My Brother Fathers RememberedMonday, June 16, 2008
As I write this, 11:15 Sunday night it is still father's day. I have been thinking about it all day. In the afternoon the Waterhouse-Haywards (Rosemary and I ) and the Stewarts (Hilary, Bruce, Lauren, Rebecca and the grandparents Nana and Doug) we all had chicken at my favourite place, Nando's on 41st. I was sitting in a corner so I had time to think.
I wrote about my father and the little I knew him here and here.
In 1957 when I finished grade 8 in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila Mexico my mother had few options. She could send me to the conventional state schools. But my mother wanted the best for me so she decided to send me to the nearest boarding school in the US. That happened to be St. Edwards in Austin, Texas.
Little I was to know when I arrived ( I remember crying I missed my mother so much) that I was going to have many surrogate fathers who would each teach me something of value and in such a way that somehow I would grow up to be of some use to society without too many complexes as baggage. In no special order here they are.
Brother Gregory and Brother Theodosius
It is appropriate that Brother Gregory and Brother Theodosius (photo above, left) sit side by side in my 1960 Edwardian (the name of our yearbook). I never got to know them well because I only had them as teachers and I never dealt with them as dorm prefects, etc. Brother Gregory was always cheerful and warm. From him I learned the perfect beauty of plane geometry and how neat and tidy its two dimensions were. With his class under my belt I was not quie prepared to the cold and precise Brother Theodosious. We were almost afraid of him simply because of his stern face. He never punished us or shouted at us. But then, we never misbehaved. I was able to discern his love for how mathematics worked in an ordered universe. When years later I learned to calculate the volume of a sphere using the calculus I understood (if only for a few seconds) how unimportant our complicated human lives are in comparison to understanding the comparative simplicity of mathematics.
Of all the brothers I got to know Brother Hubert most. Besides teaching me ancient history I learned to be frugal. He re-used everything and years later, after he died, they found in his two rooms up the attic of our neo-Gothic building that he had been a prodigious pack rack. Rumours state that there was a fully assembled Model T Ford up there. How did he get it up there? I spent long hours re-winding dance streamers in the school shop that he ran. We chatted. He never gossiped or ever said bad stuff about anybody else. But what he taught me best was to love history and in spite of wars and famine to see the positive. If anything he prepared me to read, comprehend and appreciate the books of Teilhard de Chardin.
I have had a bad back for a week and going up and down the stairs is excruciating. I understand now the terrible pain that Brother Francis lived with. He always walked stooped over (even though he was a young man) like Groucho Marx. He looked and talked like a living saint. I don't think I ever saw him lose his temper. He was a living example of absolute equanimity. He taught me American history and he did it with so much passion that to this day I think I have an edge when I read articles in the NY Times about primaries and caucuses. He taught me to be curious about people so that I wanted to read more about them. Brother Francis must have been a lefty because I learned to love President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I could tell you all about Sacco and Vanzetti, and the Dred Scott Decision.
From Brother Stanley I learned stuff that would probably have landed him in jail because of an SPCA complaint. After all, he devised contests in his biology class where the prize for keeping a dissected frog alive the longest was a box of cigars. I won a box once. His physics class was so difficult that I dropped it. He looked me straight in the face (and when he was serious he was scary) and told me, "It is difficult to quit. But the more you do it the easier it gets. Soon you will be quitting anything and everything that is too hard." I still dropped his class but after that I stuck to my guns with just about everything else. Brother Stanley taught me to be persistent and to love pizza.
Brother Rene was a brother who never taught me in class since I only had him as dorm prefect in grade 10. He was the one who played classical music (or Amos and Andy) after lights out over the dorm sound system. He wore short Wellington boots with one of his pant legs casually semi tucked in. I thought it very cool so I bought the same boots. I admired his masculinity and of all the brothers at the St Ed's he was my male/father figure role model. We rarely misbehaved because we had a quiet respect for him. He wasn't warm, he wasn't cold. He kept his distance just right.
I had Brother Vincent for English and as dorm prefect in my grade 9. He was a sculptor so I learned, through his example, to love the arts, specially painting and sculpture. He took our class to Washington DC and I was so struck by its beauty that I have returned many times since.
Brother Dunstan was my English and English lit teacher. He was hip. He told us about a young English playwright called Pinter. I love Shakespeare because of Brother Dunstan. Even though he had infinite patience he called me in one day and told me, "Unless you improve your handwriting, which is currently illegible, I will not read your homework assignments anymore." For better or for worse I so admired Brother Dunstan's class that I became an insufferable elitist snob.
Brother Myron had a short temper and when he lost it he yelled at us in German. We loved to pick on him (we were very cruel) and see how short his fuse was. But on a one on one basis he was mild, quiet, extremely intelligent and kind. So I went to him and told him about my handwriting problem. Brother Myron told me, "Go and buy an italic nib for your Esterbrook pen and I will teach you how to write legibly." This he did but to an extreme. I had to buy another pen so I could have two nibs. One was for black ink and one for red ink. The red ink pen I used to write much larger capital letters for the beginning of paragraphs. Brother Myron taught me to make complex capital letters with lots of flourishes. Brother Dunstan gave me A+s for my essays.
One year I decided to take Spanish. I was simply lazy. German and Latin involved too much work. Brother Anton taught Spanish and he managed to not be intimidated by the one student in his class who spoke the language perfectly, me. He taught me grammar. My lack of proper grammar meant that when I tried to use logic it failed me as Spanish grammar is not all that logical. Brother Anton had a Pentacon F camera with a F-2 Biotar lens. My Pentacon F with its F-2.8 Tessar lens was a tad inferior. But we compared notes on what in those years, 1956 was a new-fangled type of camera. It was called a single lens reflex.
Of Brother Edwin I have written lots here and and here and in many more places but this will suffice. I think that of all the brothers listed here Brother Edwin is the only one who is alive. I correspond with him with frequency.