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The boys were very successful raising funds for the Terry Fox run. Both of them raised the most money of all the grade 9's and tied for second place in the whole school. I was very proud of the two of them, but I was more proud of why they were running. We were walking to the LX after they had their showers in the boys' locker room.
"Boys, I was going to chide you on your overly generous sponsorship of each other, but I know you both had good intentions." I put my arm around them and said, "I'm so very proud of you two..... ," I couldn't finish what I was going to say, so I just squeezed them tighter. They were both beaming as they looked up at me.
That night Sean was on Skype to Melissa and she told him that Josh had wondered how the boys and their school had made out with the fundraising. Sean called Jake into his room after he was finished talking to her and they got Josh on Skype. They talked for an hour and Dana and I could hear them laughing and giggling from his bedroom. The three boys certainly got along well and I was pleased as I considered Josh a great peer influence on them.
Josh had congratulated them on raising so much money and how well their school had done. The school had raised $25,000 more than they had ever raised and were number one in the Board. He also told them that Graham Barton had arranged with the Terry Fox Foundation to professionally video tape a presentation that he made to another local school, for distribution across Canada. I could see that the two of them were really excited as they came into the living room afterwards and just had to tell Dana and me about their conversation with Josh.
"He said it was cool. He had to have makeup and everything just like he was making a real movie," Sean said.
"Yeah, and he told us he had been on 'The Air Farce' program on CBC last year. We're gonna watch that this Sunday," Jake said.
Then Jake asked me if there was a lot of room in the corporate box at the ACC (Air Canada Centre) that we were going to be in for the Leafs vs Sabres Game in November.
"Could there be someone else that you'd like to invite?" I asked, as Dana and I smiled at each other.
As I guessed, they wanted to ask Josh and Tom to come along as well. However, they explained that Tom's friend Bryan was in that weekend from Calgary with his brother Mark.
"I'm sure the box can accommodate that many people. Kyle said it could handle twenty," I said with a big smile. "Why don't I call Kyle then talk to Tom."
Sean then told me about the relationship of Mark and Josh and what a rough upbringing that Bryan and Mark went through when they were living at home. I could tell that he had a lot of empathy for Mark's history as he was likely thinking back on his own past. After I called Kyle and confirmed the extra people, I called Tom.
"Thank you, Al. We're so grateful for your generosity. I'll be talking to Bryan tonight and I'll pass on the news."
We talked some more and Tom told me of the relationship of Josh and Mark and that they considered themselves brothers. He also gently hinted at the relationship he had with Bryan and that they were more than just good friends. I had picked up on that when he was talking about Bryan when they were over at the house the week before.
"Tom, it makes no difference to us. That's your private business," I said with reassurance.
I knew that wouldn't be a problem with the adults that were going to be there, but I wasn't sure about the kids. As far as I knew, this would be the boys' first exposure to a gay couple. I decided I would tell Dana but I wasn't going to pass on that information to the boys, as I didn't want to attract undue attention to something I didn't consider to be a big deal.
It was Saturday morning and the big day had come for our first league hockey game, which was at 9 am. The boys were excited and up early, despite the fact that they liked to sleep in on the weekend whenever they could. Sean was a little nervous, but Jake was his usual calm positive self. I was a little surprised as I thought Jake would be the one that was a little on edge, as playing goal came with a lot of responsibility.
As we were backing out of the garage, Sean asked us to stop as he wanted to check his hockey bag. He got out and opened the hatch on the back of the vehicle and rummaged through his hockey equipment. There didn't seem to be a problem and when he got back into the LX Dana asked him what he thought he had forgotten.
He hesitated and said, "Something real important."
He didn't elaborate and I figured that it was his jock. He was still a little embarrassed talking about that sort of thing with Dana. She had a puzzled look on her face and I just gave her a smile and told her I would tell her later. She finally figured it out and gave me a smile in return.
She wasn't going to let him off the hook though and turned to speak to him in the back seat, "I'm glad you have everything. You wouldn't want to have anything important left unprotected."
I could see from his expression in the rearview mirror that he was a little embarrassed, as he realized she had figured it out.
