We got home from our honeymoon on the holiday Monday afternoon. We were going to pick up the boys and go to Katie's house in Toronto to have thanksgiving dinner, as obviously we hadn't prepared anything to have the family over.
Our contribution to the meal was garlic mashed potatoes and vegetable pie. Dana had the boys help her, as they were still interested in cooking and learning from a master. In the course of conversation about the rest of the menu, Sean told us that he hadn't eaten turkey for many years, as his mother hadn't really put herself out for the major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas. The last time he had a real turkey dinner was at his grandmother's place many years ago.
The boys were the sous chefs and did the food prep, cutting up the broccoli and cauliflower for the vegetable pie casserole. They also peeled the potatoes and put the garlic gloves in the oven to roast for the garlic mashed potatoes.
We made our way to Katie's house in Toronto with my sister, Maryanne, who was joining us. Katie had cooked a very large turkey and had made her Grandmother's stuffing recipe, which was one of my and Carol's favourite parts of the meal. Everything was out buffet style and after we had loaded our plates we could see it was also one of Sean's favourite parts as well.
"You two have competition for the stuffing now," Katie said to Carol and I as everyone laughed.
The boys polished off lots of food which consisted of gingered carrots, baked butternut squash in halves with brown sugar on them as well as a salad and our contributions to the meal. Carol had made the vegetables and salad and Katie made the dessert as well, which was the traditional pumpkin pie with real whip cream. By the time we were finished all of us, including the boys, were stuffed.
That night Dana and I went into Sean's room after we had said goodnight to Jake. We knew he had had a good time as he had that contented glow about him. Teddy wasn't with him as he had been relegated to the chair for the last month as he didn't feel the need to confide in him anymore.
"What was your favourite part of the meal today?" Dana asked.
He paused for a moment, smiled and said, "Being with my family."
"Mine too," I said as I gave Dana a big smile then ruffled his hair. "Goodnight, Son."
Our next hockey practice was on the Thursday of the next week. While all the boys were enthusiastic and very good to work with, now that Carson wasn't around to taint the dressing room, it was becoming apparent to me that we would need to work on skill development that hadn't happened along the lower levels of their development. I had to keep reminding myself that this was house league and not rep hockey, as we went through practices and games.
We had now played three games and hadn't won any of them. However, except for the first one, we were competitive and only lost by a goal in the second and third games. The other two teams we played were well coached, well behaved and were a pleasure to play against. The boys had fun even though they lost and still had a positive attitude towards the season.
The new boy Ray Stringer, was working out very well and was quite coachable. His father was also very pleased that he had been traded to our team, even though he knew we weren't the most talented bunch of players.
"Ray is much happier with you and the boys. You don't show favouritism and you put a premium on having fun. That certainly wasn't happening with the other team," Barnie said.
He volunteered to help us at practice when he could and I was very happy as he was an excellent player. He could've made a professional hockey team but instead decided to focus on an electrical apprenticeship coming out of high school. He had done well for himself as he had a thriving electrical contracting business.
His real strength as a player was his shooting as he could put the puck in the net at will. He was always one of the scoring leaders in the leagues around town as he had the knack of reading goalies and hitting any of the four corners of the net.
"Boys, we have an expert shooter, who's going to give you some pointers," I said as Barnie got set up to demonstrate on Jake.
He showed the boys the mechanics of the wrist shot, snap shot and finally the slap shot. Then he had them line up in front of Jake, about 15 feet from the goal and one-by-one shoot wrist and snap shots. He gave them all great pointers and then had them move back to the blue line and shoot slapshots. A few of the boys still didn't have the strength or the mechanics to let go a hard shot, however, even though Charles was of average size on the team he had the hardest shot.
"My goodness, sport, you certainly can fire them. Let's work on keeping them down and on the net," he said to Charles after he had unleashed another missile that sailed head-high by the net.
"Yah!" Sean and a few of the forwards said as they overheard Barnie.
Charles had hit a few of them in front of the net in the last two games, which had left some big bruises despite their protective equipment. It was quite an adventure when he wound up from the point, as he had no idea where they were going, but they certainly were hard and high.
Ricky worked with the forwards and Barnie took the defencemen to the other end of the ice and worked on their slapshots. By the time Barnie was finished, Charles' control and height of shot was much better.
