Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. And with all those away-games, his wife, Sonia, deserves her own version of the Stanley Cup.
At the end of August, we were sitting at an Italian restaurant in San Diego during our family vacation.
Before our meal arrived to the table, I told my wife and two daughters that I had a little announcement to make.
“This is going to be a time of transition for all three of you this fall,” I said.
“Elissa — you’re entering the French immersion program, so this will be a big change.”
“Lily — you’re going to be in school full-time now in grade one.”
“And Sonia — you’re now going to have the house to yourself every day with both kids in school.”
The three of them looked at me with slightly blank expressions that seemed to say, “Thanks for the news update Captain Obvious.”
But I wanted to make one thing crystal clear to them.
“All of you are going through a transition time and I want you to know that I am going to be patient with you,” I added. “This is a time of change for our family and even though I’ve got a hectic job, I’m the only one who won’t be making a big change this fall. So if you’re having any problems with the changes, just come and talk to me.”
A few days later, however, it turned out that I would be the one making the biggest change in our household.
We were at Universal Studios on the final day of our California vacation when I got a text message alerting me to a potential job opening at the all-sports radio station in Ottawa. The job would require no travel and would give me a very coveted afternoon time slot.
To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to lead anywhere. I had flirted with the idea of leaving my television job at Sportsnet for a couple of years, but figured this would fall by the wayside like some of the other opportunities that had been presented to me in the past.
It’s not that I didn’t love my job at Sportsnet — because it was an amazing place to work. I was fortunate enough to cover some of the biggest events in the sporting world, including a couple of Olympic Games, seven straight Stanley Cup Finals and four World Series. I was fortunate enough to fly on a charter plane with an NHL hockey team and stay in five-star hotels on the road. It was a high-profile job that made me a very recognizable face here in Ottawa.
To be brutally honest, it was everything that I ever dreamed of when I was a young journalism student thinking about breaking into this field.
So why did I want to leave?
The truth is, doing that job and having a healthy family life was nearly impossible. I was spending about 125 days a year on the road, which made life extremely difficult for my wife on the home front. I couldn’t tell you how many times I would be sitting inside a Ritz Carlton hotel room and listening to her complain on the phone about how one of our kids was throwing a tantrum. I was growing tired of Skyping with my kids to find out how their day was. Skype is meant for grandparents who don’t live in the same city as their grandchildren; it’s not meant for a dad who claims his kids are the most important thing in his life.
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There were times where I felt like a fraud writing a weekly blog in this space, when I wasn’t around my kids for weeks at a time. I probably would be better served writing for Today’s Absentee Parent.
I missed Lily’s first birthday because I was in Sweden covering hockey. I missed Elissa’s second birthday because I was in Germany for the FIFA World Cup. And I can’t tell you how many anniversaries I’ve missed because we foolishly got married on May 27 — which usually marks the start of the Stanley Cup Final each year.
I would try and justify all the travel by saying I could rack up a bunch of airline and hotel points so we could take some fun trips together. Our California adventure this summer was basically a free ride thanks to all of my travel to New York during the NHL lockout.
But there comes a time in your life when getting to the next tier of hotel rewards is pointless. If you don’t have gold status with your own family, then what’s the point? Sure, I could check in three suitcases for free with Air Canada, but their frequent flyer program could not handle any emotional baggage I was carrying around.
It’s not like I reached a breaking point. Sonia never threatened me or gave me an ultimatum that I had to give up my job. I never once lashed out at my assignment desk for sending me on a last-minute trip.
In fact, quite the opposite was true — and that was really the problem.
There was always an underlying feeling of resignation; that this was the life we were destined to have. I would argue that malaise is a very dangerous thing. Once you settle into a life of acceptance, it can be just as damaging as a life filled with tension and anger. It’s just a slower erosion process — but the effects are still the same.
This lifestyle became such a habit in our household that it became a predictable routine. I would have a suitcase sitting in our bedroom, ready to fly out to my next city. Maybe Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion and I needed to head to Pittsburgh. Or I had to shuffle off to cover a playoff series at the last minute.
So many times, the schedule for our lives depended on the result of a game. I remember standing inside the TD Garden in Boston for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and feeling upset when Milan Lucic scored a goal in the third period to give the Bruins the lead.
The only thought racing through my mind was, “Crap — I have to go to Chicago for Game 7 tomorrow.”
Can you imagine that? I was actually upset that I might have to fly to Chicago to cover Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Ten years ago, that would have been my dream. Now, Lucic’s goal was going to prevent me from seeing my family.
Thankfully, the Blackhawks scored two late goals to win the game and the series — sending me home to Ottawa the next morning. But the point remained the same: Too much of our lives were hinging on the results of sporting events. And when you think about it, that sounds like the same description for someone who has a gambling addiction.
Our daughters are nine and six now and I feel like I’ve missed too much already. It’s not a cliché when somebody tells you “they grow up fast.” I feel like if I blink again, they’ll be 18 and 15 and ready to move onto the next stage of their lives with one foot out the front door.
And what will I have to show for it?
When I’m on my death bed, will I wish that I covered one more World Series or will I wish that I spent more time with my kids when they were young?
We only get one shot at this parenting thing. There are no do-overs; no chance to get back this moment in time. Your kids are young only once. You can justify chasing your career goals all you want, but your kids won’t stay young while you’re doing it.
I suppose I can always go back to television down the road, but one thing I know is that I can never go back to the moment in time when our kids were nine and six.
And that’s why I’m making the career change right now.