While riding home from a ballgame the other night our twins (they are 16) started asking their dad some questions. Not the kind of questions they did when they were little, like where do babies come from? Or, is Santa real? But hard questions just the same. I stayed out of the conversation. Mainly because they were on a roll and I was enjoying the conversation but also because the pressure was on Bill. All I had to do was listen and relax.
“Dad, what was your favorite thing about when you lived in Detroit?”
“Going to the park with my grandpa.”
“Why did you leave Michigan?”
“Because I met your mom, fell in love and got married.”
“Where did you meet her?”
(They know all the answers to most of these questions, they just like hearing the story over and over)
“The Florida Keys. I was camping with some guys and your mom came down with some of her friends. They camped next to us and couldn’t put up their tent. I helped put up her tent and she taught me how to play backgammon. We played all week and when she left I told my friends I was going to marry her. I didn’t know it at the time but she’d told her friends the same thing.”
“But how did you date if she lived in Atlanta and you lived in Michigan?”
“For our first date I flew her to Michigan for a dinner at the hospital where I was working. I didn’t know it at the time but your mom is scared to death of flying. She must have really liked me to get on that plane.”
The boys got tired of hearing our romance story and moved on to something more interesting.
“Did you ever skip school, Dad?”
For those of you who may not know, I am a teacher. My mother was a teacher. Most of my aunts and cousins are teachers. I believe in the power of education with all my heart and soul. Skipping school is not something I would approve of and the boys knew it. They grinned at me when they asked their dad the question. They knew the answer to this one, too. He’s told them many times about some of his escapades when he was younger. Some of his stories I’d rather he kept to himself but unlike me he doesn’t believe in keeping all his past mistakes secret. My theory is I know my kids will make mistakes I just don’t want them to make the same ones I did. I think each generation should come up with their own. Bill believes that he can share his mistakes and that the boys will listen and learn from his experiences. Who knows which one theory is right? The one thing I’ve learned over the years about parenting is their is NO RIGHT ANSWER for every question or each kid. You do your best, say a lot of prayers, and let God and the child work it out. But back to my story….
“Yes, I skipped school,” Bill said. “I was in middle school and the Red Wings were practicing right down the road from my school. They normally practiced somewhere else but this one day for some reason they were right down the road. It was too big a temptation for me. I skipped school and went to their practice.”
“By yourself?” the boys asked.
“Yep. All alone,” Bill answered
They soaked that in for a minute. The two of them have participated in lots of mischief over the years, but with few exceptions they always get in trouble together. I guess that’s part of the joy of being a twin…sharing the punishment for your crime.
“So what happened at the practice?” they asked.
Bill smiled. He loves this story and he knows I don’t because it involves skipping school.
“I hung out at practice and after it was over I got a stick someone had broken and all the players signed it for me. Then I followed Gordie Howe to a coffee shop and sat by him. He ordered coffee and I got a hot chocolate. ”
“The Gordie Howe?” they ask.
The boys know it was The Gordie Howe. Furthermore they know that Gordie holds records for winning goals (122), games including playoffs (1,924), goals including playoffs (869), career assists by a right winger (1,049), and career points by a right winger (1,850). He is the only player to accumulate more NHL records is the great Wayne Gretzky. They know all this because Bill is a life long Gordie fan and even though he married me and moved south he never gave up his love for hockey or the Wings.
“Yep, just me and Gordie swapping stories and drinking our coffee and chocolate.”
Then for the first time in all the years I’ve heard the story one of the boys asked the question I should have asked but never had. “Did Mr. Howe know you were skipping school?”
I sat up straighter. Now was my chance to score some education points with my boys. Surely Mr. Howe had chastised my husband for skipping school.
“What did he say, Dad?”
I held my breath.
“I was eleven years old and I was holding on to the hockey stick the Wings had signed like it was made out of gold. I had two pictures of Gordie I’d cut out of the paper and asked him to sign. So when he asked me why I skipped school I just told him the truth. I told him some things were more important.”
“What did he say then, Dad?”
“He laughed and autographed my pictures.”
“Was that your best day ever, Dad?”
“One of the best,” Bill answered and he looked at me and smiled. “The day I met your mom and the days you and your brothers and sister were born were the very best.”
There was total silence in the van. My boys were enthralled with the story. Bill was still smiling, clearly remembering the event as if it had just happened.
I thought about telling the boys that while it was a good story they should definitely not ever skip school. I thought about pointing out the dangers of an eleven year old wandering the streets of Detroit. I thought about it, but I didn’t say a word. There are some things more important than school.