Words by Tania Peralta. Photography by Hansel Alonzo.
Hollace Simmonds is a tall, petite Bajan-Canadian woman whose voice fills the room naturally without projection. Her energy is colourful and bright unlike the seemingly grey filter that falls over the town of Oshawa, Ontario. This is where she and her husband Norwill have raised their four children including second eldest–Ashton Simmonds–the real-life boy behind Daniel Caesar.
Mrs. Simmonds is all love. All family. All gospel, and therefore all consequence. And although there is a lot of honorable talent that runs through both sides of this family’s tree, Simmonds is all humble.
For Simmonds, love is in selflessness and being a good neighbor. It’s in being soft, yet aware of consequence. But before and after love is in anything, for her, love is through God. When she speaks of love, it’s traced with the memories of the once upon a time, real life landscapes within her late father’s paintings. His work can be found throughout their house, including above the family’s grey couch.
“I’m from a whole line of artists in some way shape or form,” she says, “My father was a fine artist and he worked for a well-known hotel in the Island where I lived. He created a piece of work where he made wood look like marble stone.”
Her father was offered to travel to America to work with a coveted interior designer based on that piece of work. He was presented with a contract that he never ended up signing. “I remember as a little girl thinking, Why didn’t you sign it? We could be rich. I was thinking about all these dolls I could have,” she recalls.
His decision to stay–something she only understands now as an adult, mother and wife–was based on his devotion and way of showing his love for his wife and seven children. His answer was simple: “He said, I, don’t know how long I’d have to be away before I could be with you again. There’s a lot of you guys and your mom would be alone.'”
“I think about that now and it helped to cement me as a person in terms of commitment, in terms of love and family,” she says, “It really made me feel special. It made me love that my father…In a world where there’s so many absentee fathers and people pursue fame and fortune at the expense of others, to see my father make a decision like that spoke volumes to me.”
It’s clear that this gesture by her father, combined with her Christian upbringing, is what stipulated her idea of selfless loving, especially within the family dynamic. “I was taught love by my parents and from my parents introducing me to Christianity, to God,” she says, “God is my source. God is a source of love because he’s a source of life. When I think about the fact that God died–whether you believe it or not –it was because he loved mankind so much; I see the selflessness in that.”
The Simmonds live next door to a Seventh Day Adventist church, waiting for Mrs. Simmonds to arrive doesn’t go by without her pastor and neighbour separately using the same phrase to describe her: She loves her boys; Oh yes, does she love her boys.
“Parenting is the hardest job ever,” she says. While it’s clear in her narrative that being a mom and the matriarch in this family has brought her the utmost joy, the former is a story we’ve already heard, though, through a different angle within the scattered gospel sounds and lyrics in Caesar’s Praise Break and Freudian.
With raising kids, she finds that, society now wants a manual for everything. “We forget that our kids are their own little people. They’re not like every other kid. We use a model or standard that society set up and we want our kids to fit into that. I think that’s the worst thing we can do for them.”
In not wanting our kids to be idle, Hollace finds that often they just end up being overloaded. “Looking back, I realize that’s a mistake I made. Instead of just letting them be…We try to create these environments for them because we want them to mold in a certain direction and I think a lot of kids are retaliating against that.”
A sign across their home reads Kingsway College, the same school Caesar was expelled from for selling weed.
You see things in your parents sometimes, and you choose what you want to take and you choose what you want to leave.
Simmonds’ story is a story of unwavering faith in God, in trust, in commitment, and in family–but not without a dark hour. It’s much easier for her to talk about how she was taught love, about what that looks like, how she has practiced it than how and if she has unlearned any of that molding.
“In today’s words, you’re asking how do I do me?” she laughs, “I do realize now, after many years, that I need to take time for myself. My mom would always tell me, ‘you need to rest!'”
During her mother’s last three months of life she cautioned Simmonds without overstepping, and with understanding her commitment to her family, that she should rest. It didn’t matter how early or late it was, Simmonds was up doing things for the family. “I think that’s something I learned from my mom. You see things in your parents sometimes, and you choose what you want to take and you choose what you want to leave.”
Eventually, that selflessness caught up to her in the beginning years of Caesar showing signs of having ideas about life that strayed from their Christian beliefs. “Things were a little bit tense for the family,” she recalls. “I was going through this while maintaining putting in 200% at home, 120% at work, and still expected myself to perform at the top of my game wherever I was.”
One day, Mrs. Simmonds just didn’t come home. The boys kept calling her. They were scared and worried–even Caesar, who was in his own world. When she finally answered her husband’s call, she didn’t want to say where she was, but she ensured him that she was okay. “I just wanted to lock down,” she says, “I wanted to think and pray alone. I went to the lake. I sat there until I felt I had enough strength to come home. I did. Even as I am sharing that with you now, I realize how much it disturbed the family dynamic and why did it disturb it? Because I was always giving and pouring and pouring and one day that trickle stopped.” Stepping out of her regularly scheduled routine to take some time to herself, alone–without notice–disturbed the family dynamic.
She got their attention, though it wasn’t their attention she was trying to get; she was just trying not to fall apart.
Based on Caesar’s real-life encounters within a modern-day Babylon, the overlying themes in his music tell the same story through a different angle. In real life, there are no manuals. No matter how much you can show, practice, and teach love, your children’s ideas of love and how they end up practicing and teaching love to others will not only be a product of how you raised them, but a product of what happens to that love when it collides with the world’s definition of love or the definition of love in someone else’s world.
I do realize now, after many years, that I need to take time for myself.
“It’s definitely something I can’t live without. Love stands time. It’s all encompassing. There are times when I need to be silent, and that is love or a way of demonstrating love. I learned after many mistakes. It comes with experience and age. Love is also…Love is everything.”
Just beautiful ! I really appreciate how practical and honest Daniel and his mom are. It’s not very often you see a mother honestly state her faults as a parent. It is refreshing to see so much wisdom in a family.