On Family, Hockey, and Healing by Walter Gretzky – A Review

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By Tracy G. Cassels

I’m Canadian and thus it’s actually a shame I haven’t read this book sooner.  In fact, it’s not just because I’m Canadian, but because I grew up watching the Edmonton Oilers in their hey-day and I was a fan – a big one.  Hockey games were the things I was allowed to stay up late for.  When Wayne Gretzky was traded to LA, I bawled, like the little girl I was.  And as an adult, I try to live by his amazingly wise words, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.  So the fact that his father wrote a book years ago and I didn’t read it right away is actually pretty pathetic on my part.  For that, I apologize.  [I realize for you non-Canadians, you may think I’ve fallen off the ship entirely, but really, ask a Canadian and they’ll tell you I’m just being fair and honest and, well, Canadian.]  For those of you unaware of his story, Walter Gretzky was considered a huge influence in shaping his son, who is considered the Great One when it comes to hockey worldwide.  However, in 1991 he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm which took years for him to fully recover.  So while Walter Gretzky was a key figure in shaping Canada’s golden boy, his memory of his son’s best performances are all gone.  The book was written for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada to help both raise funds and awareness around these deadly diseases.

Now, at risk of having to forego my citizenship, I have to say that the book was only so-so.  From a writing point of view, it was lacking so if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was interested in the content, I would’ve stopped reading early on.  The stories range from the highly entertaining to me questioning why on earth anyone would think this was of any interest to anyone other than those people involved (and even then I question if they found it interesting).  On a personal level, I have to admit that the stories about him as a parent during Wayne and his siblings’ younger years made me uncomfortable.  Not because of anything awful, but because, despite all the statements to the contrary, he sounded like a typical “hockey parent” in so many regards.  The kind who paces back and forth as if the world rested on his child’s performance while judging their every move on the ice.  HOWEVER, none of his kids seem to feel this way about the way he behaved, so I have to think in some ways this is more of my own issues latching on to what he described.

What I did like about it was the focus on family, community, and not taking life (or yourself) too seriously.  It becomes clear very early that the Gretzky clan is unbelievably close, despite having three brothers who played hockey at a professional level and the oldest being Wayne (that has got to create some jealousy, no?).  The type of support offered by their parents seems to have really allowed their kids to flourish (and mom seems to have had an essential role in this, despite the book being about dad).  But the real focus on family is seeing how they came together to help their father overcome his aneurysm to get him back, well not to who he was, but to the new him.  Apparently he’s completely different and, in his mind, better.  He learned the value of spending time with people, not being as anxious about the little things, and not taking life too seriously (as they say, none of us will make it out alive).  It took years for Walter to fully recover from his aneurysm and that can be taxing on anyone, but to see the support his family offered each other during this time, and the support from their community, just reinforced my own views of how important family and community are to being healthy and happy.

Would I recommend this book?  If you know someone who’s suffered a stroke or something similar, absolutely.  The insight into the healing process from someone who’s been there is fantastic.  If you love hockey, are Canadian, or enjoy memoirs (even if some of the memories are told by others because the person has no recollection of them), then add it to your list.  But otherwise, it’s probably a book you could miss and not feel like you missed out on too much.  While the sentiment is great and I generally support all books that speak of family and community in such positive terms, the writing is lacking and it does affect the reading experience.  Regardless, I still must tip my hat to Walter Gretzky and all he has done, continues to do, and has overcome.  And I thank him for sharing his story in such a charitable way.

Note: I am not paid or hired to write the book reviews I do.  I do it because these are the books I’m reading and many of them have themes that are relevant to things discussed on EP and so I share.  I felt I should clarify that for those who are wondering.

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