& OPINION: I was rocked (shaken) when I read "Ride
Along the River After the Death of my Father." In particular,
this line: "Till the hearse hid your ass in the abyss."
I thought to myself that not only does the author hate his father,
but since the poem has been entered into the public domain,
he wants the world to know that he hates his father. How old
were you when you wrote the poem and did you in fact hate your
father when you wrote the poem?
FILIP: Well, that poem is a long story! The tone is very definitely
angry. But anger is a common emotion following the death of
a family member. Mine consisted of righteous indignation. I
don’t “hate” anyone.
poem comes from a past life, my born-to-be-wild days when I
would ride on my Kawasaki 650 across Canada and the US, doing
poetry tours, zooming through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance. I liberated myself from my father and the
Second World War a long time ago. Sure, if life gives you lemons,
you make lemonade. But what if life only gives you rotten slices?
Born and mutilated in a DP camp because of medical malpractice
back when I was a 2-month-old infant, homeless, stateless, and
eventually fatherless due to his endless domestic violence,
what was a poor boy supposed to do?
have just curled myself up into a self-pitying ball and died
in some dark corner of the Douglas. Instead, polyvalent talent
served as a booster shot for high self-esteem. (A place where
I intend to stay permanently!) A mother carries you for nine
months, and then a father takes over as your dream carrier for
the duration of a lifetime. It can be the Kennedys and Camelot,
or the hockey dynasties of Howes and Hulls, or a standard legacy
such as yours, I assume. I had no such luck, no goody-goody
daddy, no footsteps in which to follow, no male provider and
protector. My first childhood memory is of my papa throwing
a drinking glass at my mama’s head, and blood rushing
down her arm like a long red glove when she tried to shield
parents kept splitting up, and trying to get back together again
because it was disgraceful in the 1950s especially for an immigrant
family to break up upon arrival in the new land of promise.
My father, a failure of a son, even cut off communications with
his fatherland. All the letters from Lithuania came from my
mother’s side. He had all the vices: drinking, gambling,
womanizing, smoking Simons cigarillos which eventually killed
him with throat cancer. He was a wife beater. He molested my
sister. And he would yell if I simply asked for a nickel to
buy a pencil to do my homework.
leather belt with the sharp buckle and his Pinkerton’s
security-guard pistol were the weapons he used to terrorize
us inside our tiny apartment and — outside. He even burst
into my friend Yvon’s place one afternoon because his
family happened to be the only other immigrants, Germans, living
on Evelyn St. too. In my father’s war-warped imagination,
the Germans were still the despised enemy, even in Canada, still
the invaders of his homeland.
mother stood frozen with horror when he invaded the privacy
of her kitchen and started beating me there. I could feel the
fall of Berlin, and the fall of Stalingrad, and the fall of
Vilnius with every whack of his strap on my arms and legs and
back and behind. Some neighbours watched as he whipped me all
the way home, but they didn’t want to interfere with a
mad maudit polack. Those beatings weren’t exactly
the love taps of Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz,’
or “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar.” They felt more
like Khrushchev’s shoe shaking up the United Nations.
my father attempt suicide twice, but he was only bluffing, I
realized later. We abandoned him the night he threatened to
murder us before leaving for his night shift. Better for him
to come home and discover a departed family, than the police
discovering three dead bodies the next morning. My father was
known to the police but not to me. I had no respect for him
when he was alive. But at the age of 30, I did sneak in to view
his casket during his funeral service, and then snuck out to
write that poem. “Ride Along the River after the Death
of my Father” flowed out in one shot.
& OPINION: How did other family members react?
FILIP: My mother and sister both have repressed the past; mentioning
it just causes too many anxiety attacks. As a form of tough
love, I informed my sister about PIS (Post Incest Syndrome).
