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Hockey Dad

Once upon a time, my wife and I decided that our kids would not play hockey and, more importantly, that we would never be “hockey parents” (apologies to non-Canadian readers who may not appreciate all the unwelcome moral freight conveyed by this loathsome term).  Hockey was expensive, it brought out the worst in both kids and their parents, it was expensive, it was unnecessarily violent, it was expensive, it involved unnecessary amounts of travel and early mornings at frigid rinks… and it was expensive.

No, our children would play soccer or swim, or dance or participate in some other less philistine sport while we, their parents, sat passively and non-confrontationally on the sidelines encouraging them to just “do their best.”  And we would all mutually exult in the joy of participating in wholesome, non-competitive physical activity.

Or not.

Our best intentions notwithstanding, Nicholas simply could not be dissuaded from his love for hockey.  He enjoys soccer.  He likes baseball and basketball.  He has fun swimming.  But he is obsessed with hockey.  So this year, we finally acquiesced and enrolled him in organized minor hockey for the first time.  And over the last several weekends, I have joined the legions of other Canadian parents who spend their Saturdays and Sundays traipsing off to the local rink to deliver their children to the seemingly endless practices and games this entails.  I have sat through parent meetings where we discussed how to raise funds for track suits, practice jerseys (practice jerseys?!  For eight-year olds?!), etc.  I have forked over money for uniforms and matching socks.  The insanity has officially begun.

And I’m becoming one of them—a “hockey dad,” that is.  I find myself leaping to the edge of my seat at when my son completes a drill properly.  I wince and turn away when he turns himself into a pretzel and causes a pileup trying to transition from skating backwards to forwards.  I hear myself saying things like, “No, Nicky, that’s not how the coach explained the drill!  Turn on your inside leg, not your outside!”  “Look where you’re passing it!  Keep your head up!”  “Pass it, pass it, pass it… he’s wide open!”  “Go to the net!! Stick on the ice!! Get back!!”  “Do you have to leap, Ovechkin-like, into the glass in celebration when a puck dribbles in off your skate while the goalie is fixing his pad?!”  “No, you’re standing at the wrong face-off dot!! What are you doing?!”   And so on…

Luckily, the above remains mostly an inner dialogue thus far, but as we were walking out of the rink yesterday it occurred to me that I seem to have an awful lot of my own identity tied up in how my son performs with a stick and a puck on a sheet of ice.  Perhaps unhealthily so!  I am pained by his every mistake, I share his every elation.  I agonize about whether or not he is fitting in with his teammates, I wonder if/when his skating ability will catch up to those who have been playing for 4-5 years.  In short, I am doing what I swore I would never do: I am living vicariously through my son.

Sigh.

But maybe it’s such a bad thing—or at least not an exclusively bad thing.  As I was sitting in church after hockey yesterday I was reminded that, in a way, there may be something of a theological analogy to being a hockey dad (it seems I can manufacture a theological analogy out of just about anything!).  Just as my identity as a parent is tied up in how my son “performs” so, in a much more limited way, God’s identity is tied up in the performance of his image-bearers in general, and his church in particular.  God shares our pains, is delighted by our joys and successes, and is grieved by our disobedience/failure.  When we do well, it looks good on God and when we don’t, it is his name that is spoiled.

It may, perhaps, seem a bit irreverent to say that God lives vicariously through his children, but maybe not as much as we think.  While God is obviously not afflicted by the insecurities, neuroses, and misplaced ambitions of hockey dads, he does have a huge interest in how his children do.  Do we play the game right?  Do we follow instructions to the best of our ability?  The answers to these questions (and others) say a good deal about us, primarily, but they also say something about the God who we claim made us and whose purposes we claim to know something about.

God has given us a spectacular amount of freedom—probably more than we deserve or are capable of bearing, it sometimes seems.  He has allowed us to make him look bad and there are no shortage of examples where we have seized this opportunity.  But we can also make God look good.  We can represent him well by being the best human beings we can be, to the glory of God.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Umm thats a good way of putting what I have been experiencing with Sasha, and he’s two years of hockey. This year though due to costs we are just doing soccer… hopefully Sasha ( well to be honest I) survive with just soccer. 🙂

    October 12, 2009
    • You can do it, Paul. In our three years in Vancouver, I discovered that soccer is just as capable of absorbing a father’s obsessions as hockey…

      October 12, 2009
      • I hope so. Hey you are driving to the conference with a guy form our church here in Vancouver, he is also a Regent student, Carl Friesen. Have a great trip, give Gil a hug for me.

        October 13, 2009
      • Hey, that’s good to know. I saw his name on the email list but had no idea who he was. I’m looking forward to the trip and will certainly greet Gil enthusiastically on your behalf 🙂

        October 13, 2009
  2. Paul Johnston #

    Why does a loving father mediate his beloved son’s desires?…

    As your post indicates, albeit humourously, sports cultures in general and particularly hockey sports culture (in Canada), can and does speak in opposition to core Christian values.

