My First Childhood Hero: Pele, has Died.

Upon hearing that my first childhood hero, Pele, had died, I was filled with memories of my youth! I found myself thinking about stories I had told about soccer and my love of the sport, and now that there is something called the Internet, I found myself checking back on some of these memories only to find out they didn’t exactly occur as I had remembered… Oops.

As a kid growing up in Toronto who was, how can I say this politely, not so fit, I somehow had a love of the sport of soccer. I know it was 100% because of Pele, but I don’t remember how or why. I know that I begged my parents to sign me up for soccer, and in hindsight… who signs fat kids up for a sport which requires them to run… a LOT. Nonetheless, my parent put me in recreational soccer and I lasted for 3 long seasons. I played forward, but there was SO much running and I didn’t know how to play soccer, let along forward, so that was a bust. My coach put me in goal, but to ensure I didn’t break my glasses, he made me take them off. So our team had a goalie who was afraid of the ball AND who couldn’t see it. I’m pretty sure after a few (maybe 6) goals, I found my perfect spot… the bench. It was the right choice. I looked forward to the orange segments at halftime and I could watch my team and cheer them on and be safe from running and getting hit in the face. I also remember being kicked in the shin by someone with metal cleats and half the skin on my shin was torn off, and me thinking how barbaric this sport was. The iron is that as an adult I played 25 years of organized ball hockey blocking shots, taking cross checks, getting teeth chipped, stitches, and tons of other things strained, torn and separated.

I digress.

I remember late one soccer game, my coach subbed me in on defence and somehow the ball wound up on my side. I took the ball up the pitch waiting for someone to challenge me, and before I knew it, I was almost at the goal line and completely lost with what to do next. I heard my coach yell, SHOOOOOOOTTTTTTT”, so that I did, as I was tumbling out of bounds, and somehow my shot across the front of the goal had enough spin on it to find the back of the net. My first goal! My last goal too, as I immediately realized that I had finally contributed to my team and was content this wasn’t my sport.

But soccer… I played street hockey a ton, and I loved pitching, yet I played organized soccer, and I remember going to see the Toronto Blizzard professional soccer team in the North American Soccer League (NASL) play in Exhibition Stadium. I could have swore that I watched Pele play against the Blizzard while he was a member of the New York Cosmos. Turns out, that didn’t actually happen. Pele played for the Cosmos in 1975, 76 and 77. The Blizzard played at Exhibition Stadium from 1979 to 1984. Oops. I was right that the Blizzard lost to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and that was the beginning of my dislike of that franchise (the Rowdies, of course, not the Blizzard). I wished that I had the opportunity to see Pele play in person, and while I believe that I did, I think I’m going to continue to tell myself that I did, because I remember seeing him play somewhere, even if it was while daydreaming, on the soccer pitch, wondering why I thought I could actually play soccer.

My 1 goal put me 1282 behind my hero, Pele.

RIP, legend.

Great Father’s Day! Happy Father’s Day, 2015.

Today is Father’s Day, 2015.

I love Father’s Day – not just today – but every day, because I feel that every day is Father’s Day.  I don’t need a day where it’s forced, but I know that I am not in the majority when it comes to the father’s role in a household.

I am a huge fan of Mother’s Day! – Not for being the only day to celebrate and appreciate your mother and the mother of your children – but because of the pain and effort Mother’s went through to have their children, and then go through for the rest of their lives for their children.

In most cases, without Mothers there would be no Fathers.

Growing up, I never felt the need to go hardcore on either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day because I tried to express my appreciation for my parents every day of the year, or at least more often than once a year.  I still bought the cards, chocolates, flowers and whatever else was available for my parents but I never saw it for more than an opportunity for retail stores and the greeting card market to cash in.

Fast forward to today, in 2015, and as a super-involved parent of 3 fabulous children, I feel the same way about Father’s Day for me.  I don’t need a tie, or cufflinks, nor a store bought card they signed, or another mug touting me as the World’s Greatest Dad.   All I really need is a hug, kiss, and a hand-made gesture of their appreciation for anything that I’ve done during the year.

As a result, my Father’s Day this year was awesome and here are some of the reasons why;

My almost 6-year-old daughter had a soccer tournament through her North Toronto Soccer team, and I’m the coach!  She started out playing soccer quite timidly, not surprising as the youngest of 3 kids whose older siblings are boys, but she has been great as of late.

Ever since a classmate of hers knocked her on her ass on purpose, which proved to be a wake-up call from my daughter, who got up, didn’t cry, dusted herself off, and then started playing more physically, which resulted in her scoring 3 goals including the game winner!

