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It goes without saying that the relationship between fathers and sons is a fundamental part of sport heritage.
Many of the foundational events and moments, often really the first sporting memories, involve fathers. Fathers taking sons to games, to practice, teaching them to catch at ball, and so on. There’s a reason why the final scene in Field of Dreams is so moving, because so many have had similar memories with their fathers. Sport has a way of connecting fathers and sons. Its a cliche, but some cliches have a way of being true as well.
I can’t remember a time when sport wasn’t a part of my relationship with my dad. Some of my earliest memories – taking me to an Edmonton Oilers game, or to practice at the old Parkland arena, or, indeed, going down to the little park at the end of our block to have a catch – involve both sport and my dad. Not all of the memories were pleasant, of course. As the father of two goalies, my dad often had to know when best to let both my brother and I be to stew over a bad game or goal. He never got on us for having a bad game. I appreciated that. When I stopped playing hockey, through a combination of ability and injury, my relationship with my dad changed. Not badly, mind you, but it took some time for both of us to reconfigure, and to find some common ground again. I’m sure it was tough for him to adjust, as it was tough for me to find what my post-athletics identity was going to be. Thankfully, again, dad gave me the space to figure it out. I hope I’ll be able to do that with my son.
Living in a different city – a different country – I don’t get to see or talk to my dad as often as I once did. I miss going to games with him, just sitting along the first base line or at the hashmarks of the faceoff dot, and just shooting the shit. I miss that he can’t just pop around and tell his grandson all of the sports stories I’ve heard a thousand times. I miss my dad. Today is his birthday, and I just wanted to say that his guidance, influence, and love was the best legacy I could have received.
Thanks, Papi, and I love you.
There are scales to heritage – not every heritage is of global importance. In fact, I’d argue the heritage we value most are those that are personal, intimate, and immediate. After all, it is blood that is our most innate form of heritage, and that our first and most powerful heritage experiences are with our families.
The playing and watching of sport, particularly with a parent, is often positioned as a kind of heritage experience. One text that rather wonderfully describes this process is Tom Stanton’s The Final Season. Ostensibly, it is about Stanton watching the Detroit Tigers during their final season at Tiger Stadium – a beloved ballpark that has since been demolished. So, in some respects, the book is about a more extrinsic heritage – that of the historic sports facility. However, the book is much more about an existential type of heritage, as it is about sharing and recalling his experiences with his own father at the stadium, as well as creating new memories with his own children while watching baseball during the final season at the park. In some ways, it is about our own mortality, and that places like stadiums are witnesses, conduits, and perhaps even warehouses for those shared family experience.
I think of this today as I recall the many evenings spent with my own father sporting events, particularly at Northlands Coliseum (nee: Rexall Place) watching the Edmonton Oilers hockey club. That stadium will soon be replaced and what I’ll miss most – and what I’ll consider heritage – are not the players, the banners, and the seats, but the many cold Canadian nights spent with my dad. Thankfully, we still watch games together – though, it is no where near as frequent since I moved – and I know when the inevitable happens, I’ll treasure those nights even more.
Now that I have my own son, I try to take him to as many games as I can. I’ve even started a collection of ticket stubs for him – his own sport heritage inventory, as it were. He’s still too young to take much of the games in, and I know that going to them is more for me than for him. Still, I hope he’ll look back on them fondly, as I do with my father.