What the hell was I thinking?
The annoying question hit me again, just like it does every time I watch the triumphant victors hoist the Stanley Cup. It happened again this year when Sydney Crosby skated a victory lap with the trophy high above his head. The ecstatic Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain bore the weight with a wide smile that was interrupted only so he could kiss the Cup that every hockey player dreams of winning.
His joy gave way to my old question and I shook my head, thinking back to the bone headed decision I made in 2005. It’s one of those rare regrets I can’t quite let go.
It came after the NHL lockout of 2004-05, which shut down an entire hockey season. More than one thousand games went unplayed that year. There were no playoffs. No Stanley Cup. It was the first time since the flu pandemic in 1919 that the glimmering trophy was not awarded.
One September morning following that bitter non-season, my phone rang.
“Trace, I’m gonna have the Stanley Cup for a day,” my father began. I could hear the smile in his voice. “Why don’t you bring the boys and come up for it?”
“You’re gonna get Cup? The Stanley Cup! How?”
My dad explained. Without a Stanley Cup champion and players who would each have the honor of possessing it for a day, the NHL came up with an idea. They would give the opportunity to past champions who won the Cup before the tradition of taking it home for a day. My father, Johnny Wilson, had played on four Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup teams in the 1950’s and, it turned out, he would finally get his day with the trophy some fifty years after winning it.
“Can you come?” he asked, excitement pouring out of the world’s most laid back man.
“What are you gonna do with it?” I asked as if the answer mattered.
“Take it around and use it to raise money for people. Maybe Hurricane Karina victims. So what do you think?”
“I think that’s really cool, Dad. Let me see what I can do to get there.”
But when I hung up the phone, I thought of all the reasons the trip would be difficult:
My husband often traveled for work and I was exhausted from weeks of being a single parent.
My boys were young. Seven and two. I'd have to fly with them on my own and then schlep them around with my dad and the Cup. It sounded like a lot of work and not much fun.
My oldest was starting first grade and I hated to pull him out of school for the weekday visit when he was just starting to settle in. I mean, imagine the potential difficulty for him to miss out on two whole days! Of first grade! Plus I was a room parent. With important responsibilities. (Yes, I am mortified that I couldn't see the absurdity of this back then! What the hell was I thinking? I can only hope it was sleep deprivation!)
It’s not really that big of a deal, I told myself. (Growing up in the world of pro hockey, I believed a day with the Stanley Cup was far more normal than it actually was. Even though my father never had a day with the Cup before. Flawed thinking. Again.)
Two days later, overwhelmed by the mountain of circumstances I had piled up, I called my favorite grown up in the world. “Dad, I’m so sorry. I just can’t pull it together to get there. You know, with the kids. And Andrew traveling. And school starting.”
What an idiot.
And not because of the Cup. Because of my father.
At seventy-six years old, my dad would have the busiest individual itinerary of the entire summer Cup tour. The man was a dynamo. From early in the morning until late at night, he paraded Lord Stanley's prize, raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, asking for donations in exchange for a photo with the trophy. Most people wanted one with him, too.
At a local mall, a woman who had waited patiently in line to meet my dad, shook his hand earnestly as she explained that she was originally from Detroit, but lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. She was evacuated from her home and had time to grab only a few items. One of them was her Detroit Red Wings’ t-shirt. “Thank you for everything you’re doing,” she said, the emotion catching in her throat. “It means so much to me and my family.”
Throughout that long day, my father brought the Cup to more than one thousand people in a handful of locations in metro-Detroit. Even the great Gordie Howe showed up to join his old Red Wing teammate and lifelong friend. To say the day was special is like saying the Great Wall of China is big.
My father, an exceedingly kind and gracious man, never told me about all that he did that day, all that I had missed. He only said it had been, “wonderful,” a word he stretched out every time he delivered it to describe something extraordinary.
He didn’t nag me or lay on guilt. He wasn’t that kind of father. He wouldn’t want me to feel badly about being an idiot and saying no. Maybe that’s why I felt it all the more. Especially after the day was over and I read newspaper and internet accounts of what he had made happen. That’s when I finally realized what I had really missed. This had been important to him and he wanted to give us the gift of being part of his extraordinary day. It was never about my estimation of its importance or my degree of difficulty in getting there. At least it shouldn't have been. It was really about being there for him at a time that mattered to him. And I had missed that entirely.
I share this what-the-hell-was-I-thinking moment to remind myself and maybe you, too, to be more aware of why we make the decisions we do. To choose thoughtfully and carefully and selflessly.
Of course, mistakes come with an opportunity for us to learn and then, to do better. In hindsight, I see that saying no set me up me to say yes in future situations that were even more important to my sweet father or that mattered to others I love. The experience, though regretful, wasn't wasted. Mistakes never are. And because of that, the Stanley Cup is more than a trophy. It is a lesson I’ll never forget and a reason I'll always ask myself, "Is this a Stanley Cup day?"