The boys went to the dressing room to get ready as Dana, Rickie, Mark and I followed behind them carrying the sweaters and socks to be distributed. Dana left to go to the stands as the three coaches gave out the uniforms. Our team was the Kings after the NHL Los Angeles Kings and we had the black and royal blue jerseys and socks. They looked sharp and especially went well with the colour of Jake's pads and Mask. Carson was the last player to arrive and wasn't happy at the jersey number that was left.
"I wanted number 87," he whined, as he was a big Sidney Crosby fan.
I told him that 87 wasn't one of the numbers that was given to us and that he would have to wear number 12. Rickie then couldn't resist and told him that he didn't deserve to wear number 87 the way he was playing in practice. I could see that we weren't going to be getting our best effort out of our superstar, as he pouted as he started to put on his equipment.
We left the boys to get dressed and went over the pre-game details outside the dressing room. Rickie was going to manage the forwards and Mark the defencemen. I was going to change the lines and be responsible for the overall tactics as the game progressed. We went back into the dressing room and I addressed the boys, had a chalk talk and went over some of the technical details I wanted them to remember.
We were playing the Sharks which was coached by Randy Biggar. He was in his early forties and was someone I had played hockey against a couple of times. He wasn't one of my favourite people as I found him to be a very aggressive person and player. I suspected that he was like that as a coach. This was also the team that Carson's friend was on and during the warm up he took some time to talk to him on the ice, which resulted in a stern rebuke from Rickie.
"Spencer, you're not at the mall. Get your butt down the ice and warm up."
After they warmed up we called them to the bench before the game started. It was then Rickie's turn to speak to them and he gave them a pep talk and got them fired up... at least everyone except Carson.
His line started and Sean was on his left wing, he was the centre and another boy was his right winger. Carson won the faceoff and the puck went into our zone where Charles got it and passed it to Carson. He took off down the ice and tried to beat all the other team's players but lost it as he was checked going for the net. By this time Sean and the other boy had themselves in position for a pass and both were open as most of the other team had pounced on Carson. The other team took the puck and went down and easily scored on Jake as our players were caught waiting for Carson to pass.
The rest of the game wasn't much better as we were a little outclassed. It didn't help that our best player was playing a very selfish game despite the coaches harping on him. I also had to speak to him about his swearing, as he came off the ice after one shift and let go with an obscenity laced tirade aimed at the referee, who thank goodness was too far away to hear.
"I don't want to hear that type of language and neither do the other parents behind us in the stands. You do that again and you'll sit the rest of the game," I said loudly so everyone could hear.
The other coach didn't help our cause either, as he was intentionally running up the score and only playing two of the three lines most of the time. By the time the game was finished the score was 8-2. Sean and the other boy got a goal each as I had removed Carson from their line early in the second period. They played much better without him. Charles got the puck after Sean had scored and gave it to Rickie on the bench, so that I could have it mounted later. Sean was so happy after he had scored and I could see through his cage that he was beaming when he came to the bench. I could also hear Dana loudly cheering above all the other parents.
All of the boys were still trying hard at the end of the game, except Carson who basically gave up after the third goal. His friend, who was the coach's son, had scored four goals as he was as big a hot dog as Carson. I was really pissed off after the game as house league rules mandated equal play for all the boys. Randy, the other coach, had intentionally violated that most of the game. When I shook hands with him after the game I reminded him of that fact.
"That's just a guideline not a rule. It's nothing to make a big deal about," he said with a patronizing tone to his voice.
"That's a rule, Randy. If you do that again I intend to make a big deal about it," I said as I glared at him.
After the game we went in to talk to the boys as they had their heads hung low and needed some encouragement. The three coaches talked to them about it being a long season and pointed out some of the good things that they did. As coaches we were encouraged by some of the things that happened as the game progressed. Jake had played well and stopped almost twenty-five shots, which was a lot for a house league game. Sean and Charles had played well despite playing with the one man army for the first period. We were very positive and by the time we were finished the boys (except for Carson) felt a lot better.
