The following was submitted by Lana Barkan.
When our kids were little, they often asked for an older brother.
Of course, this was a rather unfathomable request due to our inability to travel back in time, yet our daughters, Anna and Natalie, along with their little brother, Daniel, continuously asked Santa, the Tooth Fairy and many other mystical creatures for an older brother. Their requests varied due to the complexity of various life situations and events, but the older brother narrative remained a constant for a number of years.
Fast forward to July 2022, when our family decided to welcome two Elite Prospects hockey players for one month of summer training with the Bradford Rattlers of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL).
We were standing in our driveway, waiting for the two hockey players to arrive, and looked at each other to hide our anxiety about this brand-new commitment. Little did we know how much this experience would transform our lives and the overall family dynamic, making us a devoted hockey billet family and boosting our family’s morale to new heights.
Finally, our kids had their dream come true: having older billet brothers, who could play laser tag and discuss latest music trends with them, view TikTok videos and build Lego structures together.
Our 16- and 12-year-old daughters and nine-year-old son learned so much about the players’ lives in other countries, and our entire family gained an insight into the world of the GMHL — a Canadian developmental junior ice hockey league. Having an older billet brother certainly became a source of inspiration, and each time we interacted with the team, our family felt we made the right choice to billet the Bradford Rattlers players.
The word “billet” was somewhat of a mystery to us, although both my husband and I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and resided in Canada for 30 years; yet, we never came across this term.
The generic definition of the term means the billet family provides housing and support to young men who have moved away from home to pursue their dreams of playing the game they love, but in the previous centuries it used to mean an order to provide a lodging place for a soldier.
As it turned out, becoming a billet family meant so much more than simply being a place for a young athlete to rest after a day of training. Billeting was all about welcoming these young men to the family, learning about their languages and cultures, and becoming a Canadian connection to their new surroundings.
Quite literally, the billeting experience provided us with a chance to feel our “superpowers” — the power within each one of us to make a difference in another person’s life by contributing our knowledge and abilities, to enhance and enrich each other’s lives with positive influence and changes.
Sharing our immigrant life stories and introducing the players to various Canadian experiences, witnessing their first visits to the local attractions and teaching them about the Canadian values, way of life, and the great country of ours — all those moments were truly priceless and established a bond between the players and our family.
Suddenly, our lives had an additional, new purpose, as we were becoming increasingly familiar with the world of junior hockey and the GMHL games schedule. Streaming of Bradford Rattlers games became an omnipresent part of our social lives, as we were watching every away game, even at social gatherings, events and parties.
Friends, family, coworkers, along with our kids’ classmates and teachers, quickly learned the players’ names and stayed informed about their achievements. These highly motivated, responsible and talented young men became the proverbial older brothers and the much-needed role models for our children, who suddenly realized how lucky they were to be granted their ultimate wish.
Yes, of course, billeting is a lot of work, planning and dedication, especially for a working and commuting family with a busy lifestyle. However, it taught us so much about ourselves and created an important perspective on life, while our family became a part of something bigger: We felt our family became a part of the Bradford Rattlers, as we carefully planned and aligned our family’s commitments with the players’ schedules in mind.
In our endeavour, trust, care and communication became the key elements to our positive billeting experience, as we established each element and insisted on following through with it.
Trust was important to make the players feel welcomed, respected and capable of making the right decisions, while making them aware about our family’s rules and responsibilities.
Care for each other meant being there for each other and acting responsibly when sharing the household and its resources. And, finally, communication literally became the key to success, as we figured out the best ways to stay in touch and to co-ordinate our schedules to accommodate everyone’s needs.
Currently, our family is nearing the halfway point of our billeting commitment, as the first part of the season is over. At every occasion, our family is saying grace for the Bradford Rattlers team and our newfound big brothers from all over the world. We’ll also make sure to say a grace for the love of Canadian hockey, which brought all of us together, while our family continues making the world a better place — one billet boy at a time.