June 17, 2015 - 7:59 AM
Several years ago, I began a “Portrait Gallery of Badasses” on my own Facebook page. Doing so gave me an opportunity to offer a little more in the way of content to my “friends” beyond my typical political postings which threatened to make me a “person of interest” to the powers-that-be way before we had the confirmation that our government was, indeed, spying on us all….
Typically, my badasses are depicted with a flattering photograph, and a brief description of why they merit such an honour as inclusion in my “gallery.” To date, I have amassed about 70 badasses; but with the approach of Father’s Day (and the approach of my own father’s final day) it is time to lionize my own dear dad (he is a Loewen, after all, which in German means “lion”).
"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."
Vladimir Nabokov, author of great fictions like Lolita and Bend Sinister, opens his incomparable memoir "Speak Memory” with typical sagacity and figurative fancy. And there is much to extrapolate from this first sentence among the myriad flashes of brilliance that follow fast upon its heels.
But allow me to address the "brief crack of light" as it relates to my father, Harry Loewen, perhaps the biggest badass in my own banks of the best-remembered.
My father was born eighty four years ago in a Ukrainian village, where for his first six years he was coddled in the comforting arms of his two parents. Terribly, and in the dead of night, a black sedan pulled alongside the family’s modest dwelling and shadowy figures from a regional police station pulled his father out of the home and away for eternity and dad would see his father no more. Dad’s paternal grandfather too -- gone forever. It was 1936 in the Soviet Union.
Remembered by my dad: A kind father who, as a veterinarian, tended to the village critters and laughed with his children; a pipe tucked away behind a vase on a rough-hewn mantle high above the sprawling floor of a boy's pre-ambulant explorations (and his Mama's frown of disapproval whenever Papa lit up the sweet smelling smoke in the house); a heart-piercingly tiny violin that was my father's favourite gift from his own father; and the single orange received at Christmas from a father returned from a rare trip to the Black Sea, its intoxicating tang perfuming the home as the skin was torn open to reveal the magic of the sweetest dew and the drying leavings that would later become a comforting tea to enjoy around the fire where a small, fragile family would sing songs and tell stories late into the night.
The brief crack of light that must be my paternal grandfather in my own father's memory, is a gaping torrent of light for this son. Because I have been comparatively blessed to have a Dad that has lived long enough to provide me with memories that will persist and multiply for years after he is gone.
His career always revolved around words and books — reading them and writing them. First and foremost The Bible and later the Western literary canon which he would cajole his three boys with whenever they were proximate enough to prod into enlightenment. He could and can quote extensively from memory Goethe, Kant, Kafka, Lessing, Nietzsche, Rilke and too many others to include here. In the word, in the books, in the meditations upon them daily and nightly, my father imparted the same love of language and life to me.
Because what is a life if it isn't the accumulation of words, sticks evolving into the figures of memory, the antinomies of text that plot reminiscence and distinguish the light from the dark(ness)?
My father is the kindest man I have known; and he has loved his sons. He remains, after over fifty years, my favourite and best interlocutor. Throughout his life he has been singularly focussed upon providing a template of love, patience, understanding and uncommon curiosity for us boys. He has admonished us to "remember the past," to speak truth to power, to develop methods to critically engage our worlds; and, above all, to embrace this brief crack of light that separates us all from the two dark, unknowable eternities before and aft; in short to love this world and each other.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And to all the rest of our readers’ fathers too.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night
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