My mother is a strong Anishinaabe-kwe, an Ojibwe term for Indigenous woman. She has raised three beautiful children, including myself. I am the oldest of her three children with a younger brother and a younger sister. From my earliest memories I can recall a close-knit family always in search of fun. The walls of our home were always filled with laughter, until they weren’t.
I don’t remember the exact moment when things changed but I can easily remember that as my body grew, so did my eyes. I began seeing my father in new ways as I got older. Behaviours I hadn’t paid attention to before were now staring me straight in the face. My father was a hardworking man and I think he had the best of intentions when he began this journey to start a family with my mother. Unfortunately, I think he realized very early on that he wasn’t prepared for fatherhood.
The long days and nights working away from the family didn’t help either. For much of my life my father has worked remotely in mostly deserted parts of northern Ontario. That took a toll on both of my parents, each and every day. My mother was often overwhelmed with us three kids and of course we didn’t always make life so easy for her either. My father would come home from his work trips and sleep away much of his time home. We began to see him less and less as the years went on. He would sleep all day and drink all night out of boredom while everyone else slept. Eventually things progressed, and my father began doing hard drugs and sleeping with other women. We became the joke of our extended family, well, that’s how it felt anyways.
My mother has such a good heart, but like everyone she has her own traumas to deal with. Losing her mother in her early adulthood dramatically changed how my mother viewed the world. Once a lost party girl, now a dedicated mother and language teacher. It broke my heart to watch my father disrespect my mother when he came home. It started with comments on the state of the home, but let’s be real, the real perpetrators of that crime were solely my siblings and me. My mother wasn’t the only one responsible for a healthy and happy home. We all were.
Eventually the insults on her abilities as a mother progressed to just insults of her being. My father called my mother every name under the sun and as a pre-teen I was often consoling her after my father took off to another woman’s house. This had to stop. I was not going to let this continue. One night, when I was 14 my father spewed some of the worst insults I had ever heard by that point in my life and of course once he was done, he took off into the night. I ran to my mother’s room and flew open the door. She was curled up in bed, again. “You have to leave him, we will be OK mom, we will figure it out”.
My mother sat up in her bed, tears streaming down her face. She said, “My girl, you are so strong and wise but, your father needs help and we are his family. We have to stand by him. For your brother and your sister. They are too young to understand.” I felt anger and rage boil throughout my body. My mother’s loyalty was her biggest strength and sometimes her biggest flaw. I stared at her, tears now streaming down my face. “If you don’t stand up for yourself first, what are you teaching them?” I said. My mother’s face changed, she wiped the tears from her face and went straight to the kitchen. She started cooking dinner and never said another word to me again about that night. I have no idea exactly what part of that interaction changed her course of thought so dramatically but I know that if I hadn’t taken the chance to speak up and push her to leave him, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
My father hasn’t been living with us since that night. He still struggles sometimes to maintain positive relationships with my siblings and I, but there is no denying how happy we all are now.