We left the dressing room to let the boys shower and get ready to go and were outside in the hall when Mr. Spencer came down to harangue us. He rudely went on about the fact that the other boys weren't at Carson's level of play and intimated that we didn't know how to coach.
"You should've gone down to two lines real early in the game, like Randy did. That killed us," he said.
I reminded him about the rule of fair play and he scoffed, "Rules are made to be broken."
He then started to criticize my line combinations as he wasn't happy that I had pulled Carson off Sean's line and put him on the third line. He hadn't been doing anything but hot dogging most of the game, despite our harping at him so I thought it was time for a wake up call.
"Your son's a helicopter. He plays without wings," I said as I had finally had enough of his nonsense. "He's a perfect example of why we tell the boys there's no 'i' in team."
He wasn't very happy and when Carson came out of the dressing room he left in a huff and loudly let us know he would be calling the league convenor. I had also made a decision and I would be talking to Dénis as soon as I got home.
Dana was our statistician and had logged a lot of the information I asked her to keep track of, that we would look at later. By now she had joined us in the hallway and was very upset. I knew she was as we could hear her throughout the game yelling from the stands and I didn't know how she had time to take stats. Even though she hadn't raised any hockey players, she had adopted the role of the stereotypical rabid hockey mom very well.
"What's with that number 12? Doesn't he know he's got other teammates out there with him?" she said with fire in her eyes. "And that other coach didn't play a lot of his boys. Is he allowed to do that?"
I smiled and put my arm around her and said, "Someone I know has become an instant hockey mom."
She finally calmed down and when Sean and Jake came out of the room she gave them a big hug as if they had won the game. They didn't seem any the worse for wear and despite the score were satisfied at the game as we talked on the way home in the LX.
"You tucked that rebound in really nice after Charles let go that rocket from the point," Jake said to Sean.
"And that save you made on the breakaway was great," Sean replied.
Both Dana and I were happy at the camaraderie that was going on. We were also happy that despite the score and the controversy surrounding Carson, they seemed to have enjoyed playing the game and had a positive outlook on the experience.
"The other guys on the team are cool," Sean said.
"We'll get better. We just need to play more games," Jake said.
After lunch I called Dénis and told him I wanted to trade Carson for another boy that was the centre of the second line on the team we had just played. Dénis reminded me that there was a talent differential involved and that would result in an imbalance in the teams. I didn't agree and from what I had observed the other boy, Ray Stringer, played a better team game and I was sure with some better coaching that his skill would improve. I knew his dad, who was a very good player in the beer leagues around town and I could see some of the same talent in his boy. With Randy Biggar as his coach he likely wouldn't be getting much encouragement or attention. Dénis agreed and told me he would call Mr. Spencer after he informed Randy. I then told him of Randy's antics and he was angry.
"I'll call that Neanderthal as soon as we're finished. He's been told before about that and warned."
When I got off the phone, I told the boys what had transpired. They were very happy that Carson was gone and that the other boy would be joining the team.
"Ray's in our Math class," Sean said.
"He's a nice guy. He wasn't very happy about his coach," Jake said.
Apparently they had been talking and Ray had told them that Randy wasn't very nice. He also said that he favoured his son and hadn't given many of the other boys much attention in practice. They were going to call Ray to tell him the news but I told them that they needed to wait until it was official.
The boys' schedule was turning out to be a busy one. They were involved in Grade 9 band practice two mornings a week before school started; private guitar lessons with Colin; a hockey practice and game a week; Student Council meetings once a month in the morning before school; Junior Choir practice once a week; to say nothing of their own 'band' practices with the boys.
Sometimes it was hard to fit homework and just being kids into that schedule. Dana and I were pretty good about helping them keep on track and organized, as that was a challenge that most teenagers found difficult. They were adapting to high school very well and were thoroughly enjoying the activities.
I had made an appointment with Phil to have the boys come and see him by the end of September, to see how they were making out with school and their lives. Phil thought that unless there was something that one of them really needed to deal with, that we could have one session for the two of them.
"Al, did you get a couple of new sons over the summer? These two can't be the same kids I saw at the golf course at the beginning of August. They're a lot bigger," he said as we all laughed. I really hadn't noticed but they had grown, particularly Sean. He was no longer the skinny little waif that I had found at the arena eight months ago.
