Many CLAC members work in jobs that require them to be away from home for long stretches. When they return, they often feel like a stranger in their own home.
By Don Mundy, Representative
I have a bit of an interesting family situation. My wife, Ana, is my second wife, and we have a blended family of three children. That has its joys and its struggles, to say the least.
My two are older now and out of the house. Ana’s daughter, Tess, who just turned 16, lives with us full time.
Tess was born in Cancun, Mexico—how cool is that!—when Ana lived in the Mayan Riviera for a number of years working in the tourist industry. Why she ever moved back to Canada is beyond me!
Tess’s father is a Mexican national living in the city of Merida. We have both felt it is very important for Tess to get to know her Mexican family and connect with that part of her heritage.
Every couple of years—COVID notwithstanding—we head down to Yucatan for a couple of weeks during spring break to spend time with Tess’s father and her extended Mexican family.
Tess’s father is the youngest son in a family of six. Tess herself is the youngest of 13 grandchildren. Whenever she comes to Mexico, the family makes a point of gathering together to celebrate.
This year’s trip was very special. For the first time, all six children from Tess’s father’s family were able to come together to see her. Making the gathering even more special is the fact that Tess’s grandparents are getting quite old. Her grandmother is suffering from advanced dementia and sometimes has difficulty remembering the names of her own children.
When we showed up to the house where the family gathering was happening, Tess’s half-brother ran out to see her. The hug those two gave each other could have won an Oscar if it were in a movie!
One by one, Tess’s uncles and aunts showed up. Lastly, grandma and grandpa arrived and were helped into the house.
When grandma saw Tess for the first time in four years, she lit up. Despite her advanced dementia, she seemed to recognize her youngest grandchild. Tears of joy flowed freely and abundantly.
For the next few hours, I sat back and watched this amazing family interact with each other. If you’ve never witnessed a Latinx family gathering, it is something to behold.
Mexico has all kinds of problems: the economy is struggling, there’s corruption issues, and of course there’s the drug cartels. But they’ve got us Canadians beat when it comes to family.
The love, care, and appreciation they showed for each other was beyond anything I’d ever seen. I counted it a privilege and an honour to be part of such a tender and special day.
While I greatly appreciated being a part of such an amazing extended family, what came to mind for me shortly after the family gathering was the fact that many CLAC members don’t get to experience the closeness of family as much as they’d like.
There are thousands of members in the construction, mining, and pipeline industries who live in remote work camps and are away from family for weeks at a time. CLAC represents long-haul truckers who travel all over North America and sleep in their trucks every night while on the road. Some members work in the tugboat industry and live on their boats for long stretches.
Studies have been done about the dynamics of family situations when a parent is away for extended periods of time on a regular basis. The family at home gets used to the person being away. When they come back, they often feel like a stranger in their own home. This is a significant mental health issue for hundreds of CLAC members and their families.
If your job takes you away from your family and you or your family members are struggling, help is available. CLAC provides immediate, free, and confidential help through HumanaCare’s employee and family assistance program for members with a CLAC benefits plan negotiated into their collective agreement.
And if you get to come home every day to your family, give your loved ones an extra tight squeeze tonight. Remember those who sleep in a work camp, in their truck, or in a cabin on a boat for weeks on end. The jobs they do are difficult but so necessary for the Canadian economy. We can’t thank them enough for their sacrifice.