How I Learned to Live Peacefully With My Decision to Cut Ties With a Toxic Parent

Funny how your perspective changes when you have kids.

Mom, a Muslim within a close-knit community in Africa decided to divorce my Dad (“because he was a bum and a loser”) in 1959. She was ostracized by those around her- how dare a Muslim woman demand a divorce.

With no education, no one willing to hire her, Mom emigrated to England. She took me, aged five, with her. Never returning to Africa, she nonetheless spent the rest of her life proving to her community back home she was a success. Success was working three jobs a week, day and night accumulating cash to purchase and trade in real estate, eventually becoming a multi-millionaire. Part of her plan of success was that her son would speak English like an Englishman and attend Oxford or Cambridge.

Unfortunately, her son, taken away from a community that loved and nurtured him, grew timorous and shy in England. Mom was ruthless in attaining her goals -impossible to all except her. Nothing I did ever satisfied her. At school, once having mastered English, I wanted to take Language and History. She demanded I study Science as the easiest route to Oxbridge. I failed every exam and term. She insisted on taking driving classes. I failed a dozen times. ” You’re just like your dad- a loser.”

I qualified as an accountant and immediately emigrated to Canada, the farthest from her. She decided to retire and follow me a decade later. I was now married with two boys.

Mom never changed. Nothing I did was good enough. Friday was our family bowling night. Mom would call and demand I take her to her mosque. As soon as I left my family and halfway to her, she would call and say she had a ride. week in and week out, she would destroy any family outing or occasion. My wife was a Filipina with a strong belief in respecting her elders, especially her in-law. Mom accused her of stealing. My wife cried alone in her room. Next, mom turned on my boys: they were too thin, they weren’t smart enough – just like their dad. Mom knew exactly what to say to start a furor in minutes.

It seemed mom’s mission in life was to prise me from my own family and return to her full time, just as her mom had forced mom’s youngest brother to.

The break with my mom should have come sooner, but it didn’t…. until she would regularly make my boys cry to a point where they would run off to their rooms as soon as Mom arrived. When I saw her dishing out the same abuse to my kids, let alone my wife, I banned Mom from coming home or having any interaction with my family.

Despite mom’s wealth, I ended up footing all her bills ” because in a Muslim family, the only son and child was responsible for his parents.” The burden of financing her was nothing to the peace and happiness that reigned in our house without her.

Emil Rem is an eccentric accountant and an author who writes about eccentric characters in exotic locales. His books—collections of interwoven short stories—include Heart of New York (October 2022), and Chasing Aphrodite (June 2022). Chapters from both books are slated for publication in April Gloaming Literary Journal and The Write Launch. Born to a middleclass Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam, Emil spent most of his childhood in the care of a foster family in England, shuttling back to East Africa each summer.  No stranger to bizarre contradictions, he alternated between wearing a St. Christopher cross and attending Muslim religious classes.  As an adult he emigrated to Calgary, Canada where he married a Canadian originally from the Philippines and raised two sons. Visit