I left them and went to do some grocery shopping for our meal that night. Dana had given me a shopping list and their session would give me enough time to get everything we needed. When I came back I had to wait a few minutes before Phil came out and called me in.
"I'm not going to go over specifics but we had a good talk and things seem to be quite good in their lives. Lord only knows they haven't had it easy living with you," he said as he chuckled and the boys giggled.
We left his office and went into the waiting room as we got ready to leave. Phil had his arm around the two of them and I could see that they were very comfortable with him.
"This is really depressing," he said as he looked back and forth at the two of them. "Now they're both taller than I am."
"That's not really saying much," I said as the three of us laughed as we walked to the door.
"I wouldn't laugh, Al. Your day is coming soon."
That night they came home from Junior Choir practice from the church. Dana had picked them up as she was getting more accustomed to driving the LX, as she was losing her nervousness at driving such a big vehicle. I wasn't too crazy about her driving her ten year old car and I insisted on her taking one of my vehicles instead. I had tried to buy her a new one but she was proud and wouldn't accept my offer. This was definitely something we were going to have to talk about once we were married. She felt safer in the LX rather than the BMW. I wondered how things went, as this was their second practice. They hadn't said too much after the first one but they looked like they enjoyed it.
"It was good. Ms. Brady's really good at teaching us about singing," Jake said.
"We're learning these old songs, but they're Ok." Sean said. "But, we've got to wear these dumb looking robes when we perform."
The two of them weren't crazy about the white gowns that had a high red collar on them.
"I'm sure you two look like angels," Dana said as she gave them a big smile.
"You two need halos," I said as I chuckled. As much as they were good kids, they were definitely not angels.
Stéphane and Charles were also in the choir and it turned out that they were the only boys. Charles and Mark had started coming to the contemporary service with us and Randy had recruited Charles when he heard he was in Sean and Jake's 'band'.
During the fourth week of September the school had a special Grade 9 parents' night. It lasted for an hour and a half and consisted of the parents spending fifteen minutes in each of their student's classes while the teacher talked about the curriculum, their expectations and program. Dana and I were going to be together in the boys' Math, Music and English classes, as they had the same teachers. However, their Business class was different. Dana was going to Sean's class with John Gregory and I was going to Ms. Rayner's.
Their first three teachers were very complementary about the boys, as Dana and I had a chance to talk to each one of them before we left for the next presentation. I wasn't surprised about any of the comments, as Ted was very pleased with both boys, Kate gushed about Jake and Cam about Sean. Kate expressed a small concern about Sean's progress but she was very positive about his work ethic and improvement over the first few weeks. Cam was impressed with Sean and told me that he was going to register him for the Grade 9 math contest, where he would be competing against kids from across the province.
The last presentations were by the Business teachers. When I walked into Trudy's room she was startled.
"What are you doing here, Al?" she asked.
"You have my son Jake in your class," I replied as I sat down.
I didn't feel I owed her any explanation and I started to talk to Mark, who had arrived with me. As she gave her presentation I could tell my presence had thrown her off, as she was very nervous. I was relishing in her discomfort, as I felt that this was payback for the many years of grief she had given me as the Head of the department. When we finished she came over to Mark and me before we left the room.
"I thought you had two daughters. Where did Jake come from," she said bluntly.
I gave her a few details and then introduced Mark to her. She wasn't very complementary about Charles and I could see that Mark wasn't very happy with what he was hearing. Neither was I, so I decided to take her to task, now that I wasn't bound by union rules of professionalism.
"I'm not sure what boy you're talking about, but that's not the Charles I know. You know I'm not a member of OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) anymore, so I don't have any restraints about what I can say to you or do."
She was going to say something, but she was clearly intimidated and she thought better of it. Even though I had won this battle, I knew that this was not going to be the end of the war.
When Mark and I hooked up with Dana she was very pleased at John Gregory's presentation. She thought the course was very interesting and was very impressed with John's demeanour and professionalism.
