Ridgefield author uses youth hockey to examine parenting

RIDGEFIELD — Rich Cohen grew up playing hockey outside of Chicago. It was a big part of his life until he went on and completely let the sport go.

Hockey has come back into his life through his sons, the youngest of whom still plays for Ridgefield, and as the subject as his 13th book, “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent.” The book examines one season of a youth hockey team from a parent’s perspective, along with firsthand accounts.

His oldest son played on a Ridgefield travel hockey team. Cohen said he noticed his son was only pretending to want to play for his sake and went on to quit. His other son, Micah took up hockey on his own, sucking Cohen back into the game and causing him to lose his senses and perspective.

“I got so involved in it,” Cohen said. “My father has this thing he always said, ‘The key to life is to care, but not that much.’ I found myself caring way too much and when that happens to me I look for a guide, book, or movie, or something I can turn to. I felt like it didn’t exist so I decided I wanted to write it.”

Cohen discussed his latest book with David Lipsky, author of “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” at a recent library event sponsored by Books on the Common.

A mix between Bad News Bears meets Slap Shot, Cohen’s book goes through all the good and bad that happens within a season.

The opening scene is one of Cohen’s favorite from the book. While sitting alone in the parking lot for a game, he suddenly realized that hockey drives a lot of economic diversity. He saw Teslas and beat up trucks, but on the ice, no one knows about the parents’ wealth.

Cohen recalled another memory from the book that made him laugh.

“My son was playing on his team and he was complaining that he thought the referee was a hometown ref,” he said. “And I was yelling at him because that’s kind of loser talk. I said why would the ref care who wins the youth hockey game, that it’s crazy to think he cares, why would you think he was a hometown ref? And he said because he got confused and went to the other bench and he asked what period is it and a kid said ‘It’s the second period dad.’”

Cohen said he wanted to replicate what it was like to experience this season — complete with the winning and losing streaks.

“Any kind of sport has a natural drama no matter what happens in the natural story so why would you want to mess with that?” he said.

He said seeing the team’s ups and downs left him wanting the best for his son, though at times he wasn’t sure what that was.

“I mean, I think it’s winning but maybe it’s actually losing,” Cohen said. “And some of what I learned this season is losing really is important for these kids.”

He said it’s only by losing — and losing bunches of times — that the players figure out how to win and discover how much they really care about the game and feel dedicated to it.

Cohen said it’s so intense because it’s parenthood concentrated and amplified into this small contained environment.

“The reason I always like writing about sports is that sports are just life but all the things that are hidden, that’s happening at people’s houses is out in the open in sports and you see it,” he said, adding people on the stands are struggling with themselves and have coping mechanisms to deal with their own stress.

He loves watching the parents of goalies stationed behind the goalie “as if they’re controlling the goalie like those Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.” Then there’s the other kind of parent who is only sitting alone because of the stream of curse words and doesn’t want anyone to hear them. Cohen himself on the other hand moves to different spots as if it will change something in the game.

“All that’s like stuff in normal life out in the rink, out in the open and in that way it’s like a microcosm,” Cohen said. “Everything that’s good about America you’ll see in the youth hockey and everything that’s bad will be there too.”

Lipsky said Cohen has written “immensely good books” that have been critical hits and best sellers.

“Rich has been producing the consistently best writing in America for about 20 years,” Lipsky said. “He’s been writing on the biggest subjects — love, family, nations, crime. And it is for me a great relief Rich has finally turned his attention to a subject that’s truly important and worthy: youth hockey, specifically the Ridgefield Bears.”

Copies of the books are available at Books on the Common, 203-431-9100, and can be personalized and signed upon request.