So…this happened yesterday….

My mom died.

(no need for condolences. It’s an awkwardness where you don’t know what to say and all I can say is “Thank you”. So – thank you in advance. And I write this not for you to read but just to get the words out of my head so please, don’t feel like you have to read and reply)

She wasn’t a very good mother. But I wasn’t a very good son.

I don’t think my family is any more or less dysfunctional than any other family. Just screwed up in their own ways. Sadly, the ways mine is screwed up affect me personally and deeply.

I hadn’t spoken to my mom in 20+ years. Except for one accidental meeting of my sister on the streets of Vancouver several years ago, I hadn’t spoken to anyone on that side of the family in those years. So – there’s that.

I had three fathers. The first was the British guy (“Daddy Mike”) I grew up with. But when I was ten years old, I found out the guy who I had been calling daddy wasn’t actually my daddy. This large, angry looking man at the front door is “your real father and you should go with him”…Ummm….OK….

So we became that family – every second weekend or so my sister and I would leave my other two brothers and go hang out with this other family. My new stepmother, Beverly, was sweet, kind, gentle and a great baker. Man, she could bake the hell out of cookies and bread!

I gained another little brother, David (who I called Chop) who was fun, sweet and sensitive and another little sister, Melonie who was a bundle of energy and easy to make laugh.

But I also gained a father who was completely different from the affable, if alcoholic, Brit I was used to. “Daddy Dave” was a gruff, taciturn old school Navy guy. Everything had to be done just right, just so, or it had to be done over again from the start. I started a lot of things over.

I am completely different than my father and much more like my mother. So my dad and I never saw eye to eye. In hindsight, I wouldn’t say “we didn’t get along” so much as we were just completely different people. Unfortunately, I don’t think he saw it that way and it seemed like he was always mad at me for not being like him.

The bulk of my time was spent with my mom and the alcoholic Brit. He was a nice guy – except when he was drinking. And it seemed like he was always drinking. So when I had the chance to go live with my dad on a farm in Nova Scotia (we were living in Esquimalt, a suburb of Victoria BC at the time), I jumped at the chance. Esquimalt was BORING AS SHIT for a 14 year old and the school district in Nova Scotia was just opening a brand new high school. I figured it would be fun and cool.

I was wrong.

Not only was I unprepared to live with this “grumpy” man, I was completely unprepared for living on a working farm. The work was so hard (again, in hindsight, probably not but it was outside my experience) and I didn’t do it well enough for my father. We all walked on eggshells all the time. But at least he wasn’t an alcoholic and I was having fun at school (girls liked me!) so I toughed it out.

The entire time I was on the farm, I felt guilty about leaving my sister Shawna, my brother Michael and my brother Chuck back in Esquimalt. I’m the oldest and I left them with an alcoholic father and an occasionally suicidal mother. Worse, I left them in their “formative years”. I carry that guilt to this day.

As teens are wont to do, I got in trouble at school. I couldn’t face the disappointment of my father and stepmother so I “ran way from home” at 18. I had no contact with them for four years as I bummed around Halifax, homeless most of the time. Once again, I left a brother and sister “behind” in their formative years. But I figured Mel and Chop had a great mom who would take care of them and watch out for them. But the guilt of that also still eats away at me.

A few years later, I got back in touch with Daddy Dave and that branch of the family just before I moved to Vancouver, BC to go to school. Nothing was ever resolved and the strain between my father and I never lifted. I never saw or spoke to him again. He passed away a few years ago. I couldn’t afford to go to his funeral.

I went to college in Vancouver and travelled to Esquimalt every few weeks to see the family. My siblings had all grown up and become real adults. But they had also became complete strangers with their own lives and, sadly, their own issues and problems. I literally didn’t know them.

When I was 25, I was sitting around my mom’s house one evening, just me and her. We got talking about my father and how much anger I had toward him and how I felt bad that I was so angry at my dad. Out of nowhere, my mother starts crying and says, “You shouldn’t be mad at him. He’s not your real father…”

Wait….WTF?

As she explained, she got pregnant with me out of wedlock. My “real father” was killed in a car accident before I was born. Daddy Dave was a friend of both of them who “stepped up” to take care of her and me. He eventually officially adopted me which is why I (proudly) carry the King name.

Imagine finding out you’re adopted. Now, imagine finding out at that age. Pile on the feelings of, “If I had known this before, I never would have gone and lived with him”. Imagine how your life might have been different. Imagine how specifically you “know” how it would be different. I was a really good high school football player in Esquimalt. There was serious discussion of which US college I could go to play at. But my Nova Scotia high school didn’t have a football team.

Now imagine feeling like that every day for the rest of your life.

Then there’s the social aspect of it. My mother is black. Daddy Dave is half black (I was told). So I was, mathematically, three quarters black – even though, as everyone always points out, I “don’t look black”. But I vehemently defended my blackness. My mom was black, the aunts and uncles I knew were black, my grandmother and grandfather were black, so dammit, *I* was black.

Suddenly, in that one moment, I wasn’t black any more.

I didn’t know who I was. My mother told me nothing of my biological father except that he was from Ontario and that’s where he died. Because of my skin color, I assume he was white. You now know as much about him as I do.

It gets worse.

