Church and Hockey

I’m Mormon and my husband is not. He has his own religion that constitutes an important part of his identity, vaguely informs his religious beliefs, and minimally informs his religious practice. I would not describe him as religious at all. He would describe me as extremely religious.

Sometimes people at church ask me if my husband is “interested in the church.” My answer to that is, well, yes, he’s interested in the same sense that I’m interested in hockey.

My husband is a huge hockey fan. He puts a lot of time and energy into watching hockey, listening to hockey podcasts, reading hockey blogs, and discussing hockey with like-minded hockey fans. Among those like-minded hockey fans are his dad and his brother. In fact, hockey fandom is a major force that draws his family together. In some ways, hockey fills a similar space in his life that church fills in mine.

I think I understand the appeal of hockey, and I’ve learned a lot about the sport since being married to my hockey-loving husband, but I didn’t grow up as a hockey fan (or even really as a sports fan). When we watch a game together, I’ll admit to having a hard time giving it my full attention because I have to really concentrate to even understand what’s going on. For the most part, when I watch hockey, it’s mostly just a way for me to express love for (and spend time with) my husband. That’s the main source of my interest in hockey. His interest in Mormonism is like that.

Does it bother my husband that I’m not really a true hockey fan? The short answer is no. On the one hand, in theory, he might like being married to someone who shared his passion for hockey. On the other hand, I’m the person he’s in love with, not some theoretical hockey fan. He chose to marry me rather than any of the actual, sincere hockey fans he’s met over the course of his life, and he made that decision with a pretty realistic expectation that hockey will never mean as much to me as it does to him. He appreciates my efforts at trying to understand the game and my willingness to watch it with him. But he doesn’t mind when I fall asleep during an important play-off game (and I don’t mind when his reaction to an exciting goal wakes me up). I think he needs people in his life who care as much about hockey as he does, but he doesn’t necessarily need his spouse to be the one to fill that role. I feel the same way about his level of involvement in my religious life.

Actually, my husband is an enthusiastic fan of one particular hockey team: the New York Islanders. My indifference to the sport means that, to the extent that I follow the season at all, I’m happy to cheer for the Islanders, or whichever team he happens to be cheering for. In that sense, I think he prefers this state of affairs to one in which, for example, I were to be a die-hard fan of the New York Rangers (he hates those guys). Likewise, I think we would probably have more religious conflict in our marriage if he were as religious in his own faith tradition as I am in mine, or if we shared the same religion, but had wildly different levels of (or approaches to) religiosity. As it is, I think he feels like it’s a good thing if someone in our family is going to some kind of church, and he’s glad it doesn’t have to be him.

We’re expecting our first child in the next couple of weeks, which raises a super important question: Will we raise our daughter to be a hockey fan? Yes, I really want to. I don’t necessarily feel a strong need for hockey in my own life, but I recognize that it’s added something special and important to my husband’s life, and I’d love to see him pass that on to our daughter. I also love the idea of my daughter and her dad watching hockey together and cheering for the same team – I think that would be a great way for them to build an awesome father-daughter relationship. Of course, she’ll ultimately need to make her own decisions, and maybe she’ll decide she’s not into hockey (and my husband would naturally be more disappointed than I would be if that were the case). But if she shows any interest at all, I think we’ll both really encourage that interest. And I think my husband feels the same way about the idea of raising our daughter in the Mormon faith.

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking, this hockey thing is not a good analogy. Surely your religion is more important to you than hockey is to your husband! Well, I think you might be underestimating how important hockey is to my husband. I’ll admit that even I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of his hockey passion until we’d been married for a while; and I’d been through three or four hockey seasons with him at that point. But sure: it’s an imperfect analogy. For example, it doesn’t account for some of the possible eternal consequences of choosing a religion, which are arguably greater than the consequences of choosing a sports team. For all that eternal stuff, I guess I pretty much take the approach that at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and relying on God’s mercy to make up the difference. I’m too happy in my marriage to worry about it much more than that. When it comes to the way we navigate our marriage on a day-to-day basis in this life, honestly, the religious differences just aren’t that big a deal for us.

Let’s Go Islanders!

