Writings / Fiction: John Tavares

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Native Son

Carlos had not expected Hakan would provide so many reasons to be concerned, but he did not know the native boy well before adoption. Enola, a social worker, helped him with the legal issues surrounding the adoption, a process filled with forms, documents, paperwork, police checks, and home visits. This bureaucracy was not easy, even though he, a single man in his forties, in his second career, was already a social worker.

Carlos had not done comprehensive research on Hakan, if that was possible when adopting a boy, but he heard about his delinquency. Some challenges Hakan might pose he expected, but he believed he could adjust and cope. The original plan, he revealed to Enola, was single parent adoption, once he moved into his new home down Floatplane Street and across the back alley from where Enola lived with her lawyer husband.

After Carlos entered the profession of social work, he expected to adopt a child eventually. The spring after he bought a home and received a permanent position at the aboriginal social services agency would a good time to start an application, he thought, even if he was still a relatively young man, even if he was early in his career as a social worker. Warning him adopting an emotionally disturbed child might damage his career in social services, Enola tried friendly dissuasion. But this instinct to become a parent was strong. At age forty Carlos felt alone as a single man; he was not about to renege on his pledge to adopt or not marry a woman to have his child. He was not gay, but he felt no inclination to find a woman to be a mother of his child, not after the numerous rejections and rebuffs he suffered.

Enola was married to a lawyer from a reservation up north, accessible only by floatplane. Enola and her lawyer husband helped Carlos find Hakan, an aboriginal child, who lived in her husband’s reservation in Northwestern Ontario, accessible only by aircraft and ice road, a few hundred miles north of Sioux Lookout and Beaverbrooke. Enola said she rescued Hakan from his mother, an alcoholic, addicted to oxycodone, who neglected him. She and her husband swooped down from the skies in a floatplane, landing on the shore of his Indian Reservation, as did Hakan’s biological father, a red-haired, bearded white man, who met Hakan’s mother when he helped build a firebreak around the reserve while working as a forest fire fighter. Enola felt sorry for Hakan, who would spend entire weeks in silence. She tried to warn Carlos he was afflicted by a communication disorder.

The summertime after a promotion and pay hike seemed an ideal time to adopt. Carlos had an interview with the chief social worker from the aboriginal social services agency. As the interview extended over an hour, Carlos realized he had analyzed in detail every piece of native art and handicraft on her corner office suite walls. The executive director asked more personal questions than he expected, including why he was not married and had no children. Then Enola took him aside in the coffee room.

“I’m warning you: The executive director doesn’t like you; you’re white and a man.”

“I never thought of myself as white. My parents were Portuguese immigrants.”

“It’s the same thing to her. She also thinks you’re gay. The fact you’re a single man and might be homosexual concerns her.”

“Okay, I’ll abandon the application,” Carlos said. “I’ll just cancel the adoption.”

“No, you don’t need to quit.”

“No, I’ll drop the adoption. I don’t know Oji-Cree. How can I be adopting a First Nations child when I don’t even know Oji-Cree?”

“But it doesn’t matter. Hakan doesn’t know Oji-Cree, either.”

Something else was worrying Carlos, something he did not feel comfortable sharing with Enola. When he was a York University student, a rash youth, he acquired a criminal record after demonstrations and protests at a cruise missile factory in Toronto turned clamorous and noisy. He struggled with security guards and police and was handcuffed and arrested for trespassing and charged with resisting arrest. Now the same defence contractor whose asphalt parking lot he sprayed painted was now a core equity holding in his retirement investment portfolio.

The executive director’s judgement of him during home visits was more satisfactory. Carlos guessed they liked the collection of books in his library because they lingered at his bookshelves. Then Carlos’ police criminal record check and vulnerable sector check arrived. Enola and her boss wanted to know why he had a criminal record. Why had he been charged with resisting arrest and trespassing? He had to explain his role in demonstrations when he was a York University freshman protesting at the barbed wire gates to a defence contractor. He climbed the high chain link fence and used orange spray paint to write Murderers on the asphalt surrounding the missile factory. That admission endeared him to the executive director and Enola, her underling. “Your weakness became our strength,” Enola said, chuckling. She reassured him she managed to persuade the boss to sign off on his adoption.

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