Thursday, March 20, 2014

Son of a Black Sheep

When I was growing up, my dad always told me that he had "no use" for his family. The thirteenth child of fourteen, most of his brothers and sisters were nearing adulthood or had even reached it and moved on while he was a young child.

You would think that with 14 children, my grandparents had lived on a farm. But no, they had lived in Rosemount, in downtown Montreal. With that many children, Elizabeth and Sidney Brown actually took up two apartment units.

Dad was only two years old when his father died: his baby brother, Don, wasn't even born, was still forming in his mother's womb. The older siblings gathered to help out at home and take care of the newborn, and so my dad fell outside of the family spotlight.

He carried resentment throughout his life, feeling that the world had treated him poorly. His brothers and sisters made him grow up quickly, and when he was old enough, he grew away.

"I have no use for them," he told me, countless times.

He was the self-imposed black sheep of the family.

My dad felt that he needed to be responsible for himself and himself only. He realized this, however, with a wife and three kids, and so he disappeared for many years while I was growing up. I was five when he left. He wasn't gone like his dad was gone from him, but there were some times when my sisters, my mother, and I didn't know whether he was dead or alive.

When I reached adulthood, I met many of my aunts and uncles, met several of my cousins. It was at a family reunion that I learned about through my Uncle Don, who managed to keep in touch with my mother and me. When I worked at a bank, I saw him almost every day.

At this reunion, I learned that the Brown side of my family was made up of some fabulous people. They were the salt of the earth, and they welcomed me whole-heartedly. I kept in touch with a few of them after the reunion: one, my Uncle Jim, even kept in touch, through e-mail, when my wife and I lived in Korea.

But because I didn't have direct contact with many members, I dropped off the radar after my return to Canada. I stayed in touch with Uncle Jim, but more and more, our correspondence waned.

It took this past weekend, when I learned that Uncle Jim passed away, for me to realize that I had to reach out and let the Browns know that I wasn't my father's son. I had use for this side of my family. And I wanted to let them know that I'm there for them.

There's another Brown gathering in a couple of weeks. I'll be there. I want to know more about this side of my family.

I may be the son of a black sheep, but I'm not one myself.

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