This is my first X-mas with my father in 32 years.
I was born
March 14 , 1965 in Port-of-Spain ,Trinidad and Tobago. I have no real memories of the first four years of my life. I know that my parents were married about four months after my birth , that my father was in the army and that we were very poor. There was no money to buy milk when I was an infant so I was given sugar water- that apparently placated my hunger but led to a mouthful of rotten teeth a bit later.
Journey to Babylon
My first real memory was arriving at Dorval airport in Montreal on April fool's Day 1969. My mother who had never been on a plane before threw up. It was cold and snowing when we landed. The flight attendants took pity on us and gave us their winter coats-we were dressed in short-sleeves.
My father became a policeman with the Ontario Provincial Police and we soon had a modestly middle-class life in Chatham Ontario. My father had a big ugly blue car in the driveway, my mother had modern appliances for the first time. I was greeted on my first day of school by a chorus of "Nigger, Nigger" and by a snow-job on the way home. (If you don't know what a snow-job is it's when they ambush you in the snow , bring you to the ground and stuff snow in all of your orifices and won your clothes and practically bury you with it.) It was my first but not my last encounter with brutality and naked ignorance.
He Fucks Up for the First Time
My father now claims that drugs and alcohol had nothing to do with his dismissal after only two years from the police force. My memories of the time are cloudy but no one can dispute the fact that this 6'8" Black Man who carried a gun was out of control and violently abusive. I remember being beaten with his police belt. I remember being locked out of the house in February for coming to the aid of my mother. I remember other horrors but I think everyone gets the point.
When I was five and my sister three my mother fled this nightmare. She was in a new country with few friends and no education or job experience but my mother had the courage and self-respect to get out. This is all the more remarkable given that my mother grew up in an orphanage from the age of 4 until 14 and was abused in everyway in that venerable church-run institution.
We Go Home
In fear of my father my mother sent my sister and myself back to Trinidad while she was getting the divorce and getting the money together to arrange our return. I don't think my mother knew what she was sending us back to. At the house of my paternal uncle we became the guest of them and their six children. Our few years in Canada had marked us-we spoke differently , dressed differently and certainly behaved differently. Those cousins of ours were wild and took special delight in torturing us in everyway that was imaginable. Luckily our mother sent us to our grandmother's when she found out how we were being treated and the fact that none of the money she was sending for us ever got used for us. But my aunt sure did get a lot of new appliances. Both our maternal and paternal grandmothers treated us with great love and I have fond memories of my two years back in Trinidad.
Back to Babylon
Although still terrified of my father. My mother sends for us and we start a new life as children of a working-class single parent. My Mom was working as a waitress at Steak and Burger. (My mother is still a waitress today- 28 years later). There was no more middle class living for us. We were poor again. We soon moved into an Ontario housing project at Kingston and Galloway roads in Scarborough. And that's when my anger truly began. My mother worked 11 hours a day to support us. In those days the housing project we lived in was an enclave of poverty set right down in the middle of a very middle class neighbourhood. I remember on the first day of school they would always take a poll to see who lived in single family houses , who lived in semi-detached houses and who lived in the ghetto. Once you had to raise your hand and admit that you weren't living the Brady Bunch lifestyle you were marked again. The Nigger choruses and beatings from those welcoming White Canadian kids happened for awhile. And then my salvation rode in. The Jamaicans started coming. Once those bad boys started moving to Scarborough there was an instant change in the attitude of the suburban kids. With the pressure of being lynched daily taken off my shoulders I was able to comprehend what my father's failure to send any financial support was doing to my mother and our family. My mother couldn't afford to buy her first car until she was 33. I had to start working from the time I was 12 to buy my school lunches because my mother didn't have any money to give me for the cafeteria. There was never ever any money for vacations. There was no money for me to go away to camp or join the boy scouts. And when I made the junior football team in high school I had to quit the very next day because my mother couldn't afford the $20 to buy me a uniform. All the while we knew that my father had re-established himself on the West Coast and had a new wife and family and all the luxuries that came with his civil service job. It would be quite an understatement to say that I was enraged.
It wasn't just the poverty. I was the only male in the house and I knew there was no one there to love and comfort my mother who is truly one of the few thoroughly good persons I have ever encountered. I tried my best as a 10 year old to massage her sore back when she came back home from her double shifts. I tried to comfort her when she got used and abused by the men she was dating. I tried my best to be her right hand man but I was a boy and a poor substitute for the real thing. Soon two more siblings were added to the family and my mother's burdened doubled as did our poverty.
From the age of seven to fifteen I never saw my father. Had a few letters and cards from him and the sum total of his financial support for me was $150- a $50 birthday gift when I was twelve , and $100 to buy baseball equipment when I was fourteen. I was grateful for these generosities but all too aware that it was merely crumbs from the table.
The Untrained Warrior
So I became an angry young Black man. The other angry young Black men in our ghetto were going to jail or going into the Gold Rush that was the advent of Crack cocaine. My mother had become a Born Again Christian at this point so I was whisked off the streets and into a church pew- that likely explains why to this day I have never been in trouble with the law and have stayed miles away from any drug or alcohol abuse. But I was now at the point in my life where I needed some serious warrior training-I needed to learn how to be a man. It really really hurt not to have a father in my teens. There was no one there for father-son functions at school. No one to take me fishing or camping. No one to talk to about girls. No one to explain my Blackness and my culture.
