Prolific Author Rich Cohen Scores with His Account of Life as a Hockey Dad
By David A. F. Sweet
Ah, the joys of the hockey parent. Mothers struggling to put on their six-year-old’s equipment at the rink — before realizing they need to race home to grab the forgotten mouthguard. Fathers navigating icy parking lots while toting oversized, pungent hockey bags — before ducking into a bar for pre-game beers. Both parents jolted awake by nightmares of the opposing team’s cowbells.
Finally, we will have a book that details the experience (which, yes, also includes happy moments). Written by New Trier High School graduate and Glencoe native Rich Cohen, Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $27) will appear in the dead of winter in 2021 — and not a moment too soon.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux was kind enough to share the galleys with me, and like the prolific author’s other work, it is engaging and humorous. The Connecticut resident covers a year on his son Micah’s team, starting with April tryouts and finishing with a state tournament almost a year later. In-between, as Publisher’s Weekly explains, “Cohen provides a fascinating glimpse into the players’ egos and excels in profiling the parents and coaches who live and die with each shift in their children’s fortunes.”
Cohen — who as a Deerfield Falcons’ Squirt winger scored the winner in the Illinois state championship, back in the day when skates were hung up no later than April — told me he was stunned how much he cared.
“I guess what most surprised me was how insane it made me,” said Cohen, who ended up seeing a cardiologist because of the stress of watching Micah’s games. “I knew all the pitfalls, disapproved of the parents who acted like lunatics and understood the meaninglessness of the whole thing in the scheme of life. And yet I went head over heels into it and acted as bad as anyone and knew all the while it was stupid but couldn’t stop myself.”
Some of Cohen’s material in the book seems so bizarre as to be fictional. But take it from this hockey parent: hockey parents everywhere will relate. Here’s one excerpt that should resonate:
I’d always heard that a certain kind of sports parent uses their child to fulfill their own unfulfilled childhood dreams … In this way, they’d vicariously live the life they’d wanted but could not have — the life of the standout, the superstar, the kid who just might go all the way.
And yes, there is some of that. But the motivation for most parents is more immediate. When your kid excels, you are treated better. I’m talking about status, how people greet you as you come through the big double doors into the rink. Once, when my son scored an especially pretty goal, a father climbed out of the bleachers just to shake my hand. I’ve gotten high-fives, even high-tens. There have been full-body hugs. This is not about the past. It’s about right now.
Cohen tackles many themes ubiquitous to hockey parents: calling each other to vent as unhappy tryout results are posted on the Internet; tortuously long drives to out-of-the-way towns you’ve never heard of; once-sane parents yelling at referees; the child of the coach getting treated like a star despite his or her abilities, and much more.
Cohen is one of the liveliest writers out there, and he and I share a passion for sports writing and for Chicago sports teams. It’s no surprise two of his books — The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football and The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse — are prominent on my bookshelves.
In fact, Monsters is one of the best sports books I’ve read. It is raw and funny, buoyed by great interviews with many of the Bears’ stars. Cohen’s memories of heading to the Super Bowl as a teenager on an aging chartered plane are priceless. Beers were distributed to hundreds of men decked mainly in the Bears’ sweater vests favored by Coach Ditka; as Cohen recounted, “They wandered in the aisles, slurring and prophesying … Footballs were taken out of bags and spirals went zipping across the cabin … A punt banged off an emergency-door handle.”
Among his other notable works are The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones (he spent a month hanging out with them before the Voodoo Lounge tour in the mid-1990s) and The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation. Cohen’s memoir Sweet and Low (his grandfather Ben Eisenstadt created the iconic artificial sweetener) revealed family secrets that angered relatives. Lake Effect focused on teenage life on the North Shore.
His interest in writing started young. As a child, he published a typewritten magazine that reviewed restaurants and covered foreign affairs. A 1990 graduate of Tulane University, he sent a blind resume to The New Yorker — and was hired. Crafting pieces for Talk of the Town, a well-respected section near the front of the magazine, “You looked for the weirdest, oddest angles, stories that hadn’t been printed elsewhere,” Cohen told me in a past interview. “It’s still embedded in me.”
And despite Illinois’ restrictions against youth hockey games amid the pandemic, that doesn’t mean Chicago-area hockey parents are relaxing through March. They simply have to drive farther for games — Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are welcoming contests, even those pitting two Illinois teams. I know some parents who have already traveled with their hockey youngsters to Colorado.
Thankfully in 2021, these hockey parents can emerge from the latest meat-locker-cold arena, drive to their drab hotel off the interstate, skip the uninviting indoor pool and cuddle up with Pee Wees. There’s nothing like finding kindred souls on the printed page.
The Sporting Life columnist David A. F. Sweet can be followed on Twitter @davidafsweet. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.