14 comments for “Church and Hockey

  1. June 15, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I absolutely loved this paragraph:

    We’re expecting our first child in the next couple of weeks, which raises a super important question: Will we raise our daughter to be a hockey fan? Yes, I really want to. I don’t necessarily feel a strong need for hockey in my own life, but I recognize that it’s added something special and important to my husband’s life, and I’d love to see him pass that on to our daughter. I also love the idea of my daughter and her dad watching hockey together and cheering for the same team – I think that would be a great way for them to build an awesome father-daughter relationship. Of course, she’ll ultimately need to make her own decisions, and maybe she’ll decide she’s not into hockey (and my husband would naturally be more disappointed than I would be if that were the case). But if she shows any interest at all, I think we’ll both really encourage that interest. And I think my husband feels the same way about the idea of raising our daughter in the Mormon faith.

  2. James C. Olsen
    June 15, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Wonderful post. And while this set the overall tone, I’d love to hear more of your experience, more of the particulars and tensions and yet-to-be-resolved issues. Hopefully I’m not being voyeuristic, but I hope you’ll post more on what is obviously an increasingly important topic.

    I think about this sort of thing a lot. Our overall norms and ways of organizing ourselves and seeking (collective vs. individual) goods have shifted dramatically in the last few centuries. It’s a confusing, difficult, complex thing to try and think through. How much is about agency and how much about cultural imprinting? I wholeheartedly support your comment that: ” at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and relying on God’s mercy to make up the difference.” I think we all need to have a bit more humility-inspired mercy. That said, whether it’s a result of agency or imprinting, I’m convinced of my own obligations to bracket my gut, or at least take it as one among other data points, as I try to struggle through my accountability and which items are most weighty.

  3. June 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I’ve always hoped at least one of my children will be 5th generation Chicago Cubs fans. It wasn’t too much of a risk marrying a Boston Red Sox fan, as it seem(ed) unlikely they’d meet in the World Series. I don’t think I’d turn anyone out for being a fan of some other team, though I know that the Cubs are the “only true team”, not even if they became St Louis Cardinals fans.

    If they married a Cards fan, though, I might make them sleep in separate rooms, just so they know my disapproval.

  4. Mark B.
    June 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    When the Islanders moved into Brooklyn last year, I decided to buy season tickets, even though my conversion to hockey was relatively recent (somehow my wife’s Canadian blood did not bring with it a love for the sport) and I had no particular interest in the Islanders themselves. But, the arena was three subway stops away and surely, I thought, I could sell enough tickets at a premium that I could go to five or ten games for free, and maybe come out ahead financially.

    Instead I took a huge financial bath.

    But hockey fandom as religion is an apt analogy. When I showed up for the first game, I realized that I didn’t know the language, the chants, the appropriate times to stand, to sit, to raise my arms, fingers pointing upward, to shout vulgarities at the opposing goalie, etc., etc. There’s a unique society inside that arena, just waiting for an anthropologist to play like Margaret Mead and study them.

    As to the rules, just figure out how to stay onside and how not to ice the puck, and everything else is natural. Good luck!

  5. Murray
    June 15, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Wonderful story! “And I think my husband feels the same way about the idea of raising our daughter in the Mormon faith”. I think it’s important that you confirm that. He may not be as supportive as you hope. I hope for your daughters sake he is though.

  6. Carole Turley Voulgaris
    June 15, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    @Murray: That’s good general advice. I’m a big believer in communication within a marriage. This is something he and I have discussed at some length over a period of years (with greater frequency since I’ve been pregnant), so I’m pretty confident that I understand his thinking — perhaps I shouldn’t have hedged with “I think,” but even after all that discussion, it would feel presumptuous for me to confidently express another person’s thoughts and feelings. Also, he read the OP before I posted it, and his only quibble is that he would like to believe that my interest in hockey is greater than I’ve suggested.

    That said, in all of our discussions, we’ve both acknowledged that our feelings about our respective religions and how to incorporate them into how we raise our daughter may change after she is born. So I’m sure this is something we’ll be discussing on an on-going basis over the next 20 years or so.

  7. June 16, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Given that you’re in the NHL desert of Seattle, and three time zones away from New York, how does that affect his consumption of Hockey?

  8. Northern Virginia
    June 16, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Anyone care to wager whether there’s sports in the celestial kingdom?