But she has always been stubborn ever since I can remember,
and she stubbornly remains incommunicado. My mother, however,
is a happy ending. She’s content for the first time in
her 83 years of life. She’s enjoying quality care at a
nursing home surrounded by mountainsides and workers who give
her kisses and birthday surprises and a stuffed monkey to sleep
mother worked at a man’s job, as a factory hand, hauling
flour bags for Ogilvie Flour Mills. She had to put up with bigots
breaking into her locker and stealing her small change, sprinkling
racial slurs along with flour all over her hair. Then on Sundays,
for over 50 years, her rare alto voice sang Mozart, Verdi, Bruckner,
Gounod and hymns in the Aušros Vartai choir, a
renowned group of vocalists still in demand across the Canadian
and American circuits.
would never admit it but my mother was a performer. Each Christmas,
Miracle Mart would pipe in carols recorded by her choir. I could
mention her imaginative storytelling too, her facility to turn
a phrase as easily as flipping a potato pancake, making up her
own words; her wit coping with any situation, living in the
moment. Her creative needlepoint embroidered pillows that belong
in an art gallery and not on a living-room sofa. She shaped
us with her original recipes for cooking, as well as her unshakeable
faith. So my mother — not my father — instilled
all the right values without any notions about “art.”
There is no dividing line between art and living. Those borders
are unnecessary and too expensive to maintain. That’s
why I don’t call myself an artist. I’m just a man
of many parts.
& OPINION: What events in your father's life caused him
to behave so unnaturally towards his family? What turned him
into a monster?
FILIP: The war did it, and then Canada. My mother said he was
alright until we came here. In Germany, he had been the imperious
man-about-the-DP camp, hands on hips, equal to the predicament,
the cavalier black marketeer. He would shower my mother, a farm
girl, with jewelry and chocolates and a mink stole while the
other camp members were surviving off ration cards.
In Canada, he found himself digging ditches. Manual labour was
an aversion to a handsome devil like him, to the manor born,
flashing his rings. He came from a medical family of doctors
and dentists. Spoiled, not abused. On my birth certificate,
for his occupation, he had stated that he was a “Student
der Medizin.” A medical student. He couldn’t live
up to the expectations of his heritage. And out of the twists
and turns of his mental torque, from shattered dreams, emerged
ARTS & OPINION: So your father’s self-esteem took
a beating from which he never recovered. Could he be to any
extent excused as a victim of events over which he had no control?
FILIP: My father’s entire generation had experienced genocidal
slaughter that had disrupted or terminated their formal education.
So no excuses. The decent, hardworking Lithuanians in the community
adapted to their new environment. They advanced. But my father
couldn’t keep up with the Jonases. He was constantly fired,
first from Canadair, and then from Barnes because they caught
him stealing boxes of potato chips that he was paid to guard.
slowly distanced himself from Aušros Vartai parish,
and must have felt totally alienated in the French east end
of Verdun. Our 3 1/2 with a shared bathroom was his last domain.
He obsessively studied his security-guard uniform which he would
hang in the kitchen. Dry cleaned. Pressed perfect. Wehrmacht
tsik tsuk! An authoritative façade for his inadequacies.
sure he must have noticed Monsieur Cahier, our neighbour, the
postman, who taught me how to skate with my first pair of Pocket
Rocket blades. A dad’s job. Monsieur Cahier also taught
me how to bodycheck his two sons without smashing down the fence
in his backyard, where he would string a lightbulb along his
clothesline above the skating rink at night so we peewees could
shoot and score into the wee hours, our shouts rejoicing across
the back lanes. My father just grumbled to himself whenever
he saw his son fraternizing with a French poupa. He
wouldn’t dare invade their homes.
best friends were French. This is why, as a Lithuanian allophone
historically dispossessed of language and culture, I feel much
closer to the francophones than the anglophones. I prefer the
French pronunciation of my name. My father couldn’t speak
a word of French, and his English was terrible. I was too ashamed
to bear his polysyllabic jawbreaker: Filipavicius. But proud
of my Lithuanian ancestry! The built-in rhymes, speech rhythms,
and musicality of the language influenced my spoken and written
English. So I decided to exorcize the tail end of his name —
(even teachers mispronounced it as “vicious”) —
while retaining my roots and identity.
the “victim” position doesn’t really explain
his maladjustments, because who hasn’t felt socially,
psychologically, culturally, economically, politically, sexually,
or spiritually victimized? No doubt, his existence seemed powerless
and hopeless. But again, that’s no excuse for depravity.
