Hockey from the Blind Side, Giving Thanks to My Dad

It is Father’s Day weekend, and I wanted to take the opportunity to write something about my father. No, unfortunately, he will not be reading it, nor will he even be aware that I did so. He has a combination of Parkinson’s Disease and Senile Dementia, and, at this point, can hardly remember anything you tell him thirty seconds after you say it. Nevertheless, in no small way, I would not be writing on this blog or possess the knowledge and enthusiasm for the New York Islanders and the game of hockey without a lot of influence and help from him over the years.

First, though, let me take care of some “business”. Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings and their fans for becoming the 2014 Stanley Cup champions. The Kings won game 5 in double overtime last night to defeat the Rangers 4 games to 1. I was in bed by the time that happened, as I simply was too tired to even last into the first overtime.

To the Rangers and their fans, congratulations as well. The effort and run were commendable. From the point in which the Rangers came back to shock the Pittsburgh Penguins being down 3 games to 1 to taking the Kings to 3 different overtime games in the finals, it was an impressive effort and one to be respected and acknowledged, despite being an Islander fan.

Henrik Lundqvist was a “wall” in net. The number of amazing saves he made in the series, to me, cannot be counted. If there is a definition of “money goaltenders”, Lundqvist proved that throughout the playoffs. The Kings, though, had won it before in 2012, and I believe 17 of the guys from that roster are still there, so it was, without a doubt, a monumental task for the Rangers to defeat them.To return to the subject of this post, my father is now 80 years old. Besides having been there for my entire family throughout our lives, since his retirement, due to injury, from the NYFD in 1990, he has particularly been a one-man force in assisting me through my life. Without him and his constant trips to the library and the Adelphi University campus, I would not have completed graduate school successfully. During most of the years I ran an assistive technology retail business, my dad was like my partner in so many ways. How many miles we drove and flew together …. how many exhibit halls and convention centers we set up and tore down my booth …. how many hotels we stayed in …. simply cannot be counted. From my first “official” trade show in Greensboro North Carolina in July of 1995 to his last trip with me in March of 2008 to, ironically, Los Angeles California, my dad was very much a driving force behind the success I achieved and to how far the business grew.

Now, with this being a New York Islanders blog, you may be asking what this has to do with hockey or the Islanders. Well, besides all he has done for me for my education and my former business, I would not have gotten to many of the Islander games I attended over the years starting from the middle 1980’s without him. When my brother, Joe, first bought a pair of season tickets in the late 1980’s, my father took me to countless games when Joe was working. This continued over the years for probably a good dozen or more, as myself and a couple of friends also contributed to increase our season tickets to 3 seats for a time and well beyond after we gave up our seats.

I will never forget the ritual of first stopping to buy a bucket of popcorn for my dad and a pretzel for me, along with a soda for each of us right after we’d enter the “old barn”. In fact, to this day, any time I enter the Nassau Veterans Memorial Colosseum and I smell the popcorn, I always think of my father and cannot help smiling to myself. Then, after he’d by the popcorn, pretzel and sodas, we’d go to our seats in section 301, and, sometimes, between the second and third periods, he’d run out to get us ice cream. During the games, he’d make comments about the plays and sometimes describe something that would happen, as well as read the scoring from the scoreboard to me. He’d never know all of the players as well as I did, but he certainly got to recognize many of them and could identify them to me if he was describing a play.

After games, he’d put on the radio and let me listen to the post game shows to their very end because he knew I was interested in the analysis offered by Jean Potvin, Bobby Nystrom and everyone else over the years. Additionally, after the post game show if we were still hadn’t reached home, he’d flip through the AM stations and put on any other hockey game that happened to be on …. New York Ranger, New Jersey Devil, Hartford Whaler … etc …. because, again, he knew I enjoyed listening to them. When we were on the road for business, I couldn’t tell you how many times we’d be listening to games in the car or if it was possible, he’d put them on television in the hotel room. I can recall listening to Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins games during our travels. My dad was certainly not as big a hockey fan as I was, but that didn’t matter to him.

Although I kept a lot of notes about the games I attended growing up and have a thick folder filled with Braille sheets, I would have to really look at them in depth to be able to tell you when the last game I went to with my dad happened to be. I’d guess probably during the 2007 season, but I am certainly not sure of that fact. Oddly enough, despite the fact that his faculties have degraded so much in recent years, some time in early November while an Islander game was on in the living-room, my father came wandering into the room with his walker and sat down on the couch. I was sitting in there alone while my brother, Joe, had run out to the store and my mother was in another room. At one point, a goal was scored on the Islanders that deflected off of Travis Hamonic passed Nabokov. In his usual way, my father suddenly said something like, “Oh …. the puck deflected off of #3’s shin pad passed the Islander goalie”. It was like “old times” …

It was my father who would remind me after an Islander loss over the years that “it’s just a game”. When you are as emotional and passionate about the Islanders as I was, that wasn’t always necessarily appreciated back then, but it surely got through to me. Now, writing on this blog and as I have listened to games in “recent years”, I always remind myself that it is, indeed, “just a game” and that the next morning, I’d have to wake up and take care of a lot of other things. In small ways, because of my father, I became a much better hockey fan and a well rounded Islander fan, and it is often the subtle and little things that frequently impact you the most, though you have no idea it is happening.

As I stood in front of a conference room with some thirty-five Vision Teachers in Harrisburg Pennsylvania a few months ago to teach them how to use the VoiceOver screen reader that comes built into every Macintosh computer, I thought of my father and how his encouragement and presence over the years while I did similar presentations inspired and gave me the confidence to be able to do such a thing so easily and effectively. How many times had he been quietly bustling about the room handing out my brochures or catalogs or letting me know if someone raised their hand to ask me a question. Everything I have accomplished now as a technology trainer and facing the chance to be directly contracted by Apple themselves has been because of all that my father has done for me over the years. Again, so many little things and small contributions, yet they have added up to mold and create the kind of professional and dedicated business man I am today. It is all because of my father.

Back in January when I had the chance to sit in the press box during an Islander/Stars game, again, I thought of my father and how proud he would have been of me to have gotten such an opportunity. Every time I join Gary for a Sports Radio New York show at the WGGB studio, I imagine how my father would have been like if he was able to be there, most likely ending up in the sound booth with our engineer, Brian probably shooting the breeze with him. As my brother, Joe, has termed it, my dad was like the “Mayor”, socializing and befriending just about everyone in any given situation, and it is a quality and characteristic I truly admire and one I wish I possessed to his ability.

I know there are some guys out there who are not as fortunate to have had the kind of relationship I have enjoyed with my father. I feel bad for such people and wish that they could have experienced the types of things I was lucky enough to enjoy. Also, unless you actually are in a situation in which you have to slowly observe an illness steal away the man you grew up with and admired and emulated, as he deteriorates little by little each day and week, you simply do not understand how much it kills a part of you. It fills you with a sadness and a rage and a sense of helplessness that you cannot describe. My father never got to truly appreciate and enjoy his five grand children who are now 13 as the oldest and 6 as the youngest. This, to me, is probably the most disappointing result of what has happened to him.

My father, though, is still alive and as far as his illnesses have robbed him of who he once was, there are still flashes of his personality and instances of his old self. I still cherish and appreciate those fleeting moments, and try to hold on to them whenever possible. At the same time, I remind myself how much I owe the man and how I can never repay him for all he has done. Even as I write this, I am tearing up and choking up, but I want to thank my father for everything he has ever done for me over the years. You may not read any of this, dad, but I know a part of you realizes how grateful I am. I dedicate this post and my success to you.

John Panarese

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