We flew into Detroit from opposite directions, me from Philadelphia, him from Spokane, but the origin of our guys’ winter weekend hockey getaway can be traced back across the Atlantic Ocean, to Northumberland, England, high atop a crag along the scenic but maddening mid-section of Hadrian’s Wall. While this quick trip to see a Red Wings game was child-free, just two dudes who happen to be dads meeting up in a sub-freezing Midwestern city, we are still two devoted dads and that meant we spent a good portion of our 48 hours in the D trying to make our kids happy while we were hundreds of miles away from their loving hugs and sarcastic tween eye rolls.
On the surface this story of ours is about one dad (me) helping make a lifelong dream of another dad (him) come true, and about two guys (us) sharing in an experience, the final for one of them (me), the first and last for the other (him), in a legendary arena (Joe Louis) set to be, gulp, destroyed in less than a year’s time. But, because my friend Josh (him) and I (me) are both doting fathers, the story became as windswept as the snowy Detroit streets, quickly morphing into a weekend spent folding our youngest children into our plans, with Pokemon, indie rock, rundown hotels, and portraits of scruffy athletes painted onto cinder block columns inside a doomed hockey palace.
I’ve known for a couple of years that Josh Misner was a Red Wings fan. We’d shoot each other messages on Facebook during games from time to time, but I don’t think I understood fully just how much mileage were on his Detroit Red Wing tires; decades worth, just like me. When we met in person for the first time, in London in the days leading up to our Dads4Kesem charity hike across the width of England along the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, at one point the northern most border of the Roman Empire, we talked about Stevie Y, the Russian Five, our legendary rivalry with the Avs, and the recent retirement of the Magic Man, Pavel Datsyuk. Here’s a guy with whom I shared so many memories, unforgettable moments embossed into both of our timelines, but whom I’d never met face to face. We had both rolled up Red Wings jerseys, squeezing them into our backpacks, and brought them to England to wear during the hike and were ecstatic when the team retweeted this photo of us standing on the wall (sorry, Hadrian) with our arms raised exactly like diehard fans who’ve enjoyed winning the Stanley Cup four times over the past quarter century.
It was right around this goofily proud moment when Josh told me that he’d never seen a Red Wings game anywhere in person, let alone a home game at Joe Louis Arena, an arena that had but one year left before the team moves into the, gulp, Little Ceasar’s Arena (hey, another Roman reference! Ugh). This was unacceptable. A true Red Wings fan like Josh had to experience The Joe at least once in their life, and so I spent the remainder of our hike, as we two often lead the pack onward to Newcastle, pressuring him to make plans, during the upcoming Farewell to The Joe ’16-’17 season, to get himself to Detroit. I dangled many, many carrots in front of his tired legs and weary face, including meeting him there and taking care of buying the hockey tickets, to entice him to fight the good fight at home for the right to spend some hard earned coin, to say goodbye to his family for the better part of three days, and to travel a great distance through the snow, all to spend roughly 2 ½ hour watching an otherwise meaningless regular season hockey game. Those who are not ardent fans of a ‘something’ likely won’t understand, but I expect those with a burning passion coupled with a ticking clock like that of famed Joe Louis Arena to be nodding along right now. You get this, you get us.
While Josh and I climbed up and down the crags and crossed the Hadrian’s Wall finish line just east of Newcastle, my offers got better and better, hotel and rental are now car included!, and eventually he relented, got buy-in from his wife and family, and we picked December 11th versus the Philadelphia Flyers (the team of my early boyhood) to be Josh’s first and my last Red Wings game at The Joe. It was going to happen! And it did just happen.
As we drove to Jack White’s Third Man Records store in Midtown, to Green Dot Stables for sliders, to Lafayette Coney for a chili dog, and eventually to our Marriott hotel, and as our conversations slowly became about the struggle to raise good kids, the challenges inherent in, and the vital importance of, adapting our communication techniques with our tweens and teens, I noticed Josh continually looking at his phone. What’s up, bro, am I and snowy Detroit boring you? Turns out, Josh was on his phone catching Pokemon like a 10-year-old child. Really?! I made fun of him, because that’s what friends do, and he told me that while he does enjoy the game too, this was all about his kid. You see there are different types of virtual creatures in different parts of the world, so he was using some of his time away to try to catch (capture?) Pokemon (people?) that his son back home in Idaho would have never seen before. That’s love. Goofy love, yes, but true fatherly love, no doubt.
Meanwhile, I shouldn’t have been making fun of anyone because I was busy posing with cinder block columns inside the Joe, in front of a painted portrait of Justin Abdelkader, my youngest daughter’s favorite Red Wing, and hunting down a rundown hotel (Yorba) because it’s the namesake of that same daughter’s favorite song by Detroit natives The White Stripes.
Oh, the Red Wings lost 1-0 to the Flyers in overtime. It was crushing defeat but a dream was fulfilled, new Pokemen were caught, and Hotel Yorba was found. All in all, a complete and total success.
You can take the dads out of their homes in Pennsylvania and Idaho but you simply can never take away the fact that they love being dads and adore making their kids smile.