We Are All Disabled - Part 12B

Oh Father, Where Art Thou?


I never really knew my dad, Morris but on Sunday, I celebrated Father's Day for the first time with him in heart.

At some point, the sadness of a father not being there needed to become the story of a boy who did have a father, if only for a heart beat. Its taken me all these years to realize my mother and my father gave me the most precious of gifts, when they gave me life. It’s been such a long and hard road being able to say that but it’s true.  
I was born into scandal - you wouldn't say that now but the world was younger, back then. In those days in Montreal lived a perfect family. A mother and father with three beautiful daughters. They were well respected and thriving in the city's Jewish community. Then somehow, Morris the husband and father met and fell in love with a girl who became pregnant with me. That's all I know for sure because after that, everything gets complicated.


Morris was ostracized by his community. His wife refused to give him a divorce. When my mother gave birth, everyone expected the baby would be a girl whose name would be Donna. But out came a boy who was soon christened, Donald, Lee.

My father, Morris Adler did not give me his last name, instead he made a small change flipping two letters from Adler to Alder. Maybe he was trying to protect me by hiding my identity. I wish I knew. 
Everything changed; Morris left his wife and daughters. He left his faith, his community and his work to live with my mother and his baby. We were a family but I imagine his other family was heartbroken. For a long time, I'm sure I was considered the child who destroyed the Adler family and that never felt very good.


My father struggled to find work. Eventually he became involved with the Blind Association. I think he must have had very poor vision because the pictures I have show him with glasses as thick as coke bottles. 


I was four years old when something extraordinary happened. Morris's three daughters moved into our small apartment. Their mother died suddenly and their father was obligated to provide a home.  It was chaos; these were cultured young women from another world.  
All of a sudden I had sisters who were 12, 15 and 18. We shared a single bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. I remember them being giants around me. It was hard for my mother too. She grew up on a farm and didn't know much about the life the girls had grown up in. 


Very unhappy times followed for all of us. It was hard I guess, living with girls who saw my mother and I as the beginning and end of their despair.


Eighteen months later, everything got worse when my father died of a heart attack.  I think I remember being at the hospital with my mother when the heart monitor flat lined, but maybe that's just my emotions creating a memory. What I do remember for sure is that days after Morris died, strangers came to our apartment.


First they took my sisters, then the cars and everything in our house except a bed and my fathers couch. My mother was in the bathroom crying. She was scared about that day and about the future.


When she stopped crying, it was over. We had nothing. We were alone. Without much of an education, work was hard to find but she did it.  Bless her heart for keeping us alive.


Living through that period in time is where I probably learned about what compassion was. Knowing how hard it can be for some people makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be surrounded by those who love you, especially when misfortune makes it hard to love anyone.


I still think about being that little boy watching strangers take things from us. I can't change the past but I can change my feelings about it. 


In 1985 before leaving with Rick on the Man in Motion Tour, I contacted each of my half sisters. They are good people who like me were innocent bystanders. Over the years, I sometimes write to the eldest, just to say hello and let the family know their little half brother is healthy, happy and making his way in the world.  


I missed growing up with everyday memories of a father nearby and I know too well how confidence can be shattered by dwelling on things your heart aches for.  But for all the things I never had, I did have a mother and father who loved each other and me, if only for a heart beat in time.  


Being lucky enough to have the gift of music, allows me to say and feel things with my guitar that I cant find words for. And for all the Father's Days to come, I will with my guitar, remember and love my dad, Morris Adler and a dear friend I met many years later. His name was Marshall Smith, who treated me like a son, always.



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Don Alder is a musician and partner in a grand adventure - "Man In Motion" that forever changed the way we see disability. He lives alone in a basement suite over run by guitars, note books full of ideas for songs and everywhere, memories of going around the world with his best friend, Rick Hansen.