The measure of a man amounts to the number of obstacles he has
to overcome in order to achieve his goals. My father and I both
had to face three major obstacles: a divided self, a displaced
family, and a dysfunctional country.
personal and public issues can both be resolved through one
civilized outlet of expression. For example, after the War Measures
Act of 1970, the PQ victory in 1976, and the lost referendum
in 1980, I decided to create Pluriel: the first bilingual
public reading series in Montreal. English and French authors
still weren’t talking to each other. My dream was to attract
an overflowing crowd of Québecers similar to a hockey
game. With the generous support of Gwen Hoover of the Canada
Council, I stood like an ambassador at the door of Union
des écrivains, butterflies orbiting the fleur
de lys inside my stomach.
have been astonished by the warmth and friendliness with which
I was greeted by Michel Beaulieu, Paul Chamberland, Denise Boucher,
Nicole Brossard, or Gérald Godin. (Not all at once!)
Pierre Vallière even offered to translate my first book
of poems Somebody Told Me I Look Like Everyman. When
I asked Gaston Miron with whom he wanted to read, he replied:
“Le grand Al Purdy!” So I booked the Atwater
Library for an encounter between the greatest national poet
in Canada and the greatest separatist poet in Québec.
The night before the battle of the giants, Al Purdy called me
long distance from Roblin Lake — (so he must have been
serious) — to request that the three of us, Gaston, himself,
and this alarmed host, simply meet at a McDonald’s somewhere
to chat. I couldn’t believe it. It took me about ten minutes
to reassure him that no FLQ terrorists would show up, and that
no rocks would be thrown through any windows. Forget that Anglo
siege mentality. Reluctantly, Al Purdy agreed to read.
rest is a dream come true. Crowds kept streaming in off the
street to the poetry recital just like at a hockey game. That
miraculous event in 1981 was captured on video. And I also cherish
the photo I have of Al Purdy raising Gaston Miron’s hand
up in victory. It was Canada’s finest hour. Nothing like
that will ever happen again. Pluriel led the way to
something like Blue Metropolis ten years later. Would my father
have been proud? A victor, not a victim. No. He wanted me to
be an engineer. But constructing a pioneering reading series
helped to bring our fractured Canadian family closer together.
And it gave me the right to dance on bridges, as fulfilled as
ARTS & OPINION: Did any family member ever try to explain
to him the cause and effect of his behaviour?
FILIP: Which family member? We were displaced. Only four of
us on Canadian soil. Not once did we ever sit down together
at the same table to break bread and talk. That’s how
scared we were of him.
for cause and effect, I was the only one interested in reunification
with our lost family
in the lost country of Lithuania during the communist Cold War
era. A dangerous obstacle.
If you’re not willing to put your life on the line, then
why write? So researching my roots,
I found myself lying low on the floor of my cousin Donatus’
Lada, as he drove me under cover of the night past the Hill
of Crosses in Šiauliai. I managed a quick 1-second peek
at the skeletal presences of about three or four crosses that
had been planted there in political defiance. My cousin Algirdas
suffered the reprisals for smuggling a foreigner into the interior,
off limits from the Soviet-controlled Intourist routes. He ended
up serving a jail sentence of one month because a village snoop
had observed my western running shoes running into his farmhouse.
safely to Canada and began to write about retro-fixing my displaced
past. Edita Nazaraite, a Lithuanian émigré poet
and painter, would translate my verses and then relay them through
an underground chain to be published and read clandestinely.
That was this hyphenated Lithuanian-Canadian’s link to
the human chain in 1989 that joined hands and voices across
The Baltic Way which stretched across Lithuania-Latvia-Estonia
for 600 kilometres in the “Singing Revolution.”
Our peaceful resistance worked. We kicked out the Russians!