    Of perhaps even greater concern is that this voice speaks loudly and persuasively to the heart of a young boy who simply wants to play a game he loves. The nuances of faith, the mystery; the maturity, do not readily translate to the heart of a young boy whose life experiences are all viscerally interpreted.

    Most boys do what they do because they “like it”, because “it’s fun”. Most boys will have more fun with a puck and a stick than with a prayer book and a service. Most boys if given the choice, would choose something other than church service on a Sunday morning.

    Remember always that hockey culture in this country is it’s own “church service”. It’s own culture, is it’s first priority. Godly if neccessary but not neccessarily Godly. And when Godly, always in a way that is subordinate to the game.

    God bless you and be with you, Ryan. May the courage, clamness and right reason of love be with you always.( You are well equipped for the journey. 🙂 )

    Our marriage vow and the children we are blessed with, are, after worship, the holiest and most sacred of our responsibilities. Where God does truly delegate His responsibility to our charge.

    To those who do marry, who do have children and who do seek a just approval and reward from our Father in heaven, let it be earned through the way we love our wives and raise our children. Let that sacred responsibility inform our other choices and not have our other choices inform our sacred responsibilities.

    May the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us always.

    October 13, 2009
    • “As your post indicates, albeit humourously, sports cultures in general and particularly hockey sports culture (in Canada), can and does speak in opposition to core Christian values.”

      Please expand upon this…. what premise would lead you to this conclusion?

      October 13, 2009
    • also this:

      “Of perhaps even greater concern is that this voice speaks loudly and persuasively to the heart of a young boy who simply wants to play a game he loves. The nuances of faith, the mystery; the maturity, do not readily translate to the heart of a young boy whose life experiences are all viscerally interpreted.

      What voice speaks loudly to the heart of a young boy? The one that has a passion for a great game? I just don’t understand where this argument is going?

      October 13, 2009
  3. leavethebuilding #

    “When we do well, it looks good on God and when we don’t, it is his name that is spoiled.”

    Ah, yes. This is the beautiful and, yet, tragic truth of being one of his people. Interesting, though, that God thinks it is worth the risk and still doesn’t go and pull us out of the game when we make him look bad.

    We have so much to learn.

    October 13, 2009
  4. Paul Johnston #

    “This is the whole of the law, that you love the Lord your God with all your heart….with all your mind….and love your neighbour as yourself.”

    Hockey culture could care less about the greatest of commandments, Tyler. Parents who are truly trying to live a life of faith for themselves and for their children know that.

    As for what you don’t understand about my arguement, until you become a committed Christian (honestly struggling with the implication of the above Lucan reference) and have raised children for many years, your not going to get it.

    Somethings you can’t learn from books or through debate. Somethings have to be lived for years to be understood.

    October 13, 2009
    • For your information, Paul (particularly paragraph two).

      If you wish to (wrongly) interpret this post as evidence that I (or other hockey parents) “could care less about the greatest of commandments,” or are not “truly trying to live a life of faith for themselves and for their children” that’s certainly your prerogative. But Tyler asked a few very legitimate and civilized questions about your comments that deserve, at the very least, a response that does not patronize/belittle him or leap to unwarranted assumptions about his commitment/willingness to consider the implications of Scripture.

      October 13, 2009
      • Mike C. #

        nicely stated, Ryan!

        October 15, 2009
    • Paul, there is much I’d like to say, but out of self restraint I will refrain.

      However, personal experience has taught me there is a lot to be gained from team sports, this includes hockey, that would be beneficial to faith. Love and heart is not set at a predefined capacity and because someone may have a love for a game doesn’t mean they love God or other things less. Select people in the sport may put forward some questionable values, but this is with every realm of human life. If your concern is that hockey culture is not concerned with salvation then you might as well add it to the long list of activities we all do.

      With that said, I fail to see how partaking in hockey culture lessens a persons faith. Moreover, playing team games, attending social functions, and wide array of other social activities is part of what it takes to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Why? Because as you so politely put it, “Somethings have to be lived for years to be understood.” If a faith is broken by dressing room talk or the way game is played, then arguably it wasn’t a very strong faith. You don’t just leave your faith outside the dressing room door.

      There may be things I cannot fully comprehend because I have not experienced raising my own children. There may also be, and I agree with you, certain things that I cannot”learn from books or through debate.” But, one thing I have learned from several books, including the bible, is:

      “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – Augustine

      October 13, 2009
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Tyler, Ryan, I would suggest you stop cherry picking quotes. You only distort and misunderstand when you do that. Have a conversation with me, your less likely to be offended or be offensive. Respond to the whole of a post both in content and spirit. Tell me what you don’t like like, tell me what you do. Tell me what you agree with tell me what you don’t. Stop the selective deconstruction. To me, that is all about winning debating points and skews the intended emphasis of my origional post. It pisses me off and inspires patronizing responses.

    With that in mind I do appreciate the character of your last response Tyler, though I might add that your first and last paragraph speak as easily to you as they might to me.

    As for my concern about hockey culture, let me elaborate.

    Hockey culture is pervasive in this country, particularly at a minor league level. Hockey isn’t so much something you do, as it becomes something you are. The term “hockey family” is intended to be taken literally. Between practice time, travel time, league games and tournaments, hockey and it’s culture become the priority activity and the priority influence on family life.

