Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father by Murray Howe

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have.

Unrated.
Paperback, 240 pages.
Read from August 2019 to December 2019.

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have. This book means far too much to me now to rate it. I bought this book almost a year to the day for my dad on Father’s Day 2019. It was a day that I couldn’t physically be present for since I live halfway across the globe from my family currently. It had also just been, at the time, just over a month since my dad was given 6 months to live.

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My dad with the book I sent him on Father’s Day 2019 eating his favourite cereal and wearing his old-timer team’s shirt. We would often get this cereal for him on father’s day as a treat because he would always share with us and it wasn’t something we were regularly allowed to eat.

My dad was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in August 2018. His cancer had spread to his bones despite him doing all the right things like getting regular doctor’s check-ups. Even with the late-stage diagnosis, we all thought my dad would breeze through treatment and we would have a good and solid two or three years with him, especially considering how young and healthy he was, it’s what all the doctor’s told us too. Unfortunately, after a variety of failed treatments that nearly killed him, twice, he opted to enjoy the remaining time that he had left. Sadly, that time was short, a mere 6 months.

Anyone that has lived with someone who has cancer or has had cancer knows the difficulties. It’s something that can’t be explained if you’ve never experienced it. The utter exhaustion, the despair of not being able to do more or relieve the loved one’s pain or take their cancer away, the frustration of unfairness, the denial of how bad things will be or are going to get to shelter yourself and the cancer sufferer, and for myself, the guilt of living so far away. I lost count how many times I flew home to support my family between August 2018 and November 2019. Some of those times were terrifying, having almost lost my dad then, while others were wonderful, albeit still difficult as my dad declined. I planned my wedding in two weeks so that my dad could be a part of it in the spring of 2019 and spent a month and a half over that same summer with my family.

It was during that summer I spent with my family that I started to read this book aloud to my dad. He rested while I read and sometimes my sister would come and sit and listen too. I had never read aloud to anyone, I can’t even remember what gave me the idea to do it. As I read this great story of Murray Howe recapping his childhood and talking about what a legendary man his father was, I couldn’t help but make associations with the qualities of Gordie and my dad.

My dad loved hockey and most team sports. He played football growing up, was even a quarterback despite his small stature. For most of his adult life he played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, he was also a runner. We ran our first marathon together. My dad was a leader who had a sense of justice and fairness that couldn’t be taught. He was passionate and caring about people so it was no surprise that he was a leader in nearly everything that he did. He was a manager of a credit union for nearly 40 years, he was the president of my swim team when I was a kid, he coached my sister and I baseball and soccer, and he would eventually come to run the old-timers hockey team that he played on for more than 20 years. Past his professionalism, he also had an endearing and absolutely goofy sense of humour that followed with a kindness that is hard to come by. My dad would help anyone.

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My dad and I at the Kelowna Marathon, October 2012.

Gordie Howe wasn’t only a good hockey player, he was a man of honour and he lived his life by his own code. Each chapter in this book is an example of a lesson that Gordie taught his son as he exemplified it in his own life. As I read the remarkable story of Gordie Howe’s life to my dad and the impact Gordie had on so many people, I couldn’t help but think of the lives that my dad also touched throughout his life and how my own dad lived honourably. Some passages were beautiful and really struck me, to the point where I had to swallow tears to continue reading. Sadly, I only made it to page 98 before my dad passed away, a page that will forever be bookmarked.

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My dad at The Heritage Classic in 2011.

My dad passed away at the age of 58 in November 2019. All the people he loved most in the world were present in the room when he passed. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. We were lucky. Murray Howe wrote an amazing tribute to his father. Murray may not have been the hockey player his dad or brothers were but he is a fabulous storyteller. This book came to be while Murray was writing his father’s eulogy and it was a source of inspiration for me when I also wrote my own father’s.

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My dad; happy, handsome, and healthy. As he should be remembered.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to but in December 2019, I decided to finish this book. Not only did it help remind me of happier times with my dad but it also helped to remind me of the lessons that my own dad taught me and process some of my own grief. It’s only been seven months and this is my first Father’s Day without him. I saved this review just for Father’s Day in hopes it would help bring me back to better times when he was still here and to make the day a bit more bearable for me.  

My dad was too young to pass. I am too young to be without my father. However, I am still thankful as many are not as blessed to have what I did or that I was able to be loved and love so deeply. No one deserves to die from cancer or to be taken before their time. I feel robbed in so many ways. For myself, for the children I may yet have, for my mom, my sister, and especially for my dad. Grief is ridiculously complicated, and in this instance, also prolonged. Grieving started from the moment of my dad’s diagnosis. Reading has often provided me answers and so it was one of the things that I turned to. While I received no answers this time, it was books like this one that has helped to ease the sorrow.

You don’t have to love hockey to appreciate and enjoy this book. Despite the circumstances that made start reading this book I’m glad that I did. The story is light, full of love, and really about the man that Gordie Howe was both on and off the ice. Even for those of us who know little of hockey, this book is still an enthralling read as it’s a story that is showcased in such a concise and loving manner while also breaching the topics of life, love, death, dying, old age, and grief. Gordie Howe was one hell of a character and it was a pleasure to read his story. Especially with someone who mattered so much to me.