In fact, as this was the last game of the season for the team, there was one girl who had not scored a single goal all season, and after my daughter sped through the middle with the ball, and blew past both defenders, she waited at the goal line, called for this girl to run over, and she let the girl score her first goal.

The girl cried.

Her parents cried.

I almost cried.

If that is not the more empathetic thing a 5-year-old can do without being told to do so by anyone on the team, I don’t know what is.  It made me realize that this child is special, and maybe… just maybe, the parenting is paying off.

This girls parents told us that their daughter is going to remember this day forever.

From there, we packed a lunch, grabbed some extra tissues in case of nose bleeds, and we headed north to Richmond Hill, to take child number 1 to a birthday party in Vaughan Mills.

We walked around the mall, and walked and walked and walked, and then when we could walk no more, we headed out for dinner to one of my favourite restaurants, Mezza Notte Trattoria, where I ate their super incredible appetizer of escargot on a Portobello mushroom in a cognac sauce, and I had a delicious piece of halibut with tomatoes, olives, and angel hair pasta.

I asked if anyone wanted to try the escargot, and because it was Father’s Day, my daughter stepped up to the plate.  She said she liked it, but she also said that she liked it better than the whale we tried while in Iceland.

I had coffee after everyone was in bed with my long-time friend and jazz musician, Dr. Andrew Scott, and then we packed up our belongings and went to the Rinx, for an 11pm ball hockey game.  I’ve been running my own team in the YCBHL since I was 19-years-old, called the Tasmaniacs.  I love the 11pm games, and it’s great working up a sweat and getting to be all aggressive for an hour.  At this particular game, we only had 2 defenseman which meant I got to play almost the entire game.

Then we all got changed, I dropped Dr. Scott off at home, and my neighbour and I went for another coffee at 1am.

I think we got home at 2:30am, so what else can I do at that hour with everyone sleeping but blog.

I blogged, did some paperwork, and hit the bed.

I am truly blessed!

Every day is Father’s Day.

Kids finding interest in sports they like… finally!

For those of you playing along at home, you might recall a post of two lamenting the fact that my boys hate sports and how that makes me very sad. Well that can be changed now to say it made me sad.

A lot has changed in the past couple months and now I believe both my boys have finally found their niches.

My boys love swimming!

I cannot explain in words just how much they love swimming. For just over a year now, I take them to swim classes. Their growth and confidence in the water is off the charts. I thought in mid-August, when my then 5-year-old was jumping into the deep end of the pool at camp without a life jacket or life preservation aid he was doing well, it’s only getting better from there. His current instructor said he loves to dive in, and then merrily swim across the width of the pool. All he has to do is make it across without stopping and he’s moving up to another level. Very exciting!

His little (not so little) brother, Stewie, on the other hand, was afraid to dunk his head in the water – in the pool and in the bath – because 2 years ago he slipped and fell backwards in the bath and took in a lot of water in the 1.2 seconds before I calmly plucked him out. He never forgot that and has hated water since then. Then all of a sudden, over the past couple weeks, I was able to watch their swim class to see that he has completely dunked his entire body, and head under the water and even last night in the bath he went all the way under. He has turned a corner. The best part of that he has the proudest look on his face.

It seems like every day that Stewie asks me, with a glimmer in his eyes, if tonight is his swimming night, and on his swimming night, when he enters the change-room, cold and wet after his class, he has the biggest smile on his face as if he’d just finished the greatest thing ever.

My boys love swimming!

I am very okay with that. Plus… Lifeguards are cool. They have to be in great shape, so those two factors will totally help them later in life – being in shape, being cool and let’s not forget the fact that being a great swimmer lessens the chance of drowning.

But in case being the cool swimming kids results in them being picked on – Linus mainly, Stewie is huge for his age and really tough – at least both boys know karate!

So let’s talk about karate now.

My boy now loves karate too.

I know. Last check-in, one loved it and the other hated it, well that is no longer the case.

Linus, who never liked karate was particularly bored one class, lots of yawns and not doing the moves as if he was going to kill someone but instead as it was trying to tickle (or annoy) them. Well obviously, that pisses me off and quite frankly folks, I’m tired of yelling to (at) him during the class, “Linus! Wake up! Linus, quit playing with your pant strings. Linus, focus!!!!” and to be honest, I’m sure the Sensei’s are ready to turf me out or start using me as their demonstration dummy.

