Avoiding a Midlife Crisis, On and Off the Ice

Few stock characters are as openly ridiculed or garner less sympathy than the adult male neck-deep in the sad trappings of a midlife crisis, despite the fact that such crises are gender-blind.

The midlife crisis has been bunked, debunked, rebunked and bunked again. Even I’ve gotten into the act. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, this understudied life stage is real.

Hollywood loves a midlife crisis. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in American Beauty rolls like a what’s-what of the midlife crisis:

  • Sports car
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Marriage blues
  • Weight-lifting
  • Mena Suvari

Fictional Burnham is joined by Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters, Crash Davis in Bull Durham, and half the cast of City Slickers. to name only a few.

As difficult as it is to admit, I am in the midst of a midlife crisis. And I can confer onto you some priceless advice if you’re willing to listen. For the sake of simplification, mine began on 1 June 2011, a few months after I turned 40. That’s when I gave myself the following ultimatum:

If you’re gonna get back into hockey, it’s now or never

For the next 467 days (that is not an exaggeration) I had my crisis—or it had me—on full display for my neighbors. Sometimes three times a day. Had I ever tried to envision my midlife crisis, I wouldn’t have envisioned it the way it has played out. Where are the strippers? The women half my age? The sports car?

And how did my garage get completely trashed?

CONFRONTING THE ULTIMATUM

In a now-or-never scenario, time is of the essence. So I set about getting myself back into playing shape. Instead of thinking this through as a person of some wisdom or experience, I simply reverted to the memories and the thought processes I had used a quarter of a century ago.

When I was a kid playing club hockey, my father built an incredible pulley system in our garage. It allowed me to raise and lower a heavy blanket against which I could practice shooting pucks. He made it with raw materials: an army blanket, some two-by-fours, bolts, cables, and know-how.

When, on 1 June 2011, I decided to build one in my garage, I knew I lacked the know-how of my father so I went to Home Depot. If like me you don’t live in a hockey-rich area, don’t trust the good people at Home Depot with your hockey-related aims. The word ‘hockey’ makes their eyes turn gray with disinterest, perhaps because it falls outside their wheelhouse.

Eventually I crafted what I jokingly referred to as ‘The Rig.’

In addition to being a staggering waste of time, The Rig has been an extraordinary pain in the ass. The following picture shows The Rig 1.0 and includes some notes on its weaknesses:

1. Suspending The Rig on hooks in the ceiling is smart … if those hooks are drilled into the studs. I thought they were. Several times. It’s actually amazing how long such a heavy thing can hang on nothing but drywall. Eventually The Rig would crash to the ground, taking a little chunk of the ceiling with it each time.  I was always convinced that I could tell where the studs were, and when I realized I couldn’t, I used a studfinder that worked no better.

2. By facing the nasty rug outwards–after it had been rolled up for several months–when pucks struck it, they typically deflected to one side or the other and hit the walls.

3. By choosing to use some thin leftover boarding to protect our water heater, I was setting myself up for some scary moments.

4. By not protecting any of the drywall– well that outcome should be obvious.

The Rig 2.0, along with 3.0 and 4.0, tried to correct for the many shortcomings of the original. Eventually I arrived at 5.0, which succeeds at doing all that:

1. I ditched the ceiling for the walls.

2,3, and 4. My cats were kind enough to vomit on this rug enough times to warrant my wife throwing it away. It’s the perfect size and solved virtually all other outstanding issues.

All of them, that is, except the most important one.

JUMP RIGHT TO 468

The Rig 5.0 solved several problems, but in focusing on it I was avoiding the most crucial issue of all. Now, as mentioned earlier, this phase of my crisis lasted 467 days, until I played my first organized game in over a dozen years. On almost every single one of those 467 days, I shot on average 300 pucks and rollerbladed for thirty minutes.

On day 468 when I finally hit the ice, exactly none of it mattered.

Shooting pucks in your garage doesn’t make you a better hockey player. Building a better Rig doesn’t make you any better either. It doesn’t even assure you of a better shot. All this does is make you good at garage puck-shooting. On the ice everything changes. I think I knew this somewhere around day 2 but I conveniently ignored it. My reasoning was fantastic, embarrassing and arrogant: I didn’t want to suck at hockey.

While I was never the greatest player on the ice growing up, I never sucked. I couldn’t fathom sucking at age 40. What ended up happening was that I put off sucking until 41.

If you give yourself an ultimatum like I did, on day 1 I strongly urge you to swallow your pride, get out there, and suck. It won’t last remotely as long.

HOCKEY HASN’T CHANGED, YOU HAVE

Returning to the game–whether it means playing again or maybe just returning to the sport in general–will inspire a host of insightful comments about how hockey has changed and how it was better in this way or that back when you played. It’s a free country, you can say what you like. It doesn’t matter anyway because nobody’s listening. And good for them.

Back in early October I wrote an article for this site about the growing sense of entitlement among today’s pro hockey players. The piece earned a handful of comments on Reddit, my favorite being, “I stopped reading after he said ‘Back in my day.'”

It’s startling how often I find myself on the verge of saying something in the locker room or on the bench that will inevitably end as a ‘Then vs. Now’ commentary. At first I didn’t know it would end like that until it was too late, until I was grasping at straws trying to find other, more creative and less obvious ways of saying ‘Back in my day.’

There are none.

You skate on today’s ice. Assuming you’re not old enough for Medicare, the game may have changed some since you last played but it hasn’t changed so much as to justify any commentary that knocks the modern game cleverly enough to interest today’s players. Only your own perspective has truly changed. While I wouldn’t normally encourage conformity, in this instance I do. If you present yourself with an ultimatum like mine, then whatever your deeper motivations are for returning to the game, the following will hold true: The quicker you adapt, the sooner you abandon romanticized notions of hockey you’ve held on to for so many years.

And the better you’ll play. The better you play, the more fun you’ll have, and the less chance you wind up buying a Corvette to impress a woman young enough to be the daughter of a girl you failed to impress back in the day.

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