We got set up to run some breakout drills after the shooting, as we were having some difficulty getting the puck out of our end during the games. I had Charles' defence partner help me demonstrate a key point that had led to a few unnecessary goals. Pieter deBoer was a fairly big boy for his age and was a reasonably good stickhandler and skater. However, he had a very bad habit which some of the other boys had as well.
"Pieter, stand on the goal line here and get ready to skate to the blue line. I'm going to pass the puck to Ricky standing on the blue line and I want you to try and get there before the puck does," I said as we got set up.
I could see through his cage that he thought I was crazy, but he decided to go along with my request. Needless to say the puck moved a great deal faster than he did.
When he came back to the line he said, "That's impossible. The puck moves a lot faster than I can skate."
"Exactly," I said as I tapped the top of his helmet with my stick.
I then pointed out to the boys that the play speeds up a lot when the puck is passed rather than players trying to carry it all the time.
"And defencemen, never, never, never carry the puck out of our zone when you're the last man back," I said. That was a major error that was common amongst minor hockey players.
To reinforce my point I reminded them of our former superstar's penchant for trying to beat all the players on the ice, rather than passing.
"I don't want to be like him," Pieter said with disgust.
Our next game was the last in the cycle of teams in our league. This team's record was 0 and 4, as was ours, so this would determine who was in last place. I was pleased that the boys still had positive outlooks and were having fun. Despite some frustrations at their lack of skill and on-ice decision-making, I was enjoying the experience immensely. I remembered my envy of my hockey buddies as they were involved with their sons' minor hockey as they were growing up and now I was belatedly fulfilling that dream.
It was clear from the first few shifts that this team was very hungry for a win and was aggressively pursuing their goal. At this stage in the season in the Bantam division of the house league that we were in, there was no body checking allowed, as that would be phased in at the end of November. However, like the non-contact mens' leagues I played in, some 'incidental' contact was tolerated, depending on the referees that were doing the game. This team seemed to want to push the limits, as they tried to intimidate us by pushing and obstructing from the opening faceoff.
"They're a bunch of goons. Did you see number 15 push me into the boards?" Ray said to Sean on the bench after their shift.
Thank goodness we had a good set of referees and they called quite a few penalties on the other team. We were able to get two powerplay goals and led the game 3-1 at the end of the first. In minor hockey, there were only two periods and the teams changed ends after the first period, rather than leaving the ice.
By now, I was getting to know my players and some of them had very different on-ice personalities compared to their normal dispositions. Charles was one of those players and as his skills improved he became more comfortable and confident in the games. He also became the team agitator, as he had figured out very early in the season that Pieter, his defence partner, was very good at 'calming the waters'. Numerous times Charles had created a disturbance after the whistle in front of our net with some questionable tactics. Because of Pieter's size and his loyalty to his teammates, no one on the other teams wanted to go through him to get to Charles.
After a play where Jake had made a save and held onto the rebound, Charles had bumped one of the other team's players into the goalpost well after the whistle and made it look accidental. There was going to be no penalty however the other player took exception and started to come after Charles. In the ensuing scrum, we could see from the bench that Charles did something that wasn't picked up by the referees.
"I think my son just gave that guy a face wash," Mark said as he turned to Rickie and me.
A face wash was an intimidating action that was much worse when players weren't wearing face masks. It was when a player took his gloved open palm and pushed it into the face of the other player. Charles deftly ducked behind Pieter after he had pushed the other player's head backwards. Pieter intercepted the other player as he tried to get at Charles which effectively stopped the altercation. Because of Pieter's size, the other player chose discretion rather than valour, but complained bitterly to the referee as he was led to the penalty box and given a roughing penalty for taking after Charles and shoving him.
When he came to the bench Rickie leaned over and said, "Depew, you're going to get your clock cleaned one of these days if you keep stirring up.... crap."
I was glad to see Rickie restraining his language, as I was adamant that we show verbal discipline in front of the boys. The game finally ended and we held on for a 4-3 win. There were no hard feelings from the other team as we shook hands at the end, as was the custom after every game. As we were going off the ice, Carson's new team was waiting to come on, as they were playing the next game.
As we passed by them, Carson turned to the other hot dog on his team and said in a loud voice, "The losers finally won a game." The two of them then let out hearty laughs.
Some of our players heard them and were not very pleased as they slowed down. Rickie quickly grabbed a hold of Sean and Ray as they were about to take the matter into their own hands. We quickly got the boys down the hall and into the dressing room without any other incident.
