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Fatherhood, addiction and recovery: an Indigenous man’s story from Canada’s Yellowknife

We’ve been bringing you a series of short stories from the Indigenous community in Yellowknife, Canada exploring alcohol use, addiction, resilience and healing. The “Turning Points” project, from the Global Reporting Center, is a series produced, directed and authored by Indigenous people who wanted to share their stories. On this Father’s Day, William Greenland reads a letter he wrote to his son about his life, struggles, addictions, and what he’s learned.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We've been bringing you stories from Canada's Northwest Territories told by Indigenous people from the community of Yellowknife.

    The "Turning Point" series, in partnership with the Global Reporting Center, features personal accounts of life, addiction and recovery.

    One account is from former radio broadcaster and longtime Yellowknife resident William Greenland, a counselor at the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation.

    For this Father's Day, we bring you a letter he reads to his son on lessons learned and life ahead.

  • William Greenland:

    My boy, I want to tell you a story. And I want to share some of the things that I had to learn to get to where I am today.

    Well you know son, I seen you when you were born. I gave you your name, Will. And um, I never seen you again until you were about 5 years old. And I seen you for the first time and you came up and you gave me a hug. And we hugged each other for a while, and I told you I was your dad. And I never seen you again son. I never seen you again for a long, long, long time.

    There was things that happened to me, personally, as a child, I wish never happens to any other kid.

    The drinking began when I was 12 years old.

    So drinking was something that was, um, that uh, made me forget about things that happened to me.

    So it started at an early age, very early age, and it… and it progressively got worse. And as I grew older, I got more into dope. And I got into sniffing glue a lot, and we stole it from the store in Inuvik to- to do it, and it wasn't, uh, you know, it wasn't good. It… it really took over my life.

    I… I was abusive. I… I did what my Dad did. I did what my brothers did, and my sisters did. You know, drinking, and, and uh, and fighting all the time. As a young boy, that's what we thought. That's what we had to do. That's the way it is to be a man.

    So the turning point for me was to stop the cycle of abusing myself with alcohol, so I could give my son a good future. For you, son, to have a good relationship with me.

    That's why I… I made that decision, to say, "That's it." But it… it wasn't easy. I had to pray. I prayed really hard, and asked Creator to help me get through this.

    I said, "Remind me. Put me somewhere. Do something for me that I'll never forget this day."

    Those reminders, today, are the people that are on the streets, who are… who are drinking all the time. I asked Creator to put those kind of people in front of me, every day, so I'll never forget, and that way I'll never have to go back there again.

    After I sobered up, I wanted to get back on the radio. Because that's all I knew.

    So, I bugged them enough times and the boss looks at me, and she says, "Do you want a job, William?"

    I said, "Yeah!"

    She says, "Well you're on the air in five minutes."

    (Voiceover) Good morning, it's three-and-a-half minutes after seven on this Thursday morning.

    It went on like that for a while and I kept on doing my show. And then all of a sudden the boss calls me in. She says, "William, we need to talk to you."

    I said, "Okay."

    She gave me this envelope. And I said, "Oh." And I looked at it, and it was a plane ticket. And I says, "What… what's going on?"

    So, I opened it up and I looked at it. And it said, 'Yellowknife, Inuvik.'

    I said, "There's no return on there."

    And she said, "Yeah."

    She says, "William, looking at your work history, we fired you a number of times in the past." She said, "Let's not make it another time. If you decide to drink again, William, come and get this plane ticket, and don't come back."

    And one day, I said, "That's it. I'm gonna go out and get frickin' drunk."

    I'll go get some booze. I'll go get some dope. I'll go find some girls. And I'm just going to say, "Fuck it."

    And uh, I- I was on my way home, and I was thinking, before I before I buy any booze or any drugs or call anybody, I've got to go back to the radio station and get that plane ticket." I looked everywhere on the front desk. I was digging through the shelves, the desks. I spent a couple hours digging around there, and I couldn't find it.

    Well evening rolled around and I got tired. And I went to sleep and I woke up Sunday morning and I wasn't hungover. And I didn't go partying. I didn't have any booze. I didn't have anybody around with me, but I felt good.

    And at this time, a couple years gone by. The boss had quit – moved on to another job. And I hadn't seen her in like, three years. So, I bump into and I told her, I said, "Thank you, so much."

    She said, "What for?"

    I says, "Do you remember that plane ticket you gave me?"

    She said, "Yeah. What happened?"

    I said, "I still can't find it," I told her. (laughs) And uh, you know, I'm happy to say today, it's 14 years that I haven't had a drink. I'm still looking for that plane ticket.

    When we talked about my healing journey, you were a big part of it. Because I didn't want anything to happen. I didn't want to see you see me drink. I wanted to be a good example. Was it good for you to see that?

  • William’s son:

    Yeah.

  • William Greenfield:

    Were you surprised?

  • William’s son:

    I was very surprised yeah.

  • William Greenfield:

    Yeah? (laughs)

    Son, I did this because I love you. I did this because I love you so much. I tell this story because I want to give it to you. I want you to make a right decision in your life, before… before you end up the way I ended up.

    And in 14 years of my sobriety today, son, I'm still trying to be the best father to you. Because I love you.

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