It’s a miserable day at the Schooner Island Marina, just over the bridge in Wildwood. A late-October nor’easter is rocking all of the boats docked here, with wet winds gusting and a constant, misting rain. There’s not an old sea dog to be found walking around in this mess, save for one on the top deck of a 45-footer dubbed The French Connection. The back door is open wide and decorated with a Philadelphia Flyers logo. Up the ladder, leaning back in a folding chair and puffing on a cigar, is Hall of Fame goaltender Bernard Marcel Parent. He’s wearing what he calls his “Hemingway look” — white cap, olive-green rain jacket, khakis, and docksiders with no socks. This boat is literally his home, and his lifestyle is almost Biblical in its solitude, its minimalism, and its communion with nature. The ship sways from side to side, and the skies hint that the worst is yet to come. All of this seems lost on Parent, for whom every forecast seems sunny. He’s shooting the bull with his business adviser, Dean Smith, and takes a moment to draw on his cigar, smiling through his well-groomed white beard. “Is this fucking living or what?”
Parent’s Old Man and the Sea look suits him well, save for two details — he appears about a decade younger than his 62 years, and most fishermen don’t wear diamond-studded rings. The one on his right hand represents his 1974 Stanley Cup championship; the left, his second, in 1975. With those victories, Parent ascended from the world of mortals to become a deity, as defined by popular bumper stickers that testified “Only The Lord Saves More Than Bernie Parent.” His God-like status still lingers — when his grinning mug was shown on the scoreboard during a Phillies playoff game this year, the ballpark erupted. Ask him about those rings — this seems true no matter what he’s talking about — and he’s prepared with a story.
“I was in New York six years ago, signing autographs,” Parent says, his English still colored with French. “This girl, 17 years old, has no clue who I am. She says, ‘Can I have an autograph for my brother?’ I said sure. She said, ‘Are those championship rings? This is great! They made ones for the parents, too!’” She had misunderstood the “PARENT” inscription on the rings. Parent lets out a chuckle.
“So I got up like a good Flyer and, one shot, dropped her.”
As his laughter echoes across the deck, there’s no hint of the hard times that came with the glory — a heartbreaking trade, a career-ending injury, alcoholism, divorce, and the death of a young Flyer he mentored. Through it all, he’s found a way to keep his glass perpetually half full. These days, Parent will tell anyone who’ll listen that his inspiration is The Secret, an Australian TV producer’s self-help book and DVD that has sold millions with its message that positive thinking can literally bend the cosmos to improve your life. “The universe is a mirror,” Bernie says. “Whatever you’re thinking, you’re getting back. If you’re constantly dealing with fear and sadness, that’s what you’re getting back.”
He wouldn’t be the first goalie accused of being kooky — you have to be a little cracked to stand in front of rock-hard pucks blasting at 100 miles per hour. “He’s a Frenchman and a goaltender,” says former Flyers teammate Bob Kelly. “So you know he’s wacky. [But] he’s gone through a lot.” And the truth is that the real secret to Bernie Parent’s wonderful life goes much deeper than advice from his favorite book.