"Boys, I'm not going to tell you to ignore and forget what happened out there, but I want you to channel your energies into beating them on the ice, not in the hallway,' I said.
Mark, Rickie and I spent the next few minutes lecturing the boys on discipline and not to stoop to Carson and his friend's level. We emphasized that the best way to stop their taunts was to play hard and beat them. Finally the boys cooled down and we left them to shower and get ready after we praised them on their excellent efforts and first win.
The day of the Toronto Maple Leafs versus Buffalo Sabres game was here and the boys were very excited about seeing their first live game. As usual, I ordered a stretch limo to take us to the ACC (Air Canada Centre), as none of us wanted to fight the traffic going into and coming from Toronto. My limo bills were certainly bigger now that the boys were with me as there were more frequent trips.
Dana decided to come with us as she was really getting into the sport, now that she was living with three hockey fanatics. Mark and Charles, Stéphane and Denis as well as Rachel went with us from town and we picked up Melissa when we got to Toronto. Rachel, like Dana, was developing an interest in hockey, but for an an entirely different reason.
"Well which team are you going to root for?" I asked her as she entered the limo. It was quickly apparent that it was going to be the Sabres, as she sat down in the seat that Jake had saved her beside him, as they gave each other big smiles.
All the boys had hockey sweaters on and Jake had brought a Sabres sweater for Rachel. We also brought sweaters for Josh and his friend Mark so they didn't feel left out. The boys knew they weren't big hockey fans so we had bought a Maple Leaf jersey for Josh and Calgary Flames one for Mark, so he wouldn't be razzed if he wore it back home in Alberta.
When we picked up Melissa she had on a Maple Leaf sweater as well and sat down in the seat Sean had saved beside him. They gave each other big smiles and were oblivious to everyone else in the limo as we made our way to the ACC.
We had agreed to meet Tom, Bryan, Josh and Mark in the underground entrance to the ACC in Union Station, the major hub of transportation in Toronto. When we found them we did the introductions and the boys gave Josh and Mark the sweaters. They were thrilled and thanked us, then immediately put them on.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Burger. That was very thoughtful," Bryan said.
"Please call me Al, and you're welcome. The boys thought it would be a good idea," I replied.
Bryan and his brother Mark bore a strong family resemblance and were slim and good looking. I could also see as we walked along that there was a strong bond between Bryan and Tom. At one point they were discreetly holding each other's hands as we made our way through the crowd and to the private box.
When we arrived Marty was there but Kyle wasn't. Marty was a little evasive about where he was, but because of all the activity and conversation going on amongst everyone, I didn't pursue it. We got seated and started to watch the teams warm up, while a server brought us some food and drinks. Finally Kyle arrived and he introduced himself to Tom, Bryan, Josh and Mark and then made his way over to Jake.
"I have a friend who's a scout for the Sabres and I was downstairs picking this up for you," he said to Jake as he handed him a Buffalo Sabres hat and puck.
Jake smiled as he took the hat and then his expression turned to amazement as he looked at the writing on the peak of the hat, 'To Jake - Ryan Miller'. He forgot himself and gave Kyle a big hug, which surprised him.
"I guess that means you like it," Kyle said with a big smile as Jake broke the hug.
He knew Sean didn't have a favourite Leaf player but he managed to get him an official Maple Leaf puck, which didn't elicit the same reaction as Jake. Nonetheless he did show his gratitude by sincerely thanking Kyle. It took Jake about five minutes to come back down to earth as he was ecstatic at having his idol's autograph. He was treating it as if it was a delicate figurine and asked Dana to put it safely away in her large handbag. Dana and I gave each other big smiles when he wasn't looking as we knew he would cherish the gift for a long time.
The kids were getting along very well as it seemed that they had a lot of common interests. Sean and Mark were talking about baseball as Josh mentioned that Mark was a very talented player. Sean had played some years ago and I knew that he still had a lot of interest in the game. It was clear from what I was gathering from the conversation that he wanted to play again.
"Mark's a really good baseball player," Sean said as I had made my way over to the boys to see how they were getting along.
"Maybe we should sign you up for Little League next year, when Jake starts Soccer," I said. His big smile was all I needed for an answer.
The game was predictable, as Ryan Miller stopped every shot the Leafs took on him in the first period with ease. The Leaf goalie wasn't as lucky as he let in two goals on five shots. It was becoming apparent once again, that the Leafs were not going to be very good this season.
