproportionate importance on hockey. My brother and I played. My two sons play. We are the type of family that when the Rangers are down a goal heading into the third period we all get up to rearrange our seats. The other night watching the game at my folks' place, the Rangers blew a lead only after my mom joined us in front of the TV. My father, not entirely kidding, announced she was not allowed back in the room.
So hockey matters in our family, more than it probably should, and enough that when my oldest son Charlie declared several years ago that he was a fan of Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals, he may as well have announced he was getting a face tattoo. It was as if I no longer knew him.
When your kid likes a different team than you, he speaks a different language, adheres to a different rhythm. There is no common ground, no shared struggle of a mid-season slump. When my team gets blown out on the road, he’s maddeningly unfazed. When he’s dancing around the living room after an overtime win, I merely want him to stop blocking the TV.
The hockey disconnect was the original source of angst, but even more confounding was when Charlie added he liked the Dodgers over the Mets, and the Clippers over the Knicks. He was indifferent toward football but even then he wouldn't allow me a token allegiance to the Jets just out of pity.
“So we have, like, no teams in common anymore?” I asked.
“That's not true,” he said. “The Bryan brothers.”
I stared back blankly.
“Men's doubles,” he said.
Trivial as it seems, our disparate affiliations feels like some early taste of the inevitable defiance still to come; as if Charlie’s memorization of the Capitals' goal song will better prepare us for the day he registers as a Libertarian. There is good and bad with this, as you might imagine, because ultimately our goal as parents is to raise independent thinkers, with their own opinions, values, and tastes. But you still hope they inherit some of your view of the world, and if they don't, you at least hope they do a decent job of keeping it to themselves.
It's why life is simpler with my youngest son, Will, who slides next to me for every playoff game dressed in his Lundqvist jersey and his Rangers pajama pants and willingly switches to the opposite couch when we need a goal heading into the third. As I tell Charlie, there's no question I love both him and his brother. It's just some days I love Will a little more.
Maybe I'm kidding. I'm not sure.
Meanwhile I should say life could be worse. In my family there is a long-running disdain for the Yankees, and at least here my boys have happily fallen in line. At some point they had a friend over and they explained the rules of the house -- no food in the TV room, no shoes on if they're muddy, and oh yeah, I heard Charlie say, “If you say you like A-Rod, my dad says you have to sleep in the garage.”
I'm not sure what that kid told his parents, but that was the last time he came to our house.