When Is Ice Cream More Than a Treat?

Sometimes ice cream is more than a sweet treat.

This fall I’ve been the horse-show parent. My wife has had an incredibly busy stretch with work, so I put my hand up on those Sundays when my oldest daughter would need to be gone the whole day. It’s wonderful to have those hours with her on the drive up and back, and it’s a great time to catch up on emails while I wait for her to ride. (Horse shows are like swim and track meets – a lot of waiting, just colder and draftier.)

This past weekend was a big one. If she won three points in her final ride she would advance to the regional competition in January. And she did!

To celebrate, she got to pick the restaurant. She chose a Friendly’s, which we don’t have around us.

Friendly’s was the iconic restaurant of my youth. Headquartered one town over in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, it was then seen as a nicer version of McDonald’s, but in retrospect it was more a precursor to the fast-casual restaurants that abound today. Think Shake Shack, without the beer.

When I was a kid, Friendly’s was a treat for my family. I hadn’t been to one in years. But it looked the same as ever, a design that gets updated but is still rooted in the same visual clues.

“You’re giving off nostalgia vibes,” my teen said. She wasn’t wrong.

I’d had a lot of fun times at Friendly’s. It was the place we went to get a watermelon sherbet cooler on a hot summer evening. It’s where my friends and I got Fribbles. It was where my grandparents took me for a special dinner – the Fishamajig sandwich was my grandmother’s favorite and is still on the menu!

And thanks to the success of the Blake brothers who started Friendly’s Restaurants, I got to go to prep school as a financial aid student. It changed the course of my life. I now sit on the board of that school and am awed by the generosity of Pres Blake, who lived to 106, and his family.

So yes, I was giving off nostalgia vibes. I was also giving off proud papa vibes. My daughter had done something in the sport she loves that had eluded me in sports when I was her age: she did not choke under pressure. My youth sports misery partly inspired my first book, “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t.”

I can still remember sitting in a similar Friendly’s booth with my grandfather, having choked away a summertime golf tournament. And now I was there with my daughter who had been clutch.

“I’m glad I remembered the part about adapting,” she said. “That horse was tough.”

I welled up. Adapting is the third of five traits that people who are great under pressure possess. Instead of giving her a banal pep talk – you’ll do great, this doesn’t matter, have fun – I told her what all clutch performers do in high pressure situations. And she remembered it.

When it came to dessert, we splurged on the sundae I was never allowed to get: the banana spilt! And we shared.