Everyone was having a good time and getting along as if they had known each other for years. Tom and Bryan were telling us about their lives and future goals. I wasn't sure if our kids had picked up the fact that they were gay, as there were some clues that maybe they wouldn't have noticed. I also wasn't sure if Josh had said anything to the boys, but if he had it didn't seem to faze any of them. What I didn't know was that Bryan's brother, Mark, was also gay and had a boyfriend in Calgary.
"I've talked to Mark about being discreet, as it's hard enough going through adolescence without the added pressure of having to defend your alternative sexuality in our culture. I told them to wait until they were older before 'coming out', when they're better able to handle the pressures of being openly gay," Bryan said.
Dana and I admired their devotion to each other, as it was clear that they truly loved each other. We also admired their maturity and their parenting skills, as it was obvious that they were great role models for Josh and Mark. Both of them were great father figures, which was difficult enough for someone who was much older than them. When I looked at the fathers that were in the box, there were Tom and Bryan in their twenties, Mark in his thirties, Denis in his early 50's and me in my 60's.
"You know if you look around at the fathers that are here today, it's clear that age isn't necessarily the most important criteria. It's clear to Dana and I that you two boys, and at my age I can use that term, are real dads to Josh and Mark," I said as we gave them big smiles.
At one point in the conversation between the second and third periods, Tom was talking about future summer plans. They told us that they were thinking of putting together a tour of the battlefields and war memorials in Europe.
"I've done some of that in the early 70's when I was in my carefree days. Rick and I spent 8 months touring in a Volkswagen van with another one of our friends," I said as I smiled. It brought back memories one of which I shared with them.
We went through the Communist corridor to West Berlin and crossed over at Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin. We couldn't believe how grey and drab the other side of the wall was and we didn't stay long. Many of the buildings were still bombed out and hadn't been fixed or rebuilt. On our way back there was a field between the sidewalk and the Berlin wall and we decided to walk across it to see the wall up close. We had taken about three steps each when a number of very menacing looking guards descended upon us frantically speaking German and motioning us back to the sidewalk with their machine guns.
"Needless to say we quickly obeyed. It was then that one of the guards, who spoke broken English, told us the field was mined!"
Dana hadn't heard that story and said with a worried expression, "I'm glad you and Rick aren't as venturesome today."
I told Tom and Bryan that I would love to go back and see Berlin without the wall and the Brandenburg gates, which we couldn't get near in the 70's. They then went on and told us of what they had planned for the rest of the summer with the boys.
"I've been a counsellor at Camp Tonawonka, which is where I met Josh. Are Jake and Sean thinking about camp next summer?" he asked.
I told him that they had gone to leadership camp last summer but what he was telling me about Camp Tonawonka peaked my interest.
"What you're describing would be great for the boys. I'm sure they'd love it. Sean would love the Computer program with Bryan and Jake would love the Athletic/Sports program. Is this camp coed?" I asked with a big smile on my face as I turned and nodded towards Rachel and Melissa. Tom and Bryan gave me big smiles and assured me it was. Denis and Mark thought that would be great for Charles and Stephane as well.
All the kids seemed to be getting along very well, as they were all talking together most of the time about music and other teenage topics, and devouring the trays of food and drinks that were ordered. Josh and Stephane seemed to be having a great conversation about their challenges being the student council presidents the year before in grade eight and Charles and Mark had connected as I was guessing that they were talking about running. The third period was about to start and the kids got up to take their seats at the front of the box. They all stopped to talk to us on the way by.
"Josh told us about this neat camp he goes to in the summer," Sean said.
"Yeah, and Mark's coming in from Alberta with Bryan too," Charles said as he looked at his father.
"Well, that's a real coincidence. We were just talking about that," Dana said as we gave them a big smile.
"Do you know it's coed?" I asked.
"We do," Melissa piped up. Rachel was beside her and the two of them had big smiles on their faces, as did the boys.
Lamentably, the game turned out to be another loss for the Leafs as the Sabres beat them 3-0, but Jake was ecstatic that Ryan Miller got the shutout. Everyone thanked Kyle as we all appreciated his generosity at inviting us to his company's corporate box. We all said our goodbyes as we parted in the hallway in the underground promenade. I noticed that Sean had become a little reserved around Tom and Bryan and I chalked it up to shyness.
