Parenting

How my wife handled the NHL lockout

Sportsnet reporter Ian Mendes credits his understanding wife as the reason he excels as a journalist.

Ian, on a night out with his wife Sonia.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a number of media members were huddled inside the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

We were covering a meeting that had started at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, but now more than 13 hours had elapsed. Each of us was anxiously checking our phones for messages from sources or colleagues to hear if the NHL’s lockout was about to end. For the most part, everybody in the room was mentally and physically exhausted. We had all covered long overtime playoff games, but nothing came close to the insanity of this extended boardroom meeting.

Around 3:15 a.m., I received an urgent message via Blackberry Messenger. It was from my most trusted source back in Ottawa.

“Lily is awake and she has a fever.”

I immediately responded to my wife’s note.

“You won’t (expletive) believe this. The meeting is still going on,” I wrote back.

At that point, I’m not sure who had it worse: The reporter, who was anchored inside a hotel boardroom, covering a meeting that had no definitive end time — or the stay-at-home mom, who was awake in the middle of the night with a feverish five-year-old.

After a moment of deliberation, I realized that I was clearly in the better situation. My wife had been alone on the home front for 10 days. And now she was dealing with a sick child without any support.

But instead of reading me the riot act over BBM — which is often our medium of choice for venting frustrations — Sonia was more understanding than I could have imagined.

“Lily will be fine. Don’t worry,” she wrote back. “I feel bad for you. Hang in there — this thing is almost over.”

I couldn’t believe it.

My wife was consoling me at 3:30 a.m. because I was still working. She had earned enough credit to send me on the mother of all guilt trips, but instead, she opted to be supportive.

Keep in mind that when I was sent away on this trip, it was on December 28th — which happened to be my birthday. We were walking out the door, preparing to take the kids to their favourite restaurant to celebrate my special day. But as we were walking out, I received an email message from Sportsnet that simply read “Need you in New York asap.”

I had to explain to the kids that we wouldn’t be going to Boston Pizza after all. Instead of piling into the car for a birthday meal, we changed course and headed to the airport. When I left my family at the curb that day I told them that I didn’t know when I would be back.

Sadly, I’ve done that to my family too many times to count — and they know the routine all too well.

When you work in the world of sports journalism, you are often left with the sad task of saying goodbye to your family at an airport curb without a firm return date. “Daddy will be home on Thursday if the Penguins sweep the Rangers in four games. If not, I could be home after Game 7 next week.”

This time I had to tell them I would be home once the NHL lockout was resolved. I may as well have booked a ticket to Tel Aviv and told them, “Daddy will be home when they achieve peace in the Middle East.” This was about as open-ended an assignment as I’d ever taken.

So I once again left my wife and kids for an extended period of time. This one hurt even more because it fell right over the Christmas holidays. The kids were out of school and Sonia was not only stuck with the kids — but my parents were visiting over New Year’s. Not many people dream of ringing in the New Year with their in-laws and not their spouse, but my wife handled it without complaint because that’s just par for the course with our lives.

Even when I’m in town, I often miss dance recitals, swimming classes and school plays because of events I need to cover. And when news breaks, my assignment desk in Toronto doesn’t care that I’m supposed to be on Girl Guides pick-up duty. Being constantly on-call is the most soul-sucking aspect of my job. I’m like a doctor — only a thousand times less important.

I missed Lily’s first birthday because I was in Sweden covering hockey. I missed Elissa’s second birthday because I was in Germany covering the World Cup. And I’ve missed almost every one of our 12 wedding anniversaries, because it happens to fall on the last weekend in May — when the Stanley Cup Final usually starts.

And yet, I’m still here doing the job that I love for one reason and one reason only: My wife supports my dream. We started dating in journalism school and she told me that I had the potential to be a TV reporter. She always encouraged me to pursue my dream, even though it meant working most weekends and evenings while we were engaged.

I’m not sure either of us realized the major sacrifice this would be for both of us. When you see someone on television reporting on a sporting event, you rarely think of the family that is left behind at home. But I can tell you, unequivocally, that the support from my family is the biggest reason why I’m able to excel as a journalist.

While I was stuck on the extended lockout assignment in New York, people kept saying to me, “Boy — your wife must be ready to kill you right now.”

And yet, I didn’t feel any pressure of being pulled by my family because my wife has become a lot more understanding of this atypical lifestyle. I wouldn’t trade my family for my job, but I know a lot of people in our industry who have had to make that tough decision. And I feel extremely fortunate to have the best of both worlds.

I received a lot of complimentary notes about my coverage of the NHL lockout in New York. I was extremely honoured to be such a big part of our reporting team in Manhattan and this was certainly a
defining moment for my career.

But I would be remiss if I accepted those accolades without pointing out the major contribution made by my wife. She allowed me to concentrate on work without having to worry about anything on the home front. And no matter what anyone tries to tell you, being a stay-at-home parent is a lot more challenging than being a television reporter.