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The Hockey Widower

My wife needed a teammate. And it was time for me to get in the game.

I ran around the house doing 15 things at once, talking to myself as I did them. "Okay, don't forget to take out the garbage. Shovel the snow off the porch. You've got 10 minutes before the rinse cycle is done, then you can whip the load into the dryer. Do wool sweaters shrink?"

I jogged up the stairs. "How do you know when a casserole is overdone? The sitter will be here in 10 minutes. Think she'll notice if it's burnt? Oh, shoot! I forgot to make the dessert for tonight's potluck! Okay, don't panic. How about pudding with mini marshmallows? I don't think the girls have done that one before."

I caught a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. My hair was a mess. My clothes had stains from trying to put together the casserole. And baby drool. For a moment, my pride took over: What am I doing? I thought. I am a physician! And here I am thinking about making pudding!

Yup, this is my life as a hockey widower.

Putting me first

I'm home alone again. My wife, Elizabeth, is at the ice arena for her women's hockey league game. Yesterday she ran a skills clinic for the local team, after coaching her novice team in the morning. Elizabeth is passionate about hockey. Of course, I love hockey too. There's nothing quite like the feeling of gliding along the ice. Yet while she's spending hours taking slap shots, I'm taking my turn scrubbing petrified raisins off the backseat of the minivan.

If we love our wives as our own bodies, then whatever is good for them is good for us.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Some of you guys would say I'm henpecked. You might even call me a wimp. But I'm neither. I'm married. And I'll do what it takes to help Elizabeth be a well-rounded person who isn't just someone's mother or wife.

Do I like cooking macaroni and cheese, scraping pots, and cleaning out the muck in the kitchen drain trap? Not really.

Is it easy? Definitely not.

But will I take it on if it gives my partner a break? You bet.

I didn't learn the value of sacrifice overnight. It took some difficult years of making mistakes and making up. When our first child was a baby, I thought I was the martyr trekking off to work each day while my wife got to stay home nursing the baby in the rocking chair and watching daytime television. I came home exhausted and felt I needed a break. So off I'd go to play hockey with my buddies or spend three evenings a week at rehearsal with the local theater group. Elizabeth's world became confined to the house and baby, with no outlets for fitness, laughter, or adult conversation.

With her universe restricted to the four walls of our house, Elizabeth started to obsess about the cracks in the plaster, the leaky faucet on the kitchen sink, and the rust stains in the bathtub. She developed cabin fever, and resented my free time in the big wide world. The minute I walked in the door she'd unload her frustration with the overwhelming tasks of trying to maintain a household while caring for a new baby. And my lack of assistance with both.

Of course, I didn't like being told I wasn't home enough to help around the house. After all, I was working hard to provide financially for my family. We each thought we were more deserving of a break from our drudgery than the other. The freedom and fun we'd enjoyed as a young couple were now overshadowed by a dark cloud of fatigue and resentment.

An eye-opening experience

When our son weaned off breastfeeding, Elizabeth confronted me with her needs. "I need some adult, 'me' time," she told me, trying to balance our son on a hip while setting the dinner table. "I'm going insane cooped up here! I need to reconnect to the outside world." And thus began my new duty to look after our child more often as Elizabeth took part-time work and the occasional coffee break with friends.

I realized quickly how difficult it was to change diapers, sterilize a pacifier, mix cereal, and answer the phone all at the same time. My coffee went cold in the cup, I couldn't follow a two-minute adult conversation, and the front of my sweater looked as if I'd been in a food fight. This was hard work! No wonder Elizabeth looked so pale and baggy-eyed at the end of the day, bolting out the front door as soon as I pulled up the driveway.

My eyes now opened to her world, I had to deal with her hurt feelings and pay the price for the years of my selfish choices. It was time I learned to listen. Elizabeth was tired, overworked, and underappreciated. I needed to share the burdens of home life to allow her an escape from the routine. She was stuck in a rut. Her independence and sense of self had been smothered by motherhood, and I missed her.

By the time our second bambino came along, I'd cut back my hours at work so I could spend more time at home to give Elizabeth a break for work or play. Now I was taking a turn at sweeping Cheerios off the floor, scrubbing squash stains out of the carpet, and fantasizing about Teflon-coated clothing.

More and more it was me who needed the break, and my wife was now ready to return the favor. She'd "been there," so she was willing to hold the fort at home while

I played golf or went to a writer's workshop. We worked shifts, one looking after our growing family while the other was freed to do his or her own thing. Once a week we'd hire a babysitter and escape together—to cross-country ski, walk in the woods, or go out for sushi.

Unnatural calling

Though it's taken time, I've realized that staying home is a sacrifice I'm willing to make if it brings Elizabeth happiness. I know it's worth it when I see her go off to the rink, her eyes bright, her smile wide, looking fully alive again—all because she has a break from a family life that swirls like a Canadian blizzard. The only way she can have that fun is if I hold down the flap on the igloo and look after our little seal pups myself.

That's what marriage is all about: sacrifice and selflessness. Too bad it hurts so much. For the married couple, giving up things for each other is one of the toughest, most unnatural things we're asked to do.

The apostle Paul forces us to confront this reality when he writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. . Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:25, 28). We know Christ's ultimate sacrifice for the church was giving up his very life, yet he did it out of love.

As husbands, we're rarely asked to die literally for our wives, but we are asked to surrender our "me-first" attitude. That's what Paul is saying, and what I found so difficult to learn. We need to die to our self-centered lives. We're called to do a little less for ourselves, and a little more for our mate. It's a challenge for today's "real men." But if we love our wives as our own bodies, then whatever is good for them is good for us.

I'll share a secret with you. By building your wife's self-esteem, setting her free, and sacrificing your own time, you'll find your love life has new energy. It's the natural response to the sacrifices you've made. You've helped her become the woman God made her to be, and she'll love you for it. You'll be skipping down the sidewalk singing, "Good morning, good morning!" to the rest of the guys on your street. She'll melt in your arms and tell her friends how great you are. (Yes, great because of what you gave up for her.)

Sacrifice is part of marriage. It's a way of life. It's a choice, but I'm pretty sure you won't regret it.

That's why I'm home alone again. Burning casseroles, shrinking sweaters, and trying to fold my wife's clean underwear. A trophy husband for my all-star wife.

Steve Russell, a physician and one of a family of five hockey players, has been married to Elizabeth for 16 years.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Marriage; Sacrifice; Teamwork
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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