I was not alone in my predicament. The suburbs of Toronto were an epidemic of single-parent families. But sadly the young Black men and boys who didn't have fathers seem to suffer the worse. While the mis-education system was trying to shuffle us of to vocational schools and the cops started racial profiling us way too many Black fathers were off somewhere sowing their seeds of irresponsibility.
When I was fifteen my father made a surprise visit and I saw him for the first time since I was seven. I didn't know what to expect- my childhood memories of him were not very positive. I was apprehensive and excited. He was a tall cool-cat, the spitting image of Isaac Hayes circa Shaft. He had a booming voice and octave below a fog-horn. He took me to a strip-club and an Indian restaurant. While I was in the bathroom of the restaurant throwing up all the beers and spicy food I was thinking-as my head was spinning- "hey this guy is pretty cool". It was bizarre though because he wasn't a father to me , it was already too late for that , but maybe he could be a cool older friend who just happens to be the one who donated half of my genes.
My father and I kept in touch over the next several years and I even went to visit him out West when I was 18 and in college. I was becoming more mature and my anger was beginning to subside. I didn't stop being an angry young Black man until I was in my mid-twenties but the healing had begun.
He Fucks up Again
My paternal grandmother dies after a protracted battle with Diabetes and Hypertension. The shockwaves from this sad event are still being felt today some 14 years later. My father after 14 years of remaking his life including having a wife and four young kids starts destroying that wonderful life. He was never good at crying out for help or admitting his pain so he chooses to deal with losing his mother by drinking and drugging himself into oblivion. My father being a self-respecting West Indian Playboy had produced children inside and outside of wedlock since my birth , now he adds producing children outside of his marriage to the nightmare he is visiting on his wife and children.
Of course she leaves him and flees to the other side of the country just like my mother fled with us way back in 1972. History is repeating itself and we are all going to suffer for it. My father calls me to lean on my shoulder. I am in the impossible position of having to be sympathetic to his genuine suffering and at the same time outraged at his capacity for irresponsibility. The child has become the parent and the world is upside down. The last report we get about my father is when my sister tells me that when she last saw him his main interest was in asking her where he could score some coke in Toronto. My sister has never spoken to him again that I am aware of.
My father goes into seclusion. Literally no one hears from him in 12 years. Not his brother. Not his cousin. Not anyone we know. We all learn that he has been fired form his civil service job. But the record is otherwise silent. By now I have let go of all my anger. Obviously there is no upside for me in being eaten aware by anger. I vow to live a positive life and to create instead of destroying. My mother and I become closer than ever despite the fact that I leave Canada for 11 years. I don't even know whether my father is alive or dead. Except that a Danish psychic tells me that he is all right but has chosen to become a recluse.
I Find Out For Myself
After two near death experiences in the past two years I decide that there is no time to waste in finding out where my lost half-brothers and sisters out there. At one point I thought there was 13 of us but I later ,earn that the number is 10. 10 children with 5 different women.
On my return to Canada I do some investigating and find my father's ex-wife. Ironically she lives only about 10 minutes away from my mother in Scarborough. So here we were for the past 14 years only minutes away from each other but a universe away as well. My phone call brings up a lot of sadness and pain for her for I by inquiring about my brothers and sister bring up all the horrific memories for her. I am sorry but undaunted. As a child of this bizarre story that is my family I am not responsible for her pain, but I feel for her nonetheless. And I am rewarded instantly for my efforts. I get to have lunch at Swiss Chalet with my 24 year old sister who is at university and my 15 year old brother who is starting a promising acting career. Both are very beautiful human beings inside and out. It was a strange lunch and the conversation almost immediately turned to our collective questions about my father. But I felt a bond with them. They were family there was no mistaking it. It was startling looking at my sister for the first time. She reminded me so much of my grandmother who I loved very much and who doted on me. I found out that their brother- a twenty year old had just been drafted by the NHL and that I had another brother from their family who was eighteen. I promised them both that I would look up our other brothers and sisters out there and that I would try to find out what happened to our father. I especially felt for my fifteen year brother who was only eight months old when his parents separated and who has never had a conversation with his father.
A Date with Destiny
I drive across Canada and get to the West Coast. I have no idea where my father is and have been unable to discover his telephone number. My only choice is to go up to his last known address and knock on the door and see what happens which is what I do.
A tall bewildered man with a white beard answers the door. He doesn't recognize me. When I announce that I am his son he invites me in. I meet the ghost.
He has lived alone on a meager pension for the past 14 years in the same condo he lived in with his ex-wife and children. The children former rooms are dusty and empty except for some old toys and books and kids wall paper. My father's house is freezing- he can't afford to turn on the heat very often. He has no car, he has a rotary phone. There is nothing new or alive in the house.
I sleep on the ground in the room that used to be my twenty-four year old sister's. My father is affable and hospitable. He food budget is modest but he shares all that he has. He goes to mass everyday and watches television for the rest of the day. My father says that he is very sorry for the damage he caused his ex-wife and kids and readily admits to the drug and alcohol abuse and getting other women pregnant. He is very sad about losing his family but doesn't discuss of seem to acknowledge what he did to my mother and my sister and I. It's like his life began and ended with the life he made out here in the west. This was his chance to be happy and functional and he blew it big time. I cannot really describe what it's been like for me to meet my father again and to be in this house that was once so alive and happy. All I can say is that this house should be a boot camp for all West Indian Playboys so they can see what their bad behaviour can do. This house should be a museum of black male irresponsibility.
I have to go now, my father is calling me downstairs for X-mas dinner.
How Bizarre. How Bizarre.
P.S.- The turkey dinner was good.