One of the great things about growing up in Detroit was our proximity to Canada. In 10 minutes or so you could be in Ontario, where the exchange rate was still strongly in our favor, the legal drinking age was 18 and it was safe to eat the fish you caught.
We could also get Channel 9, the Canadian television station which, before the days of cable, would broadcast the Red Wings. This is where I first saw the grace and beauty of hockey and the magic of Steve Yzerman.
For a while my family of seven had only one television, so debating what we would watch was a form of entertainment itself. Occasionally I would bring up the Red Wings. Those were also the occasions my mother allowed the other kids to curse at me.
"Hell no, that's for white people," and then my older sister would turn on "The Dukes of Hazzard" and cheer for a car with the confederate flag painted on the roof. She never saw the irony. I never pointed it out.
Despite the lack of encouragement, my fascination with hockey didn't die. It was my escape from my Sedaris-like existence. My Narnia.
Over the years, I would attend games, and when my son was old enough, I would take him with me. At first I thought he liked going because of the mascots, and he knew I would buy him a ton of candy. But one night after a game, he asked if he could learn how to play.
"You can learn next year," I said, figuring he would forget he asked by the time we got to the car. He didn't. And eventually his mother enrolled him in a beginners class the following winter.
Now despite my lifelong love of the sport, I had never actually laced up myself. We couldn't afford it when I was a kid and by the time I was an adult I figured that ship had sailed. Suffice it to say I almost lost my lunch when I discovered the learn-to-skate program required the parents to be on the ice as well.
"Why did you sign him up for that class?" I asked my ex-wife, figuring it was a plot to make me look like an ass.
"All of the beginning classes are like that," she said, then after a brief pause, added. "I can take him."
Call me a sexist pig if you want, but there was no way my boy was going out there with his mother. Not for hockey.
"I'll take him," I said.
Then I went out and bought a pair of used hockey skates and practiced as often as I could during my lunch hour in the weeks leading up to the class. I had my share of embarrassing spills and bruises, but by the first session I was able to move around without the threat of pancaking my kid. He was thrilled to be out on the ice. And so was I. Turns out that ship hadn't sailed, I just needed a child to show me where the dock was.
I ended up moving away less than a year later to take a better job in a different state. My son and I would spend summers and holidays together over the next four years, but I had not seen him on the ice since that winter we learned to skate together. Until a couple of weeks ago.
I was visiting him the same week he had a preseason hockey game. I could barely believe my eyes as I watched my not-so-little boy glide across the ice with the grace and beauty that attracted me to the sport in the first place. It was the kind of bittersweet moment that a lot of working parents experience: pride in watching your child excel and remorse for all that you missed. For me, I pushed so hard to give my son a chance to do things I couldn't do growing up, like play hockey, while sacrificing the chance to see him score his first goal. It's a haunting tradeoff.
After the game I gave my son a big hug and told him how proud I was of him. He said, "But I didn't score" and I replied, "It doesn't matter."
When I got back home, I found those old, used hockey skates. I laughed when I saw the socks from four years ago were still stuffed inside. I then went online to look for a nearby rink to hang around and reflect on the magic of Steve Yzerman, Narnia and the day hockey made me cry.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." He is currently working on his first book. LZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.