    Second, Carole, thank you for your post. In my experience, your experience is very, very common for member-nonmember marriages, and I think ward members often do a poor job of respecting boundaries when it comes to nonmember spouses. You see, know, and love a wonderful, loving, and supportive man with whom you share your life. Too often, we see marriages like yours, and all we can see is a poor faithful (or not) sister locked into a hopeless marriage with an unworthy Gentile (so to speak) or (slightly more upbeat but still misguided) an easy missionary opportunity that only needs lots and lots of pressure, hints, coaxing, and even berating to produce fruit.

    I have good friends in a situation similar to yours. The husband fully supports the wife attending church and having their children blessed, baptized, and raised in the Church (and he himself has regularly attended), but he has always clearly and consistently stated that he is not interested in joining. Despite that, he’s been pressured many times by various ward members, and the wife was frankly told by another sister that she simply wasn’t praying hard enough or else her husband would have joined long ago.

    Unfortunately, our missionary mindset (and depending on how you want to read it, our doctrine) makes us very pushy with people like your husband who support but don’t want to join.

  9. June 16, 2017 at 10:33 am

    The push in Seattle to get a new NBA\NHL stadium in the Sodo district was denied by the city council recently (April I think). The reason that I heard was the reason why the deciding vote was cast the way it was, was due to the fact that the streets in Sodo couldn’t support another stadium, and the existing port traffic. This information would have been provided to the city council by transportation engineers. So given that transportation engineers shot down the opportunity for the NHL coming to Seattle, does your husband have an unforgivable grudge against all transportation engineers?

  10. Dave B.
    June 16, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I’m sensing the post isn’t really about hockey.

    Carole, it’s impressive how successfully you have both navigated the different levels of interest in church and in hockey. This seems like a rare accomplishment, given how (as noted by some commenters) LDS culture and practice tend to make this difficult for both halves of a mixed-faith marriage. You ought to be celebrated for making this work so well, but you probably get quizzical looks, at best, when you explain the details to ward or family members. Thanks for sharing an enlightening and personal post.

  11. Carole Turley Voulgaris
    June 16, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    @Jader3rd: The direction of the time zone difference helps a lot if you’re following an east-coast team from the west coast. Easier to watch a 7pm EST game starting at 4pm on the west coast than a 7pm PST game starting at 10pm on the east coast. If he can’t leave work early, he can start it from the beginning when he gets home – by skipping the commercials and period breaks, he’ll usually catch up to the live stream well before the end of the game. We’ll sometimes drive up to Vancouver when the Islanders are playing the Canucks, and the top prospect to have signed with the Islanders in recent years currently plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds (Juniors), so it’s cool to catch a Thunderbirds game in Renton.

    It would be nice to have an NHL team here locally, but we’re here temporarily, so no need to bring one here on our account. Interesting point about the role of traffic studies in locating stadia. There were traffic engineering issues with renovating Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders had historically played in Long Island, so that was ultimately part of what forced the team to move to Brooklyn, to the chagrin of many, if not most, fans. If he did hold a grudge against the profession, that would be the source, rather than Seattle’s failure to bring in a team.

  12. June 16, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Hi. I am of the view that you are to early in your marriage/childrearing to know how this will go when your children get older and you and your spouse go thru the roller coaster of life. The sports analogy is nowhere close to how things go with teenagers.

    Marriage is hard enough without trying to navigate raising teenagers with parents who are both LDS. Its even harder in a mixed faith marriage.

    Teenagers have a way of sensing the cracks and exploiting them.

  13. Carole Turley Voulgaris
    June 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Bob Bell: One could argue that every married couple is too early in their marriage to know how things will play out fifteen to twenty years in the future. Teenagers, retirement, career changes, illness/disability, and any number of other things have the potential to change the dynamic of a relationship. Still, I think our experience over the first five years of our relationship is at least somewhat informative with regards to how the next twenty years is likely to go. I’m optimistic.

    I can’t speak to mixed-faith marriages in general. I can really only reflect on my own experience.

  14. Murray
    June 18, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Carole, my wife’s sister married a non-member who is a sports junkie. Their 2 kids have both served missions and one has married in the Temple. Has not always been easy, but so far, so good! So much of what has been said by other commentators, and yourself, is very true in their situation. Blessings to you!

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