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 451 pages.
Read from March 24, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

Well, finishing this book wraps up all five of the 2020 Canada Reads finalists for me. I’ll post my final thoughts on the five next week. From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon when the debates resume after the COVID-19 virus settles. Now, let’s talk about the amazing story of Jesse Thistle…

“My words belonged to me, they were the only thing I had that were mine, and I didn’t trust anyone enough to share them.”

From the Ashes is the epitome of inspiration. Jesse Thistle overcame some of the worst things a person can endure; parental abandonment, drug addiction, homelessness, sexual assault, trauma, identity loss, and dealing with severe chronic physical pain (*spoiler* he almost loses his leg). Jesse Thistle is of Metis and Cree descent but he didn’t always know that. Jesse was raised by his grandparent’s after his mother mistakenly left him and his brothers in the care of his drug-addicted father. While Jesse was eventually able to reunite with his mother, he never did see his dad again. Jesse’s grandparents were firm but loving but it didn’t stop the trouble that Jesse eventually found himself in. After getting caught with drugs at 19, his grandfather accused him of being just like his dad and kicked him out of the family home and barred him from ever returning. Jesse left his home in Ontario and began his homeless life in Vancouver where he abandoned his best friend before ending up back in Ontario. Jesse was homeless for most of his young adult life. While most of us have fond memories of our 20s and early 30s, for Jesse it was a matter of survival, nearly giving up, and then making the choice to live again.

Jesse is now happily married to a woman he knew from his school days who helped him achieve his dream of getting a university degree after he got clean. His studies led him to explore his own family and heritage which then helped him pursue his career in academics. Jesse is now the Assistant Professor of Métis Studies at York University.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring read to get your through the COVID-19 quarantine, this is it. I mean, if a story like this, during a time like this doesn’t put life into perspective for you I don’t know what will. Imagine being a nobody. Having nobody, no home, no clean clothes, no money, no personal hygiene…  You can’t, there is no way to truly envision it unless you’ve lived it the way Jesse had. Jesse’s story is surreal, making it all the more shocking that too many Canadians, especially ones of Native or Metis descent, currently live the way he did, most of whom don’t escape the tragic lifestyle.

Mr. Thistle’s writing is highly engaging, succinct, perceptive, and humble. Feats that many accomplished authors are not able to do, which makes it even more amazing to acknowledge the fact that Mr. Thistle wasn’t always exceptional at reading or writing. It wasn’t until he started working on his GED while serving time in prison that he began to improve. Despite it being a worn-out saying, it doesn’t make it any less true to say that Mr. Thistle is the embodiment of being able to do anything you set your mind to.

Even in Jesse’s darkest moments, he held onto some form of code and personal honour in that he refused to deal drugs for the money he needed for his addictions and never took advantage of people he got close to. A rare quality even for those who are not addicts.

Mr. Thistle includes some of his own poetry snippets between the chapters and photos of himself, from childhood, mug shots, as well as family and wedding photos, adding to the heart-tugging emotional depth of this novel.

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Jesse Thistle – Photos – CBC Canada Reads

Out of all the Canada Reads books I read this year, I can safely say that I enjoyed this one the most. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It touches on topics that have been making waves in Canada such as Native American rights, homelessness, drug addiction, sexual assault, and trauma. The fact that this story has a positive outcome also gives it an edge against the others in meeting the theme. We will have to wait and see what happens when the debates resume. The Canada Reads debates have been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 virus.

Stay safe and healthy, readers!

 

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

Grown-ups, who are supposed to protect their children, are limited by what “best” has felt like to them, based on the circumstances they grew in and the privilege they did or did not have. The lines between grown-up and child were often blurred between me and my mom. Her “best” did not look like mine; in fact, it looked like danger. It felt like surrender.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 190 pages.
Read from January 29, 2020 to February 1, 2020.

Whoop whoop! First book into the Canada Reads 2020 and its started out with a bang. This year Canada Reads brings one collection of novellas, two memoirs, and two pieces of fiction. I started with We Have Always Been Here which is one of the two memoirs heading into the debates. We Have Always Been Here will be defended by Amanda Brugel during the debates taking place from March 16-19th.

Samra spent her childhood years growing up in Pakistan in fear of religious persecution as well as the threat of a highly patriarchal society that stifled her and her family. After being sexually assaulted by a family friend her life became even more restricted. From a young age Samra had a fire in her that couldn’t be put out no matter what was thrown at her. When violence started to escalate her family was thankfully able to pack up and flee to Canada to safety. Samra and her family found themselves in a new home where they were not as affluent as they were in Pakistan. Samra struggled as a new immigrant at school and even more so with her identity as she struggled between her conservative family values and a country with a new way of life that she found immensely appealing. Samra is married and divorced, twice, before the age of 25 and goes on an exploratory journey with her own sexuality as she realises her own queerness. Still, Samra is drawn to her religion and needs to find a new way to connect with her church and her family as she blooms into her true self.

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?

Samra Habib

Samra is now an advocate for the queer Muslim community with her writing and photography to help highlight and bring light to queer Muslims who have been in her situation. Samra’s writing is frank and engaging as she details the story of her life without asking for sympathy. Her journey is an empowering one and one that I didn’t want to put down. Samra embraces her queerness, femininity, and religion with grace and strength and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her memoir.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? While this is an immensely important topic we will have to wait and see what the other books bring to the table to the debates.