Hill of Crosses was spilling over with a forest of cruciform
wonders, towering wooden
crosses or adorable family packs, when I arrived again on Lithuanian
soil in 1993 at the behest of the writer’s union Rašytoju
Sajungos. It was the thrill of a lifetime to receive a
hero’s welcome, making the front pages of newspapers,
appearing on radio and TV, performing in my mother’s birthplace
of Šakiai, and being voted the laureate of the Poezijos
Pavasaris festival for that year. Our minibus transporting
the poets on tour had stopped along a country road to dance
a polka and drink some vodka while feasting on eels, breathing
in deeply the sunny fresh air of freedom and euphoria in Lithuania!
poetry recitals were broadcast on national TV. Little did I
know that my reading in the courtyard of Vilnius University
was being watched by my father’s mother! My 93-year-old
mociute sent my cousin Raimonda (my female counterpart)
to the ali Tiltas hotel where invited authors were staying
— a logical choice since it was the only hotel at that
time with hot running water. Raimonda caught me in the cafeteria
just as I was about to catch my flight back to Canada. To save
a lot of explanation, I gave her my translated poems —
including the one about my father. His mother and sister Emilija
wept while reading it, I was told. Apparently, he was the black
sheep of the family. But joy was the most active ingredient
in their tears. And the most epiphenomenal triumph of all was
that we had found each other. Finally!
& OPINION: As you learned to understand what turned him
into an abuser, were you able to sympathize with him at all?
RAYMOND FILIP: Sympathize with what? The evil in him? His lack
of strength? A father is supposed to be a winner, not a loser.
I remember his loose grasp and laughter while dangling me over
the 4th avenue bridge one day, threatening to throw me into
the canal. It may have been his diabolical way of toughening
me up for the future, father-son roughhousing and all that.
I doubt it. I would have preferred pitch-and-catch as primordial
bonding. Yet, as a kind of polar flip, his negativity did force
me to look for positive role models elsewhere. So he gets my
sympathy vote for that at least. Sports heroes substituted for
an unathletic biological papa not worth the dirt in his bellybutton.
Champions display the courage and grace to shine, despite their
dad? Like an instant replay, I can still see him smashing my
table hockey set against the wall one morning just because it
happened to be in his way on the floor when he woke up. A nice
holler guy! Behind my back, he even tossed out the shoeboxes
full of baseball cards that I had hid under the bed. Again,
he most likely considered himself to be in competition against
outside forces, athletes on screens or in magazines, manly specimens,
seizing control over his son. So who can sympathize with a bad
chance, in the summer of 1960, like an oracle beside the river,
I found a stray golf ball behind the fence of the now-defunct
LaSalle golf course. I started playing that gentleman’s
game in my back yard with a plastic Steinberg’s putter,
rolling the ball over dirt and rocks into a tomato can. I loved
reading about golf lore too. And what beautiful swings! Sam
Snead, Ben Hogan, Gene Littler, poetry in motion — (although
I couldn’t verbalize it back then). And the Big Three,
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were a big hit
with me too. The King, The Golden Bear, and The Black Knight
walked and talked with the gallantry of ordinary gods living
next door. They had risen from humble beginnings to become rich
and famous, masters of the game, family men, and social benefactors
building schools and hospitals in their name. The grand slam
of dreams. I wanted to be like them.
The Big Three had benefited from the encouragement of athletic-minded
fathers. My old man would crush my tomato can when backing up
his car — in between his routine automobile accidents.
He couldn’t even handle a stick shift, so I shudder to
think what he would have done with a 7-iron. He was a cleanliness
freak, always hosing down the dust in our backyard and the street,
getting his jollies off by wetting the pretty French girls passing
by. That was the extent of his sporting interests.
thanks to my descent from his refined bloodline, I can now visit
his side of the family in Lithuania. They are all my trophies.
I now understand my place in our family tradition of dissenting
voices, the train loads of garsiu moniu, prominent
people, who were sent to Siberia to be silenced. Perhaps my
father’s divided self would have been appeased to see
the remainder of our family circle unified in an independent
Lietuva? This time, I plan to play golf at the V course
in Vilnius. Victoriously, it was the first course built to introduce
that capitalist sport into the country after the Soviet regime.
