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I grew up fantasizing about being a medieval knight. Yet because of our national obsession I now live a life of servitude as a knight’s squire.
Minor hockey has turned me into a faithful sidekick to my hockey-playing son.
When I was young, my neighbour two doors down had a toy castle, complete with meticulously painted knights, horses and squires. I fawned my way into their house as often as I could, spending hours in their wood-panelled basement creating jousts and historic battles.
In university my best marks came from the essays I wrote about the Crusades. I cherished the chance to pour my detailed descriptions of knightly weapons, armour and chivalric codes into something I could call “work.”
Even now, when I travel for business I dedicate my spare moments to visiting museums to discover art and artifacts associated with these heroes of old. A recent afternoon at the arms and armour section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art left me more exhilarated than a rather important football game the following day.
I never imagined, however, that I would actually get to live a medieval existence. But until my seven-year-old is strong enough to tie his own skate laces, and dexterous enough to navigate a maze of Velcro straps, I must serve as his attendant.
Every weekend, after the fourth or fifth time helping my knight in and out of his equipment, my identification with the medieval squire increases.
There are a surprising number of parallels.
Preparing for games and practices involves sharpening blades, fumbling with snaps and buckles, and preparing equipment.
A medieval squire was tasked with building straw-filled dummies and pell posts for off-season training. My job is to turn my garage door into end boards and regularly mend the disintegrating mesh of our street-hockey net.
I carry my knight’s armour (hockey bag) and sword (meticulously taped stick) through salt-stained parking lots to the fields of battle.
As we enter arenas I ensure my knight’s version of a heraldic crest (a rather fierce, red-eyed Mustang sewn on his team tuque and jacket) is not left at home.
I have also perfected the psychology of the pep talk that precedes the contest. Like my medieval counterparts, I have learned to give advice in a way that does not bruise the knight’s ego. While I reinforce the tactics of covering the front of the net and fore-checking with vigour, my predecessors reinforced the formations of the phalanx and the cavalry wedge.
Hockey dads don’t become players like squires became knights, but we certainly share a sense of duty. When the on-ice battle begins, I huddle with the other coffee-sipping squires, swelling with pride, and ready to help should my knight break a stick or tumble too hard into the boards.
I also imagine a squire from the Middle Ages sharing my stress over a lost rivet, the tiny bolt that once gave flexibility to armour, and now gives it to the adjustable hockey helmet.
Squires hauled around gauntlets, pauldrons and aventails. I carry hockey gloves, shoulder pads and neck guards. Instead of vambraces and poleyns, I’m responsible for hard plastic elbow and shin pads. Where a squire used plumes, I affix my knight’s helmet with Mustang stickers. Squires cared for halberds, fauchards and glaives. I apply the same care to something that is also designed to be strong, light and effective – the composite hockey stick.
The codpiece – and protection of the family name – remains as important as ever.
In medieval times, the squire served his knight at the table, ran errands and even slept by his door. I, too, ensure that pregame meals are nutritious, that practice schedules are updated, and that the sleep of our tired knight is uninterrupted before a game.
My equivalent of cleaning stables and exercising horses is waking early to shovel our driveway, so we can navigate traffic and make it to arenas on time.
Another hallmark of the squire was the ability to withstand cold, hunger and exhaustion. This will ring true for any parent who has jockeyed for space in a cramped, sweaty hockey dressing room, and for anyone who has felt the great Canadian “arena chill” seep through the concrete floor into their boots.
In some ways my job is much easier than that of my medieval counterpart. A real knight’s armour, for instance, typically weighed more than 60 pounds. My knight, wearing his armour, weighs less than 50.
I imagine there was a sense of satisfaction that came with helping a knight defend a castle, and win glory for his community. As a parent I certainly feel good seeing my son’s work ethic and commitment to teamwork become manifest through hockey.
Supporting kids while they chase their dreams, hockey parents have become the shield bearers of our generation. We’re knights and squires of the modern age – just not exactly how I imagined it in a wood-panelled basement long ago.
Brian Findlay lives in Toronto.