by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It was a ride to work like any other ride to work, except Brendan Shanahan had 50 cigars in the backseat. He would give them out to his teammates. He would shake their hands. He would tell them the details of the story, the date
(Saturday); the time (3 in the afternoon); the names (Maggie and Jack); the birth order (Maggie first, Jack second, one minute apart); his wife’s condition (good); his condition (good); the grandparents’ condition (over the moon).

It was a ride to work like any other ride to work — except everything had changed.

Shanahan had been the oldest member of the Red Wings without children.

Now he’d joined the club — in spades.

“With this team, it feels natural,” said Shanahan, 33, after his wife, Catherine, gave birth to twins over the weekend. “You come to practice on the weekends and you see the players with their kids out on the ice, all these Stanley Cup champions teaching 6- and 7-year-olds how to skate.”

He laughed. “Now I’m one of the guys.”

Hockey players and kids. They go together like — well — like hockey players and dogs, hockey players and SUVs, hockey players and golf clubs. It is part of the hockey culture.

Still, for everyone who becomes a parent — star athletes included — there is the one day when you and your spouse are the only things in the world, and another day when, suddenly, just like the cigars, you take a backseat.

Waiting to exhale

For Shanahan, the day was a long time coming. He had missed a week of training camp to tend to his wife and her pregnancy. He had spent many games, in between periods, calling home, checking up. Last Monday night in Calgary, he was out to dinner with a group of teammates when he got a phone call. His wife was going into labor. The father-to-be in him was thinking wildly about leaving. The hockey player in him was thinking about when to come back.

“You know the way Catholics feel guilt?” Shanahan said. “That’s how hockey players feel guilt. When you’re not with your team during the season, you feel like you’re playing hooky.

“So after the call, I told the guys at the table, ‘I’ll fly home and have to miss the game in Calgary, but if everything goes well, I can probably be back for the game in Edmonton (Saturday).’

“They all knew better. They all have kids. Kris Draper looked at me and said,
‘If I see you in Edmonton, I’m gonna be really disappointed.’ “

As it turned out, things took longer than Shanahan thought. When he arrived in Detroit, Catherine’s labor had slowed. Tuesday passed. So did Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

On Saturday, they went to the hospital, expecting to be sent home. The doctor did an examination and said, “Folks, these babies are coming today.”

Shanahan said, “OK, like, what, another six or seven hours?”

“No . . . ” the doctor said.

Two hours later, Brendan and Catherine had become The Shanahan Family.

New feelings abound

There was a moment, Shanahan said, when they walked him down the hall and he looked through the glass at his two infants. There was a moment when he called his mother and said, “You have two new grandchildren.”

Shanahan, always a keen observer of the small stuff of life, is in for all kinds of new moments now. There are few careers more self-indulgent than professional athlete. Trainers take care of you, public relations people take care of you — agents, managers, fans, media — it’s all about you.

But being a parent is about somebody else. So Shanahan, on Monday, made his first trip to work as a father. And it felt . . . different.

“I know tonight, after the game, I’ll be able to go home and hold my babies,” said the man who used to only worry about what late-night take-out places were open. “I’m . . . I’m at a loss for words to describe that. I just changed my first diaper yesterday. I was one of those guys who always loved kids, but when they were infants, felt like I shouldn’t hold them for too long.

“But now . . . “

He didn’t finish. He didn’t have to. Now is different. All the nows are different.

This has been some year for Shanahan. He won Olympic gold in February, he won the Stanley Cup in June, he became a family patriarch in November. And there’s still five weeks left until New Year’s. Or, by Shanahan’s new measuring stick, 238 dirty diapers.

Shanahan returned to the ice Monday night at Joe Louis Arena. He scored a goal. After the game, he went to the parking lot.

It was a ride home from work, just like any other ride home from work — except this one had an empty cigar box in the backseat, and a player in the front who now knew this: Life is often not about what awaits you at the office, but what awaits when you return.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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