Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey, it wasn't so bad after all!

By Dick Wright, Editor, The St. Thomas Times-Journal, St. Thomas, Ontario, March, 1970

It is not easy being the father of a figure skating daughter. It takes patience, nerves of steel, understanding and -- most important of all -- an adjustment that is certain to change your entire outlook on life.
Fairy wings needed
For a dad who has devoted much of his existence to playing, coaching and writing about sports and envisioning one day watching his own son pitch a no-hitter in baseball or lead his hockey team to a crucial overtime victory, the adjustment to figure skating dad does not come overnight.
The change in you begins with the concession that the dream of having a sports star for a son is not likely to materialize and you had better start making the best of the two wonderful daughters you have been blessed with. That much is easy, really.
.The part that eats away at you in the beginning is that you actually find yourself becoming involved in things you never imagined you would...And strangely enjoying it.
Take the aforementioned figure skating for instance. I must confess that I exposed my eight-year-old daughter Debbie to this form of winter activity on an organized basis for the first time a year ago. "She'll enjoy it, and who knows, maybe she will be the Barbara Anne Scott of the future," I reasoned. (There I go again, dreaming.) Trouble is, I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.

.It is painful to recall my first experience at taking Debbie to the arena for an introductory figure skating session. The thought that figure skating is "sissy stuff", deep-rooted since boyhood, suddenly came back to me as we made our way down the arena corridor, hand-in-hand.

."Golly, I hope I don't run into anyone I know," I thought as I turned up my coat collar and entered a dressing room marked "Ladies" to help Debbie lace up her skates.

.My first encounter with a figure skating club official threw me for yet another loop. "Is this your daughter's first year?" I was asked. "It is? Well then as a junior she..." What followed was a rapid-fire litany of information completely confusing to me.

."Are there any questions?" I was finally asked. "No", I lied, suddenly reduced from the sports authority I thought I was to a red-faced, novice figure skating parent.

.The months that followed were filled with ups and downs for both father and daughter. It was sheer torture at first. I swear it hurt me more than it did her every time she fell on the ice. When she was mastering a certain step or figure, my heart ached for her, and when she did well the pride swelled within me almost to the point of shouting for all to hear: "That's my daughter out there!"
Between lessons and patches we would work on routines together at home and on the more spacious Pinafore Pond ice surface where we could stretch out, many evenings long after dark. I learned from first-hand experience the difficulty in keeping edges and performing figure 8s. The Dutch Waltz was a particular challenge for both of us but eventually we got the hang of it -- Debbie good enough that she passed her all-important dance test (skating with the reigning Canadian juvenile pairs champion as her partner certainly did not harm her cause).

The Carnival: Biggest Test of All .

The experiences of those developing months were nothing, however, compared to what was to come in the form of the annual figure skating carnival -- The Big Show.

."Similar carnivals marking the end of the figure skating season are held in almost every arena in Canada at this time of year," I tried to convince myself, "and they haven't lost a figure skating parent yet. So wrapped up was I by this time that I didn't even flinch when it was announced that my daughter had been selected as a "fairy" in the show. But as the carnival date drew near I began to experience a new type of anxiety and the night of the production I was so much on edge I could hardly even finish my second helping of mashed potatoes.

."Aren't you just a little nervous?" I asked Debbie, misery enjoying company. "Nope, not really," she replied..."Can I have some more chocolate pudding?"

.The events of the next few hours are not completely clear, but I noticed later that somehow my finger nails had been bitten to the quick. We were two blocks from the arena when my wife Anne had the presence of mind to ask If I had picked up the carnival tickets from the kitchen table. After a return trip home, we arrived at the arena along with some 2,500 other people.

.As I sat in my hard, cold arena seat waiting for the show to begin and wiping beads of perspiration from my forehead, I could not help but think how far the two of us had come in the past few months -- Debbie as a skater and I as a father.

.The lights dimmed and the music began -- the big moment was at hand. When Debbie finally skated onto the ice with 19 other daintily attired youngsters, I had a lump in my throat and an ache in the pit of my stomach. I noticed a tear hovering in the corner of my wife's eye.

.The Fairies performed to perfection and if any of them made mistakes we didn't notice. It wouldn't have mattered anyway.

.When the Fairies skated off the ice to a thunderous applause that had its density in our section, it was as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

.Yes, it isn't easy being the father of a figure skating daughter, but I'm a battle-scarred veteran now. I'll be in better shape for next season when my younger daughter Cindy takes to the figure skating ice for the first time. I'm looking forward to it!
*With minor revisions to story.

It was only natural that Cindy (left) would want to try on parts of her sister's Fairy costume and dream of "next year" when she would be in figure skating too. It was also only fair at the time that I take this picture, and I publish it now in that same spirit of "fairness". Dad's have to be careful that way.
FOOT NOTE: The St. Thomas Figure Skating Club obviously knew a soft touch when they saw one. I was named to the board of directors soon after this article appeared in the newspaper and became President the following year. And that's another story.
*See more photos, below

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