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.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 191 pages
Read from January 1, 2019 to January 2, 2019

I picked up this book on a recommendation by a friend, though if I had started reading all the Canada Reads books just one year earlier I would have come across this moving story sooner. Indian Horse made the Canada Reads 2013 shortlist but was unfortunately voted off in the first round.

Indian Horse is an all-encompassing story that touches tragic issues related to the indigenous people in Canada. The story also has wide-reaching themes with its integral connection to hockey and the protagonist’s, Saul Indian Horse, struggles with childhood trauma and alcoholism. Saul’s past starts with his indigenous roots as a young child trying to escape the prying arms of the white man trying to forcefully place him and siblings in residential schooling. His family knows the woods and has this advantage but their luck does not last forever. After being pried away from the frozen and dead grip of his grandmother he is forced into a residential school where endures severe abuse. His only reprieve from the misery and loneliness of the school is through hockey. Saul shows promise as a talented hockey player at a young age but his native roots make him an outcast against the white hockey teams he plays against, despite being better than them. As Saul grows, hockey carries him through the toughest moments in his life but things start to turn sour as Saul becomes an adult and the hockey realm becomes more abusive and physical. Unable to deal with his past traumas and personal failures Saul turns to drink. The story opens with Saul at rock bottom with him coming to an understanding that if he wants peace he needs to tell his story.

Saul’s childhood is nothing short of traumatizing as the author details how Saul and many real indigenous people in Canada were treated during the horrific era of residential schooling in Canada. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant, leaving many of the children with irreparable trauma in which its no surprise that many did turn substance abuse as an outlet. Saul’s story is tragic but the ending is nothing short of inspiring. The writing is easy to read yet remarkably crafted. Richard Wagamese is a talented author that writes from the heart, his characters are dynamic and engaging and his plot and storylines are thoughtful and concise.

This book is for every Canadian, especially those who enjoy inspirational stories on overcoming adversity, hockey, or anything related to Canadian history. What makes this story all the more poignant is that Saul’s story represents so many indigenous children in Canada with the tragedy being that so many of them don’t get the peaceful ending that Saul did making it all the more important that their stories get shared.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

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Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.