As the news got out that my mother had “finally told me the truth”, the rest of the family came forward in various ways and at various times to say, “I’m so glad she finally told you…” As it turns out, everyone in my family (and we have a big family) knew about my mother’s secret – except me.

Everyone in my family, everyone I knew, loved and trusted as family, was a liar. They had all betrayed me about the most basic and fundamental aspect of each of us – “Who am I?”

It was the proverbial straw and I was a brokeback camel. I cut off contact with my family – all of them. I became, as I described it, “a voluntary orphan”. It didn’t make me happy but it made me less miserable. I didn’t have to deal with all of that petty family bullshit many of us deal with. I was free of all of it.

But I was also alone – and have been for most of the ensuing twenty years.

A few years ago, my “baby” sister Melonie got in touch. She’s a wonderful, grown up woman now with a daughter of her own. We’ve been in touch and I visited them in Nova Scotia a couple of years ago. I found out about my mother’s illness and death through Melonie – my sister Shawna, for her own reasons (unknown to me but probably obvious) contacted my stepmother Bev and she told Melonie about it.

I can’t go to the funeral. I simply don’t have the money. Even if I had the money, I don’t know if I would go. I think there will be too many people there I would have too much to say to. And, sadly, too many people who would have nothing to say to me.

It’s so true that it has become a cliche but I’ll add a little bit to it. If there is someone in your life you’re angry with and haven’t spoken to, speak to them. I’m not saying forgive them or forget what they did to you. But say *something* to them. Get it off your chest because, if you don’t, you’ll regret it when they’re gone. Trust me on that. I wish to this day I had been able to talk to Daddy Dave about how he treated all of us as kids. How I could have an adult conversation and to get and give an apology.

I wish I could have worked up the nerve and the energy to talk to my mother. To tell her how much she’d hurt me over the years. But also to ask her about my father.

I wish I could sit down with Shawna, Michael, Chuckie, David and Melonie to ask them for forgiveness and to apologize for being a shitty big brother.

Because, if you don’t do something, you’ll carry that hurt and pain around with you for the rest of your life. As you get older, that burden gets heavier and heavier.

My mother was a fun, funny, boisterous, outspoken woman. I like to think I take after her with those traits. I wish she had been open and honest with me about a lot of things. Like many of us, she had a dark side. I won’t miss that. But every day for the past 20 years, and every day for the rest of my life, I’ve thought about her and missed her.

I love you mom. Of all the things that happened over all of these years, I never stopped and I never will. Rest in Peace.

13 thoughts on “So…this happened yesterday….”

  1. Hi, Shawn. Moeskido’s wife here. I came by to say I’m very sorry for your loss. No response necessary: I know there’s no good way to respond and how damn stupid it feels to have to do so. I just wanted to express that to you.

    In addition, though — having read this frank and heartfelt dedication — I feel compelled to add:

    I wish I could sit down with Shawna, Michael, Chuckie, David and Melonie to ask them for forgiveness and to apologize for being a shitty big brother.

    You can. It’s the one thing in your power to do. You may not be able to get the ideal of everyone at a table together, but there are alternatives.

    Because, if you don’t do something, you’ll carry that hurt and pain around with you for the rest of your life. As you get older, that burden gets heavier and heavier.

    Yep, you will. And yep, it does.

    Take your own advice. It’s really good advice. You just need to find a way.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kellie. I guess I should have been more clear and written, “I wish I had the money to sit down with….” My brothers and sisters, half, step and otherwise, live all over North America. I don’t have the funds to go visit each of them, as much as I’d like to.

      1. No, you were clear. I totally understood that. Travel is prohibitively expensive, so you gotta get creative. Skype, for example, is no replacement for a physical presence, but it’s sure better than nothing.

        Not trying to badger you. (That’s Mo’s job.) And it’s not something you have to address right this second. You’ve got a lot on your brain to deal with. Just something to consider, how to make it work somehow. It could even be as simple as sharing this blog post with them.

  2. I just wanted you to know…that someone else did read this…and…heard your words. And like others here…whilst you do not “need” us to express our condolences….I offer them anyway…for I am truly sorry to hear about your mom’s passing.

    1. I really appreciate the sentiment, irishkatie. Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

      If you think there’s someone you know who might be able to gain some insight from my column, please pass it along.

  3. Shawn,

    I had figured out that you came from a difficult background, so difficult I had never imagined. The fact that you have turned out to be an almost balanced individual is quite a testament to your own resolve.

    Having ceased almost all contact with my own mother a few years before her death because of her attitudes and behaviours I do understand some of the conflict that you may be experiencing.

    I would suggest that you do try and attend your moms funeral, I appreciate travel, accommodation and emotional costs may be high, but it should be something you try and do. If you want to go, drop me an email, I can help a little with cost.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. It’s much appreciated.

      As to trying to get to the funeral, like I said – it’s not just a matter of (literally) no money, it’s a matter of whether or not I’m even emotionally strong enough to go.

      But I’m very touched by your offer.

      1. Shawn,

        The emotional cost is always going to be the highest, and it is the one cost that no one else can help you with.

        I can feel the conflict you have, I understand a part of it, but ultimately only you can resolve that.

        Offer stands,

        db.

  4. A very moving piece, Shawn. I’ve read, and edited, a lot of personal journalism in my career. This ranks with some of the best.

Leave a Reply