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The Seven A.M. Practice: Stories of Family Life

by Roy MacGregor

Most newspaper columnists know – and if they don’t, they ought to think again – that they deal in perishable goods, that words dished up for daily consumption aren’t for the ages. Newspaper columns are reactive by nature, reflections off the surface of life on the run; they engage the moment, they don’t keep. With rare exceptions. Rare as Roy MacGregor, the Ottawa Citizen columnist who’s proved before now that he’s no mere columnist, but a writer worth consulting whether he’s writing on hockey, his childhood memories of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, or parenthood – all of which, as it happens, figure in his new collection of newspaper-born essays, The Seven A.M. Practice: Stories of Family Life. It’s no epic, mind you, and probably not epochal – but for now it’s full of pleasures and can be duly recommended to all parents as well as to anyone sensible to the primacy of hockey.

Hockey’s no surprise here: MacGregor is one of the best – certainly the most thoughtful – writers on the subject in the country. Much of the time his focus is the professional game (he follows the Senators for the Citizen); in The Seven A.M. Practice he’s a father and sometime coach roused on too many “puck-black weekend mornings” to count, a man yet in awe of the basic beauties of what happens on ice with sticks and pucks. He writes of sublime shinny on outdoor ice clean as glass, of watching Stanley Cup playoffs at a cottage in the early summer, of writing a note, unabashed, to his son’s teacher when the opportunity of a lifetime arises. “Dear Teacher,” the note reads, “please excuse Gordie between the hours of 11 and 1. He has to see Wayne Gretzky.” If anyone has Canadian hockey properly in perspective, it’s MacGregor. “People in this country need to know there is still a game out there, waiting,” he writes.

Otherwise, MacGregor patrols the hallways of the family home, playing a more comical role, the parent ever befuddled by the mystery of rearing children. Children lose pet snakes in the house, children go missing at the pool, children play anti-adult pranks in the home, children are unforgivably thoughtless, maddening, unpredictable, children are forgiven, admired, worried over, embraced. It all sounds positively corny; it’s all positively not.