TO: Baby Girl Yzerman
RE: Your birthday message
By the time you are old enough to read this, many things will have changed. We’ll be in another century. We’ll have a new president. We might even have stopped going to see “Titanic.”
Also, by the time you’re old enough to read this, your father might not be playing hockey anymore. He might be retired, living a quiet life with you and your mother and your older sister, polishing his Stanley Cup ring (or rings), getting on with a new career.
So what’s the point of this old newspaper column you’ve discovered, which is no doubt yellow and faded by now? Well, as you probably have learned, you get presents for your birthday. So consider this column — written just after your birth — a present that you’re opening years later, like a zodiac chart in reverse. I can’t tell you what will happen in your future.
But I can tell you a little about your past.
Specifically, your father. Like your mother, he’s a pretty special person. A quiet person, too, so maybe he hasn’t told you about 1997, the year he hoisted a city into the air, along with a big silver cup. You should be proud of that. Your dad was a hero that day. Not a phony hero, not one of those guys who just gets famous by accident or greed. A real hero, the kind whose courage and patience is rewarded with the ultimate prize.
Maybe you’ve seen the pictures of him smiling with the Stanley Cup overhead, the Cup he helped the Red Wings win after four decades of disappointment. Maybe you asked him, “Hey, Dad, where’s your missing tooth?”
We asked him that, too.
Of course, we didn’t call him Dad.
But what’s important about that picture isn’t the look, it’s the legacy. What does “legacy” mean?
Um …ask your mother.
He never gave up
You see, a lot of us in Detroit have come to know your father over the years. We call him “The Captain.” Or “Stevie Y.” He symbolizes many of us in this city — hard-working people who don’t always get rewarded when we deserve it, who don’t complain, who just go back to work and believe in the future.
Your father always believed in the future. Not that it was easy. There were many nights in the ’80s when he wondered if his team would ever win. And even when he was one of the five best players in his sport, there were many Mays and Junes when the only hockey he saw was on TV.
He never quit. There were nights when your father’s knee hurt so badly he could feel it throbbing like a heartbeat. There were nights when another disappointing season ended, and his soul ached so heavily you thought he would bend over and snap.
Always, he came back the next year, ready to try again. He wore the “C” on his uniform, which stands for captain, but also stands for trying and not giving up.
Finally, in 1997, all that perseverance was rewarded. Your father and his Red Wings teammates captured the championship of the NHL. They had a big parade. A million people came out. It was a spectacular moment, one that your dad had waited so many years to see. After all, he was 32.
I know. That’s really old, isn’t it?
And now, today, the day this column appears in the newspaper, he’ll begin something that’s even harder to accomplish. He’ll try and lead his team to another championship. This time, the Red Wings won’t surprise anybody. This time, everyone is waiting for them.
The whole town is talking about it. The whole town is wondering if the Wings can do it again, can they defend their crown, can the goaltending handle the pressure? And just as it seems like we’re all about to go to war — you come along.
We call that “perspective.”
He was there for you
You see, there’s something very dangerous about your father’s line of work. It’s called ego, selfishness, being self-absorbed. It swims up to you and before you know it, you’re drowning in it.
Your dad never succumbed to that. He always swam away. Instead of being with the team these last few days, he was with your mother, because he wanted to be around when you were born. I talked to him not long after you came into the world, and he sounded like a baby himself, all excited to have you in his life, all excited that your older sister would have someone to play with. A lot of daddys want little boys. Your daddy said, “No, I’m thrilled to have another daughter. All that matters is that she’s here.”
And of course, he was right. All that matters is that you’re here. This hockey stuff you hear people talking about? It’s nice. But it’s not what really counts in life. What counts is family and the people you love.
Your dad always knew that. He was that kind of guy.
He’s also of the gutsiest hockey players I’ve ever seen.
Anyhow, I thought you should know this, now that you’re old enough. You should know what a unique guy your father is, and what a wonderful person your mother is as well. It’s not easy being married to hockey player. It’s an emotional spiral.
What’s does “emotional spiral” mean?
Um …ask your mom.
Meanwhile, congratulations on learning to read. And thank you for coming along when you did. We get pretty wound up about hockey in Detroit, and there’s nothing like a new baby to remind you that life doesn’t begin or end if you get a Stanley Cup — it just feels that way.
I hope you get all the presents you want for your birthday.
P.S. By the time you’re 21, they’ll probably have women in the NHL, so keep us in mind, OK? It would be nice to have another Yzerman on the roster.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.