We dropped off Melissa at the Morgans house and Dana and I went to the door with Sean and Melissa to say hello to the Morgans. They were very grateful and thanked us for inviting Melissa. I chuckled to myself, as I couldn't imagine what Sean would have been like if we hadn't asked her. They gave each other a hug but I could see they were longing for some privacy that wasn't going to happen. I had had a talk with both boys about the boundaries that I expected them to live within with regard to their sexual exploits. I told them that I wasn't about to leave them unchaperoned for any length of time and that I considered them too young to be getting into any heavy relationships at their ages.
When we got home Dana and I were talking to the boys about going to camp the next summer and Sean's enthusiasm seemed to have waned. When we were putting him to bed and I decided to find out what was bothering him.
"I thought you were really excited about going to camp with Josh and Mark next summer. Tom and Bryan are really looking forward to having you and Jake come for a week,' I said.
There was hesitation and Dana and I tried to get him to open up. He was being very evasive and we knew there was something really bothering him.
"I think we talked before about being honest with each other," Dana said as she put her hand on his arm.
Finally he opened up and told us he had noticed Tom and Bryan holding hands and put two and two together.
"Sean, they're a gay couple. I'm not sure why that's bothering you," I said.
The only reason he would give was 'because'. Dana wouldn't leave it and finally it came out that it was because of what Maury Greeves had done to him and that as far as he was concerned all gays were like him.
"Maury was a pervert, Sean. Tom and Bryan certainly are not. They're in a loving and committed relationship just like your dad and me. The only difference is they're two males and we're a male and female," Dana said.
"Do you think Josh is straight?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said with a tone that indicated he thought the remark was stupid.
"Does he look like he's concerned that Tom will sexually assault him?"
He paused for a few moments and finally started to see what Dana and I were talking about. For the next half hour we had a frank discussion about a number of things related to his past and what it meant to be gay. When we were all talked out he was beginning to see what we meant that Tom and Bryan didn't pose any threat to him. We knew that he wasn't quite convinced and we resolved that we would continue the discussion the next day and include Jake.
The next morning we all went to the contemporary church service. It was ironic that Reverend MacLaughlin's sermon was about tolerance and acceptance and I couldn't help but look at Sean when Randy used a reference to a gay couple as one of his examples. This was a very contentious topic in the United Church, as recently there was official adoption of gay ministers to the clergy. This issue had caused a lot of church members to leave the United Church across Canada. After we got home, we had lunch and then went into the living room and sat the boys down to continue the discussion we had with Sean the night before.
"Did you realize, Jake, that Tom and Bryan were a gay couple?" I asked.
"Yah, why?" he asked with a puzzled look on his face.
He had noticed them holding hands and wasn't bothered by their covert show of affection. He thought they were nice people and figured that if Josh was OK with it then he was as well. Sean was a little surprised that Jake knew and seemed to be softening his outlook somewhat after the sermon and the fact that the three of us didn't see the issue as a big deal. We could see that he still wasn't 100% comfortable with the situation but both Dana and I were pleased that he was opening up and talking frankly to us about his feelings.
"I just think it's gross that they'd kiss or do other things....," he said.
"Sean, they're not going to have a passionate embrace or anything else for that matter in public," I said.
After about an hour of discussion, he was more accepting of the situation. He finally said he was looking forward to going to camp and spending time with Josh and Mark. It was obvious that Josh hadn't said anything about Mark being gay to either one of them, so Dana and I didn't feel the necessity to reveal that fact to them.
The next Friday night the all-night dance-a-thon for the food drive took place at the school. Dana and I knew the boys would be zombies the next day when they came home, but it was for a good cause and they were going to be well chaperoned.
When we went to pick them up the next morning Sean came out of the school first and was by himself. Stephane, Charles and Jake followed behind but Sean didn't say goodbye to them, as he climbed into the LX. He didn't seem too chatty and said that things went OK. Jake climbed in after he said goodbye to the boys and told us he had a good time. On the way home, the boys didn't talk to each other, and Dana and I chalked it up to them being very tired. Neither one of them volunteered too many details.
They took off to their rooms when we got in and were getting ready to go to bed for a few hours, as they ate at the school before they left. As we went down the hall to get them settled we heard them having a loud heated discussion.
"What's the problem, boys?" I asked as we came into Sean's room.
"Nothing," Jake said as he glared at Sean then turned and left for his room.
Dana and I looked at each other and decided that this was not the time to get into it with them since they were cranky and sleep deprived.