Absence

My parents separated when I was five years old and, as one would expect, it was completely my fault1. The first year was a little rough. My youngest sister was just a few months old at the time and taken in by an aunt. My other sister and I were sent to a foster home for some time while my father worked on all the legal stuff while also working full time shift-work at the old Firestone factory in town. Where was my mother during this time? I'm not exactly sure. She just sort of disappeared for a while.

Staying at a foster home was stressful at first. Nobody spoke French2 and I needed to very quickly bring my English up to communicate with the many people who lived in the house. Religion was a serious part of life with daily readings of the Bible as a family followed by discussions. My sister, who was 3 at the time, had no problem fitting right in and adapting. I envied her at times.

Every weekend my father would come by to visit and, one weekend, we were told that we'd soon be leaving the foster home and moving into an apartment together. Laura, my infant sister, would not be joining us. My mother had requested custody of the tiny girl during the divorce proceedings. My father would take care of Christine and I. We were all quite happy with the arrangement and no questions were asked about why our mother only wanted the baby. Thinking back to that time, a lot of questions were not asked.

Over the next few years, my parents would iron out a lot of their disagreements in private. They never got back together, nor was it ever an option. However, because these two adults were able to communicate with each other with a modicum of civility, there were never any bitter custody battles. Instead we had a schedule for visits. Christmases would be held at one home one year, and the other home the following year. Every month we'd spend a weekend with the other parent. During the summer holidays, we'd spend a month. This was the standard pattern for years right up until I was 13 and asked to move in with my mother3. My sister had done the same when she was 7, though it may have been primarily motivated by money. Despite his efforts, my father was left with some crippling debt after the divorce. He took on all the credit card debt and the mortgage. Though the house was sold, there was still several tens of thousands of dollars that had to be repaid. He worked for years to make it happen, and I was too naive to understand the sacrifices he made to ensure the bills were always paid and food was on the table.

But then a young child usually doesn't think of these things very often.

There were a lot of things I never really considered about this time in my life until recently … such as what my father felt when I would visit my mother for a month or the Christmas holiday. It was just him and I in the two-bedroom apartment for several years after my sister left. When two people live in such close quarters the absence of one is quite stark. A Christmas when one's children are all somewhere else doesn't strike me as a particularly happy time of year. Weekends and summers were spent with "the other child", so there would be someone present to keep the silence at bay.

When I think about how my mother left and then think of how my father interacted with her afterwards despite her immediate activities following her abrupt egress4, I'm genuinely surprised that he didn't hire someone to keep an eye on everyone "just in case". Then again, with the amount of debt he had endured, hiring a private investigator — even a bad one — would have been out of the question. What would I do if, in three years, Reiko were to leave without taking the boy? Would I be able to trust that she wouldn't flee with him at some point later on?5

It's a hard question. The house would feel incredibly empty without the boy, though. Heck, the main reason we bought this house was so that he would have a semi-permanent home for (ideally) his entire life. Thinking along these lines, the apartment where my father and I lived for seven years must have been oppressively quiet during the Christmases where Christine, Laura, and I were at our mother's house. He must have been overjoyed to replace the quiet with noise after remarrying in 1992, a year when his three children were all at a rural home 70km to the east.


  1. I say this in jest now, but this is what kids tend to think at the time.

  2. My mother spoke French and my father spoke English. While I could communicate in both languages, French was my strongest tongue at the time. I had even attended a french kindergarten, so my entire understanding of the world was through the lens of a tiny Quebecois.

  3. A story for a different day, I think.

  4. She went bar-hopping, found a guy who would become my step-father, got pregnant, and stayed with him for 13 years, having two children with him before yet another "abrupt egress". I've not yet talked to my mother about the real reasons for these departures. She's made allusions that I find suspect, but I've never tried to dig in. This is clearly a failure on my part.

  5. Yes, I understand the many layers in this question, given that Nozomi and I were due to leave several years ago. Life has gotten a lot better since then, and we continue to work on improving our relationship.