Families are Forever
The journey of a single parent.
My family growing up was my parents and two sisters, with grandparents and aunts/uncles nearby. We had big family dinners every Sunday. When my grandfather died our grandmother came to live with us. She was a seamstress and organist, and taught us to love music and sew. After high school I went to college and married my college sweetheart. I thought families would always be like my big warm one.
After we immigrated to Canada, our daughters were born here. But the marriage didn’t last and I raised the girls mostly as a single parent. Their father decided not to see them, which was his choice. I had no back-up family here in Canada to help me cope, but I had to provide a home for my sweet little girls. I heard about a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program that helped single parents buy a house, and somehow I qualified. I put my last money down on an old house in Norwood. The house needed serious renovations, and I had no job to pay for those things. But Canadians were kind, and before long I had four jobs. I worked hard to pay for the house, the repairs, and all the expenses, and tried to be a loving mother too. The girls and I had fun together.
A single parent has to be both mother and father, and I somehow found the energy and wisdom to try to carry those two roles, although not perfectly. It was hard on the girls. As toddlers, they couldn’t understand why they didn’t have a dad. Some teachers insisted they make a Father’s Day card with their class, and other kids made fun of them, and they came home crying. One day I was driving home, and a little voice from the backseat pleaded “Mom, buy us a Dad.” I almost drove off the road – I cried for them. We got through those challenges and survived. We sat at dinner every night and talked openly about whatever. We decided on everything together. We got a collie dog for extra cuddles, and they learned to take care of him and think about his needs.
As the girls became teens they wanted horses, so I bought an old farmstead acreage which came with two horses. It was perfect for us but needed lots of work. We moved to the country against the advice of friends and even my doctor, but It was the best decision I ever made. As teens, the horses were the girls’ fun, responsibility, and transportation. It was a wonderful and happy time for all of us. I drove into Edmonton daily for work. They rode the school bus every day, and learned to start dinners after school, did their own wash, and cared for the horses, dogs, calves, and chickens. I was home every evening, attended all their teacher nights and concerts, and I cheered them on. Every weekend and holiday I spent fixing up the house. We did it together. We took inexpensive vacations and even helped neighbour kids when needed.
Now these girls are grown up and have great careers and their own families. My grandchildren are also growing up to be responsible citizens. We are still close, but the roles are reversing: they have begun to take care of me. The girls are taking me on a cruise later this year for my birthday. What wonderful daughters they are. I am very proud. Families are there always!
Dr. Joanne McNeal is a McCauley senior artist, musician, and educator.