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Illustration by Marley Allen-Ash

Like a soccer Mom, my new role is a wrestling Mom and a wrestling daughter.

My son joined the high-school wrestling team last fall during COVID. Two years of COVID lockdowns, social distancing, restrictions, masking and intermittent online schooling were exhausting for him. He decided to reach out, join the wrestling team and has found his sport.

My father is a man who always sees the glass as half full. He creates opportunities where none exist. My 83-year-old dad asks me to inquire if the wrestling team might need an assistant coach. He reminds me of his wrestling days at university, back in the late 1950s.

I wonder how the coach will feel about my son’s grandfather asking to help as assistant coach, given that it was over 60 years ago that he wrestled? I e-mail and ask him if a grandfather could assist. “He wrestled in University,” I say. I leave out his age. We fill out a police security clearance form for Dad. He passes.

A few days before the first practice, I e-mail the coach to tell him that my son’s grandfather is 83. I am being prudent. I have not met the coach and 83-year-old people can be elderly and brittle. I don’t want my dad to be dismissed and miss this opportunity. I realize that I am nervous for him. What if he isn’t what they are looking for? What if he doesn’t make the team? In the e-mail, I assure the coach, he wrestled at university and he is in good health and in excellent shape. And he will wear a mask.

I give my father a lecture of the importance of mask-wearing in high school with all the COVID restrictions. No mask drooping under his nose. No pulling it down when he wants to speak. I tell him, if the mask comes off, he will be asked to leave the school. Big threats. He understands, he assures me, with a twinkle in his eye.

I point out that his hearing aids have sat unused for over five years. I don’t know why he doesn’t wear them. It is heartbreaking as an adult child to watch him disengage from conversations because he can’t hear. He used to be the first one to engage in a group and loved the energy of discussions. Gradually, over the years, he has removed himself from conversations because “those hearing aids just don’t work.”

As I drop my dad and 16-year-old son off for their first wrestling practice, my dad turns to my son,

“I am not going to embarrass you, am I?”

“Not too much,” my son replies, and they walk toward the high-school doors.

At the first practice, Dad meets the coach and tells him he will do anything he needs, even “wipe the blood off the mats.” When he and my son return to the car after practice, they are both energized, alert and the car is full of non-stop chatter. It was a fantastic practice. Dad made the team, but “God, I wish I could hear the coach!” he says.

By the next practice, Dad has found his old hearing aids. He wears them but tells me, he can only hear part of the conversation during the practice.

He makes an appointment with the hearing aid specialist. It turns out, the left ear’s microphone is not working, so basically, he had an ear plug in for the last few practices. Hearing aids fixed, he starts wears them everyday and to every practice.

The practices increase to four times a week, two at 7 a.m. and two after school. It’s a big commitment to everyone involved: wrestling daughter/mom, assistant coach and wrestler. I wake my son up at 6 a.m., drive over to my dad’s house for 6:30. Dad waits in the lit porch. As I drive up in the dark, he jogs out to the car.

He assures me every time I drop him off, he has his mask and he is wearing it. One early morning, he realizes he has forgotten his hearing aids as we drive away. We turn back, conscious that we will be five minutes late. I need these to hear what the coach is talking about, he reminds me.

In his free time, Dad goes to the library and takes out the book Wrestling for Dummies. He reads up on different moves and the scoring system. It is a lot different from his university days, he tells me. He spends more time at the computer tapping into the Internet to find out what exactly a “cross-face cradle” or “blast double leg takedown” move is in wrestling.

He thinks the coach is wonderful and the kids in the club are “polite, kind people.” One of the wrestlers after each practice and approaches him and says, “thank you for being here, sir.” “sir,” he exclaims, “they call me sir!”

The coach gives him a team sweatshirt with the logo of the school on the front and “Wrestling” on the back. He wears the sweatshirt to every practice.

For the first wrestling meet, he brings a green fabric grocery bag with a towel, water bottle, tensor bandage and clipboard. For the second meet, when I pick him up, he has a new gym bag. “You can’t take a grocery bag to a meet,” he tells me. “You need to look the part and be serious.”

COVID-19 has not allowed me to watch any of the practices or meets. I rely on my father to give me the play by play of what is happening in the wrestling room. His eyes have been twinkling for weeks, he can hear again, and he is energized. He wears that high-school logo sweatshirt with pride and he thrives on being with the younger generation.

Loss of purpose, meaning and loneliness are factors of diminishing mental and physical health for seniors. As a wrestling daughter, I witnessed my 83-year-old father create an opening for himself, relearn a sport, engage with youth and become alive again. Am I glad he made the wrestling team? You bet. He is lifting himself up, giving teenagers a healthy look at elders and investing in something outside himself.

I’m proud to be a wrestling daughter.

Laura Strachan lives in Calgary.

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