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.
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.
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.