A few days ago I was, as I do every day, scanning my feedreader for stories that interest me. A site I’ve been reading lately is DigitalDads.com and they had a post about encouraging and empowering your children and letting them know they can do anything if they really try hard and apply themselves. As I was reading that article, a distinct memory suddenly came to mind.

When I was growing up and especially between the ages of, say, 10-18, I was pretty sure I wanted to play hockey. In the early part of that time period, I was sure I could make the NHL. In the latter part, I grew to be more realistic, but felt like I might be able to hook on as a 3rd or 4th liner at a lower level Division 1 college. Neither goal was reached and that’s fine. Not being able to do that led me to other things for which I am very grateful for. You can see some of those things on my about page if you really want to.

Anyway, our house was probably a typical house. It was not littered with empowerment, inspirational posters or TV show perfection (is anyone’s family or upbringing like Family Ties was? I think not). We were a family, like any other family, trying to get through our days and make do as best as we could. We all have pockmarks. Good times and bad. Laughs, cries, ups and downs.

This one particular story involves my Uncle Donny. I was probably 11-12, which would have made him about 26 or 27. He had an absolutely GRAND personality and as a 11-12 year old, his grandeur was enlightening, entertaining and occasionally frightening and overwhelming. Not frightening in a violent way, let me make that clear. Just frightening in a way that an 11 year old feels so small next to someone so physically and mentally big. This is a guy who literally picked me up and THREW me out of the way of a falling tree in our backyard when we were putting in the pool. See?

So anyway, we were sitting on our couch at home one summer and I think we were either watching the Red Sox or Wimbledon, two of his favorite things and our conversation turned to what I wanted to do with myself. I told him I wanted to play hockey. He immediately and flatly told me “you are not good enough, you should think about something else,” and then he went off to the fridge and that was the end of the conversation. I remember wanting to ask him more about it, but he bolted off and went into another conversation with someone else. Those words have lay dormant ever since, given he was tragically dead two years later of a brain aneurysm.  Now, at first glance, his words seem closed-minded and borderline mean. I’ve wondered ever since what his intention was in saying that.

So here I am, 38 and still wondering. Knowing my uncle, I am pretty sure he meant it to be inspirational in his own unique and odd way. I am pretty sure that he thought it would spur me to prove him wrong. That maybe he would be part of the inspiration for me to knock down walls and do everything I could do to reach my goals and stick it to him! I think he would have actually been proud to have me prove him wrong. Anyway, that is what I hope his goal was in saying that.

Now, the other side of the coin is this: maybe he really knew I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of it. Maybe he used that statement as a true realist, trying to help me realize that you should always be thinking about door #2. Having options. Being prepared.

I will never know his aim in that statement, but for some reason it has stuck with me for a long, long time. I do have great confidence that he didn’t mean it in a demeaning way. Because I (and we) knew him well enough. The shitty part is that I never got to ask him and it will lay out there in the ether for the rest of time.

Uncle Donny on the left. Me on the right. Unidentified girlfriend in the middle.

Uncle Donny on the left. Me on the right. Unidentified girlfriend in the middle.