Obstacles that Shape Us: Turning childhood turmoil into musical fuel
Obstacles that Shape Us is a series of inspiring stories shared by Canadians who have overcome adversity. Learn how their life experiences impacted who they are and what they do today.
Surrounded by homes with drugs and violence while growing up, musician Don Amero had opportunities to take roads that led to dark places.
He felt like his own home was a peaceful place to live in Winnipeg’s north end until his mom didn’t return home from work one night. Amero still remembers the confusion he felt at 11, when his dad sat him down with his three brothers and said was he going to go look for their mom.
“He went and found my mom and she was there with somebody else and basically, in that moment, he said, ‘This is over,” Amero recalls.
The next morning, Amero said he woke up to find his mom back at home with someone else, and his dad was gone because the police came and took him away.
“As I look at it now as an adult I can see their marriage really did fall apart but the way my mom chose to go about it was a bit heavy and for me as a kid, especially seeing it that way.”
“So very quickly, my life went from everything is great to … all of a sudden everything is overthrown,” Amero said.
When he looks back on his childhood, he realizes this is when he could have walked down a dark road.
“The crossroads for me was I could go the way of drugs and alcohol and violence, which I saw all my friends in the neighbourhood … doing, and I kept looking at their lives and going, don’t they see those are dead ends?”
At one point, a gang approached Amero and tried to initiate him.
“I literally ran away … that could have gone either way too, they could of come after me … they saw I was a chicken and probably wouldn’t have been a tough guy in the gang anyway,” he chuckled.
Instead of turning in a troubled direction as a teenager, Amero shifted his focus to music.
“I picked up my dad’s old Gibson Hummingbird guitar and literally just taught myself guitar,” Amero said. “Literally on the same day I picked up the guitar is the same day I started writing music and started writing songs.”
He learned himself how to sing one musical note each week as a form of therapy.
At 14 years old, he walked into an audition with the intention of catching the eye of his high school crush but ended up landing the lead role in that year’s play as ‘Curly’ in Oklahoma. One year later he started playing more music, eventually realizing it was his passion.
WATCH: Don Amero talks about the crossroads in his life
Although he dreamed of pursuing music full time, Amero spent his days working as a hardwood floor installer.
When he was 27 years old, his boss asked what he wanted to do with his life and Amero said without hesitation he wanted to be a touring musician. Then his boss asked why he was waiting to do that, and Amero realized he was waiting for someone else to give him an opportunity.
Taking a risk, Amero quit his day job and started pursuing his music career, giving himself an opportunity to chase his dream.
Since then, Amero’s lovable stage presence and soulful sound have earned the respect of many Canadians.
“Now as a performer, as a singer, songwriter, I get up on stage every night and I share this story, I share the harshness of my life and I temper it with the idea that I’ve been so loved I’ve been so taken care of throughout it all.”
Amero is adamant the main reason he was able to stay on a good path in life is because of the love he continued to receive from his parents, even as they were going through a rough time.
“Even though my parents were sort of struggling in their own lives, I never doubted that they loved me and I think that’s what helped,” he said. “If somebody was going through that and didn’t know they were loved, I think that would be brutal.”
“Because my life was tempered by love, not just by my parents, but from other adults … that became my strength.”
WATCH: Canadian musician explains how his parents’ love became his strength
He admits as a teenager he didn’t know his mom felt like she was backed up and into a corner when he was growing up.
“We’re all human beings, we’re all just trying to figure out our way one day at a time and I think my mom, at that season of her life, she kind of reached the end of her rope in that season with my dad and needed to sort of turn the page.”
“I don’t blame her for it, to be honest, and I never will … I want her to know that, I love you Mom.”
WATCH: Don Amero shares loving words for his mom
As a parent himself now, Amero understands there are some decisions people make as parents that can be hard for the people around them. He wants people to know his mom was a mentor to him after that initial chapter of his life, and that he has great respect and admiration for her.
“We have a lot of sit-down chats and she got me through a lot of things in my young life I was struggling with, just who I’m going to be as a man,” he said.
Amero is thankful for the journey that made him who he is today and just released a new album called Evolution which highlights his personal journey with a country music vibe.
“My hope is that I can use that to encourage and inspire other people because I just think that we’re all here for each other.”
“Don’t let yourself be defined by the things that hurt you know, if anything, if you can use that as fuel to push you on,” Amero said.
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