Frustrated, I asked the owner’s sister if she could have a sensei take him aside and teach him the importance of doing his best, not being goofy and paying attention. Well I got way more than I had expected. The sensei took Linus into the back room and explained to him what karate is all about.

Sure, I told him when he first started that karate was to be used for self defense but never actually explained how that works because I’ve never taken it before. And while I thought their “kata” looks more like a dance routine, I never understood that it represented the telling of a story.

This sensei explained to him why you need to do these moves as hard and accurate as possible and to be prepared for the next move in case there are more than one bad guy trying to harm you. Armed with this knowledge, my son grew 2 feet taller on the spot. His moves the rest of the class were crisp, accurate and on target. His footwork was excellent and he used his moves to harm, not annoy. This was reflected in his next karate class where he was one of the top kids and his sensei’s commented on that.

The following week, another one-on-one session saw him get a stripe for being on top of his game. He announced to me after the class that he now likes karate and wants to get more belts. YAY.

So how happy does this make me? Very. Sure it was hard not having him want to play hockey this past winter, or skate, and neither boy wants to play soccer this summer, but I think tennis and golf may be in their futures as they both like playing them.

Hockey has the Sedin’s, Staal’s and Sutters, baseball had the Giambi’s, and tennis or golf or swimming or karate is going to have the urban daddy boys!

Mercifully, My Sons Soccer Seasons Have Come to an End!

I know for a fact there are many readers of this blog who know the way I feel about my boys’ soccer seasons this summer.

This actual topic came up Friday night at our tot-shabbat dinner / service between myself and our Rabbi, right after I tried to convince her that it was okay to text / surf the net during the high-holidays because when the Torah was written there was no texting.  The Rabbi asked him how soccer was going, was he having fun… when my son said, “Yes, soccer is FUN.”

Oh, yes he did.

I’m shaking my head…

But for those of you who do not know what happened, here it is in a nutshell.  My boys, 5 and 3 (close to 6 and VERY close to 4) play North Toronto Soccer and I am the coach of both teams.  My younger boy had no interest in soccer for most of the season, yet he would get VERY frustrated if he could not touch the ball – so much so that he once chased down a teammate and yanked him to the ground, from behind, by the cuff of his shirt then stood over him crying.  However, after spending the season running behind the play or kicking the ball in his own net, I saw some progress.  Towards the end of his season he actually tried dribbling with the ball during their games and had less hesitation going into traffic to get the ball.  In his last game, he took the ball off the opposition by running beside her, matching her stride for stride, then slipped in front of her and took the ball.  He then took it all the way to the opposition net before his teammate took it off him and kick it in for a goal.  His response to me was, “almost!”.  Nice.

 My oldest boy, on the other hand, has less than ZERO interest in the game and often times would be caught far away from the action during the games picking weeds, playing with sticks, or watching the other games.  He was there because he had to be and the fact that there was a game going on was a mere coincidence.  His teammates, knowing this, would try to pass to him so he could score – or even just kick the ball, yet passes would roll in front of him without him even noticing.  He hated soccer games.  He liked to practice and be with his teammates, but as for the games… No way.   

Coaching went something like this…  On Monday nights I would yell at the 3 and 4 year old’s to help them learn to play by the rules; “there are no hands in soccer” or “take your hands out of your pockets”, “stop ripping out the grass”, “get off your teammate”, or “keep the ball inbounds”.  By Tuesday night, my hoarse voice would get done in as I would yet to (at) Linus; “go kick the ball”, “run!!!”, “who are you covering?”, “run, run, run” or the ever famous, “Linus!  I bought you cleats so you could run and kick the ball… please… you’re killing me… Just kick the ball”

Anyways, after a LONG season, this Saturday was the finalsday for both boys teams.

Stewie’s team – Brazil – was short half the team, so only 4 of the 8 kids showed up, which meant we had 2 teams of 2 kids and we played the other team, Argentina, who had 7 of their 8 kids there.   The 4 on 2 team had our best 4-year-old and he dominated.  We won that side but my 2 guys,  Stewie being one of them had to overcome some crafty cheating by the Argentine coaches to keep the win.   

We were up 3-0 when the ball went behind the Argentine net and instead of letting all six kids eventually kick it around the net back into the play, the Argentine coach picked up the ball and tossed it to right in front of our net.  Needless to say that scored.    The Argentine’s managed to pull this off 2 more times before I kept sending the ball back to their net for my kids to score.   We won that game 7-4.

The next round saw my team Brazil have t play 2 on 4 on both sides, yet we still managed to win both of those games.  With my side down 3-0, I switched over my best kid to my other Brazil coach whose squad was destroying the little Spaniards and our kid quickly scored 5 goals for a 6-3 win.

