“Finding Father: Stories From Mennonite Daughters”
by Mary Ann Loewen
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-775909
What do you get when you take fifteen literary daughters writing essays about their Mennonite fathers and combine them in one anthology? You get Finding Father: Stories from Mennonite Daughters-a comprehensive, compassionate, and well-written portrayal of men who were loved for all they were, and forgiven for what they couldn’t be. You get frequent mentions of generosity; the immigrant experience (the journey and the politics that led to it, poverty, language challenges, large families, stoicism); great but often quiet faith; ample encouragement (particularly re: academic aspirations … Mennonites are “people of the book”); music; leadership; eventual illness which led to death; and, frequently, the wish for a more emotionally intimate and physically demonstrative relationship. You also get the personal memories-best delivered through imagistic snapshots-that make each father-daughter relationship unique.
Vulnerability is at the heart of memoir, and the talented contributors candidly share both what pleased and pained them in their relationships with their fathers, but as authors and subjects are both Mennonite, “cultural artifacts”-particularly religion, whether the family adhered to the Mennonite Brethren denomination or another-play a key position in the dynamics. Many of the writers mentioned praying on one’s knees.
Though the men featured contain numerous similarities in their experience and personalities, the essays also underscore how misguided it would be to make generalizations. Ontario’s Rebecca Plett, a cultural anthropologist, writes about coming out to her parents, and her father’s unexpected, wordless response: “My father, usually so reticent to touch, without hesitation rose from his chair across from me, moved around the table, and put his arms around me.” She credits him for an ability to “access a language of meaning and feeling beyond words”.
Governor General Award finalist Carrie Snyder’s opening essay details a father who taught Peace and Conflict Studies, “yet his divorce from [her]
mom, after thirty-four years of marriage, was marked by extreme acrimony,” and Ruth Loewen, in “Requiem in Three Voices”-an essay with contributions from three sisters, including Winnipeg’s Mary Ann Loewen, the book’s editor-writes that after her father’s stroke, “virtually [their] entire relationship was wiped out, literally overnight.” Mary Ann comments upon how this stroke actually improved her father’s “spiritual vision” and gave him the ability to “love and accept all kinds of people”.
Though “love” between each of these father-daughter duos is never in question, it’s telling how dearly many of these writers desired more physical affection from their dads. Vancouver’s Elsie K. Neufeld recalls her father shaking her hand as he wished her “Gute Nacht,” and admits that she would “feign sleep” in order to be carried by her father from car to bed.
This fine collection follows Loewen’s Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men. Both books are recommended for anyone who appreciates thoughtful nonfiction that increases understanding of one’s brethren.
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