I’ve never known my dad to be afraid of anything. However, the look in his eyes recently told a story of fear. My dad is now in his 80s. For most of his life he was healthy, despite a lifestyle that would have ruined most others.
His left leg was amputated recently. It wasn’t because of diabetes, which is a major problem in First Nations communities. My dad’s leg got infected from a simple cut on his foot. The infection moved up his leg to a point where it had to amputated.
When he was informed about the amputation, he tried to laugh it off.
“Hey, my Indian name can now be Not Even,” he joked.
He tried to mitigate it by convincing himself he didn’t have to live in pain anymore, even though he was told the leg was dead tissue and there shouldn’t be any pain. On the day of the surgery, my family gathered around his bed. Before he was taken to the operating room, his spirit was up. I could tell he was prepared for what was about to happen. The operation itself took around eight hours. When it was over, he was returned to his room. Of course, he was still sedated. The surgeon said the operation went well, but it would be a couple of days before we would know for sure.
After a couple of days, he started to come around. Our family was still there when he opened his eyes. He looked around and immediately turned his attention to me. He was trying to say something, but couldn’t. That’s when he looked me right in the eye. That’s when I saw the fear. We all tried to console him by softly talking to him. He couldn’t respond, but just looking into his eyes I could tell there was life being drained out of him.
My dad is a residential school survivor. Even though he spent 12 years in a residential school, he had maybe a Grade 3-level education. He really didn’t like talking about his experience in the school, but he did share a few things with me.
He told me for his first six years at the school all he did was peel potatoes. When there are 300 students to be fed, the school used the children that were basically stolen from their families as labour. When he was 12, he looked after hundreds of chickens.
The students only ate eggs at Christmas and Easter. The rest were sold to the very parents whose children were taken.
“The only regret I have,” he said, “is they could have made something out of me.”
To me, this was a profound statement, as he was one of the best hunters and trappers around. Other hunters and trappers would seek his advice. To me, he was something. But what I didn’t know is he wanted to be an artist. When I was a boy, he would draw pictures for me. What I would give to have those pictures now.
What I learned the most from him was storytelling. He spoke mostly Cree and was well known as a great storyteller. Even before he started to get sick, he was still entertaining people at the long-term care home he was in. I would go and visit and there were always people around him, including the nurses and care workers, listening to his stories.
He didn’t fully comprehend the English language, but he would often point out to people that his son is a writer and he wanted to read my stories. Often he would question me on the stories, but most times he would just stare at them and, I believe, he was pretending to read them. It always felt good to hear him say he enjoyed the story.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the amputation and he is improving. However, I can tell life is never going to be the same. He is a big man with a bigger heart. If there was ever a prayer I could ask the Creator for, it would be good health and high spirits – not only for my dad, but for all those who struggled through hard times and yet see a brighter future.