With a playoff sweep in the books the kids then got their medal, team picture, pizza, water and a giant, really cool, soccer ball cookie.

I realized in the 2 on 4 scenario, that Stewie was getting better and better and at still 3-years-old he held his own and even scored a few goals.  I might have a player in him after all…

… But then there was Linus…


His team won their first game via comeback 7-5 over Mexico but lost 3-1 in their final to Spain. 

Linus was invisible.  He usually walked behind the play, sometimes jogged, but never made any attempt to kick or block the ball.  His teammates wanted him to kick it and score so they kept passing to him, but he wouldn’t move and the ball would roll past.  Not once all season did he want to be first to the ball, nor did he want to get into a scrum to kick the ball out.  He doesn’t like to dribble, won’t practice at home and has never talked of scoring a goal…

But at the end of his game, his season, and probably his soccer career, he too got his cookie, pizza, medal, picture and water and he was pleased with himself.  He made it.  I think his happiest moment was having his medal put on his neck by City Councillor Karen Stintz – we go way back – and he remembered her.  Plus with his top 2 teeth missing he’s really freeking cute!

I’m glad this ordeal is over.  Makes me want to consider ice skating again…

Week in, week out, I yelled and yelled until I has no voice.  I used a white board and diagramed plays.  I talked calmly, I spoke strategically but none of it worked.  Parents laughed, Linus smiled.

It was almost as though during the games he didn’t know what to do…

So I am SO relieved it is over.  I gave him a big hug and congratulations for sticking with this program (he wanted to play soccer!!!) even though he hated it.  So then he tells me that he may want to play next year… Yikes.  I won’t be coaching.  🙂

I’m a certified Canadian sports coach but dealing with your kids is different…

But now both kids put their team pictures on the fireplace for me to see and curse daily.  Oddly enough, even though Linus said how much he hated soccer, when asked a school what his favourite 3 numbers are – the 3rd number he chose was his soccer number, #8.

Kids… I just don’t get them.

Let’s talk about snacks…

I want to talk about snacks with the parents in the house. 

Is there a protocol? An unspoken rule? Please… Enlighten me.  I want to explain what happened to us in the spring when Linus signed up for t-ball, and compare that to what happened to us during the boys soccer season (currently underway).

Essentially, t-ball snack time went something like this.  After the t-ball game all the kids ran over to the designated snack-providing family, at which point the parent(s) would open a bag and produce a juice box and a rice krispies square for all the kids and siblings.  They are nut-free and if you buy them at Costco, quite inexpensive.  Problem is, there are brutally unhealthy and full of chemicals.


Drinking juice at 8pm made my son nuts – his bed time is usually 7pm, or just after – and the rice krispies burned my kids (and some parents) lips.  That is just disgusting.  But the precedent was set.  Week after week, parents produced the sugar water and bag of chemicals and the kids loved them… Until it was our turn.  We brought watermelon.  The kids LOVED that.  They ate it all up, as did some of the parents.

So fast forward to soccer.  As I’m sure I mentioned previously, I am coaching both my boys soccer team, one on Monday and the other Tuesdays, and being the coach, I get to arrange the snack schedule.  So I made sure that myself, or a friend of ours who share the healthy, no-sugar / chemicals mentality, brought snack for the first coupe of weeks so that we could show the parents what to bring and instead of seeing a steady stream of crap, we get some healthy snacks… It is summer afterall, and fresh fruit is a plenty and quite inexpensive.   What would you rather have – let your kids eat?  $3.97 box of Rice Krispy treats, $1.99 bag of 12 fresh oranges?  It’s a no-brainer.

But last week at soccer, someone brought flavoured, frozen sugar “juice” and another brought some product called a dunk-a-roo.  Those are the cookies that come with a cup of “chocolate” to dip the cookie in.  Not great for 8pm.  Tonight, the kids had juice and Bear Paws (chocolate ones) after the game.  As a result, Linus did not get to sleep until 9:30pm.

So my question to the parents reading this is;

Do you think it is irresponsible of parents to bring unhealthy snacks for kids after sporting events?  Or is “unhealthy” up for debate.  Granted the snacks are peanut-free, the sugar keeps some kids up for hours.

I bring this up as a father commented to me that some of the moms were clearly disapproving of the snack last week and he wondered how I felt about it and whether I should address it – to those Moms – not to be picky or choosy.  I disagreed with him and explained that some moms do not allow their kids to eat processed sugary foods and it was well within their right to be displeased about the snacks.