"I'd love to be able to take his course. I can tell he's an excellent teacher and he certainly thinks a lot of Sean. He wanted me to tell you that he's talked to Sean about DECA and he's hoping that he signs up."
I explained to Dana that DECA was the province-wide business competition that was open to students in any grade. There were divisions for junior and senior students and it was a great extracurricular activity for students to get involved in. It gave them a taste of what the business world was about. John had started the chapter for our Board when I hired him ten years ago.
"He certainly speaks very highly of Sean. To listen to him you'd think Sean was destined to be a CEO of a major corporation," she said with a proud smile on her face.
I agreed to speak to both of the boys about DECA, as I was sure Ms. Rayner hadn't mentioned anything to her class. At the end of the evening I was impressed with the presentations that we went through as the teacher's were very thorough and professional... except the bain of my existence, Ms. Rayner.
The next day Dana and I had an appointment with David Stratton, my financial advisor. Dana's house sale had been finalized and the proceeds of the sale needed to be invested. David went over her options and what he thought was best and we tied up all the paperwork necessary to create her portfolio. I was very happy at what he had recommended as was Dana. She had a reasonably good financial knowledge as she had taken care of the rest of her portfolio herself since her divorce from her husband years ago. David was able to incorporate that into her new investments that he was setting up for her. She also had insisted on keeping a fair sum in fairly liquid investments as she wanted to buy a new car.
"Why don't we wait until after the wedding? You don't want to rush into this," I said.
She agreed, but we visited a couple of dealerships on the way home. She was looking for a vehicle that she could use for her business that would have enough room to carry the food, chafing dishes and hotplates to the various catering jobs, but wasn't too big for her to handle. Even though financially there was no need for her to keep running her business, she enjoyed it and had restricted her activities to just some of her loyal clients.
In Canada, Thanksgiving is usually the second weekend in October. It was fast approaching as was our wedding day, which would be on the Saturday of that weekend. The wedding preparations were going well and the few people that were invited, other than our family, were able to make it. We had requested that we didn't want any gifts, since it was second marriages for both of us and there was little that we needed or wanted.
Kyle and Marty had planned a mens' night out the weekend before on the Saturday. I wasn't given much detail, except that we would be getting together at 1 pm. at Katie and Marty's place in Toronto. We had some limos rented that would take us from place to place, as I guessed that there would be some alcohol involved. There were eleven of us, including Scott, Phil, Mark, Charles, Kyle, Marty, Rick and Rickie with the boys and me.
I had talked to Sean and Jake about the fact that there would be drinking and that I certainly didn't intend to get drunk. It wasn't so much out of wanting to set a good example for the boys as much as it was something I couldn't do anymore. It took me a lot longer to recover the next day than it did when I was younger.
The boys were going down to Toronto on Friday night to stay with Katie and Marty and then come with Marty to join us the next day. Sean was particularly looking forward to spending time with Melissa as Katie, Carol, Kyle and Marty were taking the two boys, Melissa and Rachel out to dinner and a movie. Rachel was going to go down in the limo with Sean and Jake and stay overnight with Melissa. The next day, Katie, Carol, Rachel, Melissa and Dana were going to do some female bonding at a spa while we had our 'stag'. I didn't know why the boys took their guitars and amps but they said they wanted to practice.
Both Dana and I missed the boys that evening, but we made the best of it. We had a nice romantic dinner and evening... and equally romantic ending. Dana went with me in the limo on Saturday with her daughters, who were going on the spa adventure with the others. I picked up Kyle, Marty and the boys and we made our way to our first destination, where we would meet up with the other limo with the others.
"I'm glad you've got some casual clothing on," Marty said as we took off.
The boys had big smiles on their faces as they knew what activities we were going to be engaged in over the course of the next few hours. I was getting this uneasy feeling that these would not be activities I would have chosen, especially with the boys present.
"Here we are," Kyle said as we pulled up outside the Paintball arena! I wasn't a big one for violence and I had never shot a gun before, so this was going to be an interesting experience, to say the least.
"This is going to be so cool," Sean said as Jake and he climbed out of the limo.
"You're on our team, Dad," Jake said as the two of them gave me a big smile.