Peace in the world begins from peace within. Past, present,
future: centered. At the end of my poem, I forgive my father.
That is the extent of my sympathy. That holds true this very
minute, as it did over 30 years ago when I wrote it. He’s
been long forgotten just like his beatings that used to keep
me awake in bed, writhing as if thrust through a threshing machine.
Every morning now, I squeeze my GripMaster, a fist pumper, the
same way I used to throw a rubber ball against the wall of a
parking lot each day as a kid for fortitude.
& OPINION: It strikes me, Ray, that you are beholding to
some phony ideal that says we shouldn’t hate our fathers,
that we should forgive, a Christian notion. Nietzsche (Revaluation
of Value) would not only approve of you hating your father,
he might accuse you of dereliction, of being a bad son -- shrinking
away from justifiable patricide when self-preservation demanded
it. I sense that your mind doesn’t like the idea of you
still hating your father, but your gut is telling you otherwise.
Your comments. Did you ever consider patricide for the greater
good of the family?
FILIP: Nietzsche’s mother and sister should have shot
that syphilitic, psychotic (arguably anti-Semitic) walrus disguised
as a philosopher! A mental masturbator.
A backward idea such as “justifiable patricide”
smacks too close to the Muslim- extremist code of honour killings:
dementia in the name of Allah, forever oppressing those lovely
Arab wives and daughters. Nietzsche’s writings even served
as Nazi fodder. This is the year 2012, the Human Genome Project
rules the truth now governing bioethics. Bury those phony, 19-century
racial ideals about paternity and genealogy. It’s over,
end up doing time in a Canadian prison for patricide, using
the “dereliction” and “bad son” arguments
as a defense. As a good son and brother, I told both my mother
and sister that, if I had been older and bigger, I would have
beaten the shit out of my father. When I was a student at McGill,
I happened to spot my father one day amongst the pedestrians
walking in front of me down the same sidewalk. I had grown much
taller than him, and I couldn’t believe that the pathetic
small figure in front of me was the man who had destroyed my
childhood. My muscle memory naturally directed my feet to the
opposite side of the street to get around that human stymie,
and to move ahead with my dreams. I beat him.
my forgiveness did not stem from any “Christian notion.”
It was more of a non-negotiated peace of exhaustion, a Perpetual
Oblivion, Amnesty, and Pardon in keeping with the principles
of European chivalry. Remember, during that period, I was reading
up on Lithuanian history: Gediminas and the Grand Duchy of Mindaugas,
the Polish Partitioning, the Thirty Years War and so on. My
poem put an official end in writing to the 30 years war between
father and son.
& OPINION: Looking back, is there anything you, or especially
your mother could have done, should have done to stop your father?
FILIP: Back in those days, there were no shelters for battered
women — and children. The cop at the reception desk told
us that this was a private, family matter and to go see a priest.
The priest told us that this was a criminal matter and to go
see the police.
& OPINION: It’s no secret that in most cases, whether
the abuse be sexual, physical, or psychological, the abused
is likely to become an abuser. Did you ever find yourself caught
up in this vicious circle, in school, as an adult, perhaps as
FILIP: I’m not a statistic. Individuals can rise out of
the rubble of a “vicious circle” just as nations
can. Look at Germany today. It’s no secret also that most
studies with a controversial result get the publicity. I’m
willing to bet that the majority of the abused out there just
want their children to have the happy childhood that they never
had. That won’t make the 5 o’ clock news.
my wife is infertile. But better than adoption, we have a gifted
10-year-old niece, from a broken home, under our supervision.
My wife and I regard her as a gift to us. She’s following
in my footsteps with her love of reading and writing and learning.
A merry punster. She’s winning music contests already
with her terrific voice. And yes, taking up golf! She’s
a little Filipina who even wants to accompany her “uncle
daddy” to Lithuania.
for my school days, I had to put up with the eternal recurrence
of verbal abuse and corporal punishment from Brother Augustine.
That religious patriarchal goon would whack me behind the ears
if I couldn’t reel of Latin declensions fast enough for
him. When I graduated from Verdun Catholic High, instead of
a high-school leaving certificate, they should have given me
The Iron Cross.