    Any man who sees his first priority to be the Lucan worldview as outlined earlier, in my opinion, has some serious choices to make. Prayer before practice. Service before games. Christ before Crosby. No easy task in a hockey world that does not in any way, shape or form acknowledge the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Once upon a time, in my part of the country (GTA) there was a vast network of Catholic youth leagues that tried to manage such a balance. They have become a relic to the past. Where they still do exist, the spiritual references are token. Today’s hockey envioronment is wholly secular. If the priority activity and moral influence of a family is a wholly secular activity, what does that really say about a families faith committment? What is a father really saying to his son about the importance of faith? What is he really saying to God about his sacred charge?

    I’m open to and quite frankly need to dialogue, about what a right engagement with hockey culture, ( and any pervasive secular culture for that matter) ought to look like but not particularly disposed to do that with someone who has neither the life experience or faith commitment to inform my choices. Sorry if that offends you…truly..but that is how I feel.

    October 14, 2009
    • Cherry-picking? Seriously Paul? Somehow you managed to turn a tongue-in-cheek, humorous reflection about a dad watching his son play hockey into something like “how hockey culture is inimical to faith” (not to mention implying that those of us who allow our kids to play hockey aren’t taking their faith formation seriously). And you’re accusing Tyler and myself of “distorting and misunderstanding?!”

      Have a conversation with me, your less likely to be offended or be offensive.

      Um, well, as I read things this is precisely what Tyler was trying to do when you ridiculed and dismissed him.

      Respond to the whole of a post both in content and spirit. Tell me what you don’t like like, tell me what you do. Tell me what you agree with tell me what you don’t. Stop the selective deconstruction. To me, that is all about winning debating points and skews the intended emphasis of my origional post. It pisses me off and inspires patronizing responses.

      I would love to find out what, in any comment prior to your “rebuke” of Tyler, would have “inspired” the patronizing response you felt was necessary.

      I didn’t respond to your initial comment because I didn’t think it had anything to do with my post. I grew up playing hockey and I somehow managed to emerge a committed Christian. Apparently they aren’t necessarily at odds with one another.

      October 14, 2009
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Tyler, with regard to your faith concerns as they would apply to children, let me say this. I do not believe a child enters a dressing room with a faith, or with any particular worldview for that matter. As I said earlier they like what they like, they don’t what they don’t. Worldviews are shaped over time and mostly by believing in theories that support what you’ve grown to like.

    Faith is taught. Faith is practised. It’s teachings and practices bring comfort and joy into your life. Faith is then believed.

    October 14, 2009
  7. Paul Johnston #

    Hmm, if I read the spirit of your last comment correctly, calm down, Ryan, please.

    When I used the term cherry picking, I was refering to your style of dialogue with me since mimiced by Tyler, where by you isolate certain sentences of mine and respond to them in a selectively deconstructionist way. Sometimes the way you do it, in my mind, distorts the emphasis and at times even the intent if what I am saying. On a personal note I don’t like it as a means of communication even when it is spot on. Sorry for saying so but in all truth it is a style of conversation I find kind of annoying. Over time it reflects to me,rightly or wrongly, a pedantic know it all attitude that has to break it down point by point until an ignoramus like me gets it.

    I can’t disagree with the ignoramus label too much 🙂 but I would rather have dialogue with you, given the length of time I’ve been commenting here, in a more conversational way. That’s all.

    As for you anger on Tyler’s behalf, take it easy, guy. I at least tried to give some explanation in my last response. Further your last response is to my ear far and away more deliberately inflammatory than anything you “think” I might have said.

    To recap Tyler isolated two quotes, the first in context, as I read it, the second, divorced from context so as to render it unintelligable to me or to my origional intention.

    With regard to the first quote, I gave him the premise he asked for and the conclusion I drew from it in so far as it applied to his concern. To be fair I gave him no substantive arguement to support my conclusion and further I told him that I didn’t think it would serve a useful purpose in explaining myself to him.

    In my last post I at least think I gave some better substance as to why I said what I said.

    I’m not now or at anytime, suggesting you as a parent, or any other parent isn’t taking faith formation seriously. I am saying that hockey culture in this country as I understand it poses some serious challenges to faith formation.

    October 14, 2009
  8. Mike C. #

    Go Canucks Go! I have faith….

    October 15, 2009
    • … and faith you will need, Mike 🙂

      October 15, 2009
      • Canucks havent played that great yet… (well Hab fans might disagree) but we sure wont lose 5 goal leads 😉

        Hope the conference is going good in the ol’snowy Saskatoon.

        October 15, 2009
      • Faith? Not required.

        Flames have dropped three in a row. Canucks two wins. I like those trends.

        October 16, 2009
      • Still not holding a lead well, but two points is two points 🙂

        October 16, 2009
      • I got nothing. 😐

        October 16, 2009
      • Neither do the canucks.

        October 17, 2009
      • probably what i meant, mr. brown.

        October 17, 2009

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