The other guys were already there when we arrived and they were ready for the 'competition'.
"Don't worry about getting hurt. We have a doctor in the house," Scott said as we all laughed. I was hoping that we wouldn't need his services as I was feeling a little uneasy about what was to take place.
We were in teams and we had to hunt and 'kill' each other with these menacing looking rifles. The referee gathered us together and explained the rules and safety guidelines and then explained the competition. I felt like a soldier out of World War II with all the gear on. The activity lasted about an hour and a half and afterwards we had pizza in their restaurant. The adults had beer and the kids had pop and despite my reservations, it actually was fun. The boys thought so too.
"That really stung when you got me on my butt," Charles said to Jake.
"Look at my arm. It's still got a welt from when you ambushed me," he replied.
The next stop wasn't such a strenuous activity as the first, as we went to a large billiard hall to play pool. None of the boys had played before, so we had to show them how.
"Those kids are born athletes. All three of them have great hand-eye coordination," Scott said as we watched Jake, Sean and Charles play. "They're also growing like weeds. It might be a good idea if I see them soon." I agreed and I made a note to call on Monday to book an appointment. Mark also was going to do the same for Charles.
After we were finished, we were all starting to get hungry again, so the next stop was Gretzky's. Marty and Kyle had made reservations and we had some great seats in the bar, where we were able to see all the TVs that lined the walls. There was an early hockey game on, which occupied some of our attention, but there was enough trash talking about the first two activities that the additional entertainment wasn't necessary.
After dinner, which consisted of a great hamburger with Wayne Gretzky's number '99' toasted into the inside of the top of the bun, we had 'boat races' with small glasses of beer. The boys chugged cokes while the adults chugged beer. I could never chug beer and needless to say I lost every race. Marty however, was a master at the activity as he was able to open his throat and ingest an entire glass of beer in seconds. Phil came in second as it turned out he was a boat race champion from his University days.
"Looks like you've had a lot of practice. How'd you find time to graduate?" I asked as we all laughed.
The adults were feeling a little 'relaxed' as we went outside to the limo and the boys were delighting in seeing who could belch the loudest and longest. None of the adults were really drunk, but we likely wouldn't have passed the breathalyzer test had we been driving. We headed off for our last stop for the night, which was a comedy club with other entertainment, as Kyle put it.
I was a little uncomfortable at the subject matter and language of the comedian, because the boys were present. I could tell by their reactions a couple of times that they didn't quite get the jokes, but I wasn't about to explain it to them. However, I didn't have to as Rickie took care of that task.
I wasn't really happy at Marty and Kyle's choice of entertainment and neither was Mark. As we were leaning over to voice our displeasure to Kyle and Marty, we were distracted as there was a murmur through the audience as the next act came on the stage. When we looked up, we could see a chorus line of girls dancing in very skimpy costumes. I looked over at the boys and their eyes were glued to the stage.
"I guess there's nothing we can do about it now. I'm sure they've seen worse than that before," Mark said with a look of resignation.
"We also can't be too righteous. Exposing them to this isn't any worse than watching us chug-a-lug," I said with a big sigh.
After Sean and Jake came to their senses they kept glancing over at me to see my reaction. I wasn't sure if I was being too prudish or not, but I did feel uncomfortable.
"I'm glad to see your eyes have popped back into your sockets, boys. I want you to know I don't think it appropriate that you were exposed to that tonight and I certainly wouldn't have allowed this had I known," I said as we left the club for the limo.
I decided I would voice my disapproval with Marty and Kyle later as we were all tired and I didn't want to say anything I would regret. I really did appreciate the rest of the day and what they had organized for me and I told them that as we walked to the Limo. They knew however, that I wasn't happy with the last part.
Dana and the girls weren't coming back with us as they had left for home much earlier in the evening. The ride back home in the limo was a quiet one and after about 20 minutes, all three boys were asleep. As I looked at my two handsome and talented teenaged boys, I quietly reflected on how my life had changed in a very short time. In less than a year I had gone from a very lonely man to one who was about to marry a caring and lovely woman who was going to join me in raising two wonderful sons.
A list of hockey terminology