I channeled all of my anger into writing and sports: socially-sanctioned
arenas for violence. There would be no Beethoven, no rock ‘n’
roll, nor a Muhammad Ali, if it weren’t for abusive backgrounds.
President Barack Obama turned out okay, chasing his dreams,
not trapped inside any spin cycle of bad-father vices. So did
Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan. All non-abusive parents
themselves. Daily adversity forces a child to mature faster,
develop leadership qualities, the ability to stand alone. So
I’m not turning into a reluctant elitist, the world is
just becoming more and more homogenized.
my father, I was creative, not destructive — although
I did learn how to swear from him. (My coarse adult language
really “rocked” you!) Those of us who have grown
up fighting for our dignity almost every day of our lives have
to be prepared for that vicious cycle of stigma that stabs like
a service dagger out of nowhere. Walk a mile in my FootJoys.
The love comes from me, the hate comes from others. And yes,
there is one poem in my new manuscript that honestly contemplates
mass murder. I wonder what Nietzsche, if he were still alive
today, would think about it?
no doubt that my death will be marked by bloodshed and tragedy
also. It’s been a persistent pattern that has stained
my entire life since birth: a smiling baby for post-war target
practice inside a Lübeck-Vorwerk, Artilleriekaserne.
Where will it end?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
its entirety, ray’s paean to his father
RIDE ALONG THE RIVER
AFTER THE DEATH OF MY FATHER
remember your voice —
River spray of years
After desertion, divorce,
And the tears and hiccups of growing up
Without a father to figure out life.
I can hear your belt buckle
Across my bleeding ear;
A blank service revolver
Banging against your loaded brain;
Pointed at our heads in bed
After a ritual quarrel.
We wore bloodcrusts
Like a family crest.
Netikelis with no capacity for anything
But to overkill vodka bottles
And communicate hate.
Cancer clamped you by the throat,
Shut you up into a shriveled scribbling
Gagging gargoyle gigolo face
That could launch a thousand ambulances —
‘Til a hearse hid your ass in the abyss.
Wish I could
have heard you singing
On full-tilt UNRRA refugee ships,
Accordions hurled into the ocean.
A DP who did peepee
On his marriage altar.
My papa zipping on a Nazi Zündapp,
Flashing diamonds and leather,
With money to burn in Berlin after the war,
Selling black-market watches and smokes
To schnödes and hoods.
Your parents’ rich orchards and horses
Evaporated under Stalin’s sun.
My next of kin:
Skeletons in a closet as big as Siberia.
Mama could have met a better husband
Picking names out of a helmet.
Honeymoon in a Nissen hut
With nine other bunkbeds;
Homeless bodies scattered
Like broken beads of amber.
No deliverance from war
— Cold or civil —
In Québec: failure.
Another ground zero.
good-time laughter together
Unrolled on redeeming rides along the river.
I was the “navigator,”
The one who could read English,
A boy carrying his father on his shoulders.
We chased the speed of light
In a Plinz sports car,
Getting lost going to Plattsburg Beach.
But sure as apron embroidery,
River roads returned us safely,
Never to sit at one table,
A family of four:
Four prongs on a fork,
Four wrong people together,
Disfigured son and shapely daughter
You denied having fathered
During the postwar baby sh-boom sh-boom.
Dented sense of identity,
Friends became family.
But you found them out,
Beat me in their bathroom,
Beat me in the street,
Beat me behind mother behind the stove
Cowering “like a hen in the corner.”
cancan of courting a second wife
For her property,
You finally hit paydirt:
A dream shithouse by the Lakeshore,
A hole in the ground
To take with you to the grave.
in the fast blur of this river,
At your funeral I felt like a trespasser,
Uninvited, standing still as your heart;
Mahogany casket untouched by my hands.
The river won’t stop for me.
Handfuls of earth flung high into the heavens
Fall back into the boils of rapids.
Black breath of anger disperses
With the peaceful pulse of the St. Lawrence.
Flowers round sun wheels of Lithuanian crosses,
As you left me,
Lost child on
An abandoned road.