Fathers And Sons


The Cowboy found himself thinking about Eva Evdokimova the other day.  She died earlier this year at the relatively tender age of 60.  She is undoubtedly still dancing in the heavens.

The Cowboy met her many years ago at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in the office of the Balletdirektor, Gert Reinholm (link auf Deutsch).  Gert was a good friend to a young Cowboy, and he even once gave me the clothes off his back – literally.   It was a very chic jacket that he thought would look good on me.  The Cowboy wore it regularly for a time before leaving it in a friend’s car by the zoo in Frankfurt a couple of years later.

Deutsche Oper Berlin vor dem Krieg

Eva was the quintessential ballerina, living in a somewhat alternate, artistic reality.  She was tall, gaunt, pleasant, but not especially friendly.   She spent the last years of her life in New York at the same time the Cowboy was living there, but we never met again. One of her last jobs was as Ballet Mistress for the Boston Ballet – a short-lived assignment that the Cowboy struggles to comprehend: she wasn’t the type.  Her obituary speaks of her numerous performances with Rudolf Nureyev.

Nureyev, or Rudi, was a far more charming and friendly person.  He shared the other-worldliness that so many great artists share, but he was approachable.  The Cowboy spent a lovely evening having a quiet, post-performance dinner in San Antonio, Texas with Rudi, his agent, Gert and another close friend.  The restaurant and the city were sound asleep, but our table was not – except for the unloved agent, with whom no one wanted to converse.  Gert and our other friend were locked in conversation in German all night.  Rudi’s German was not so good, and he and I were sitting next to each other, so we had a long, fairly intimate conversation over dinner, by candlelight no less. Despite having performed that night, he was very awake and engaged.


Rudi and I spoke of many things, but we ended up spending much of the evening discussing Russian literature.  The Cowboy’s knowledge of the Russian greats was relatively limited, so Rudi took it upon himself to edify and spark an interest in a young Cowboy. Who would have guessed it, but Rudi was well versed in the Russian canon. His favorite was Ivan Turgenev, and especially Turgenev’s 1861 novel, Fathers and Sons.  If Rudi spoke about his own father, those memories are lost, but the topic sounded a strong chord in the Cowboy’s heart.  Here is the full text in the original Russian, and here in translation.

The Cowboy’s own father disowned him as a toddler.   He rode off into the New Mexico sunset and never looked back.  With two strong immigrant women loving and caring for him, the Cowboy tended not to think much of the loss, at least not until he was much older.  Children are adaptable, and, often they can readily accept unfortunate circumstances, large and small, that might incapacitate an adult.  Not to exaggerate the Cowboy’s own trauma, which was either trivial or significant, depending on the frame of reference, but as an adult and father himself, it is an absence that the Cowboy feels regularly.

In retrospect, the Cowboy had many father figures, none perfect, all fleeting: a Chicano high school janitor, an Italian-American Major from Brooklyn, a chess-playing Kansas farm-boy who married a young piano-player he met in Sicily during the War, a Polish defector in Mexico City, a Russian artist and film star for the German studio Ufa during the Nazi era, a Swiss-trained surgeon from New Jersey who met his Mexican wife in Lausanne, a drug-dealing, long-haired roadie, and of course Gert, who gave me the chic jacket.  There were others, too.

A fatherless boy with an absent but larger-than-life mother attracts a surprising number of caring people. Looking back, it is astounding to think of all the people who gave their love to a little Cowboy.  There was the Mexican bus driver who took the Cowboy for a tour and something to eat, the high school girl who brought back a Mickey Mouse pin for a little boy who longed to go to Disneyland with her, the young Mormon from Amarillo who inspired the Cowboy to be a good man, drink milk and eat bran cereal, the numerous men who kept a 12 year old boy from getting into too much trouble while working a physical and dangerous job , the college girl who took him to get his teeth worked on, have dinner and an illicit underage beer in a city in Mexico, a haggard and poor commercial fisherman who taught the boy to fish with an empty beer can and some fishing line, the lounge singer who taught him to shoot a gun…  The list goes on and on.  Sadly, or perhaps indulgently, the problem with small acts of love is that they don’t replace the larger gaps.

Sometimes being a good father is about being there.  One can always do more, and one should try.  But sometimes it’s not the dinner where you hang on every word your son says, or the magical fishing trip or the kite-flying adventure, or teaching him to play chess or the trip to Disneyland.  Fathers always should try to be GREAT fathers.  But what little Cowboys really need are GOOD fathers: fathers who are there, all the time, once a day, once a month – it doesn’t matter as long as they don’t ride off into the sunset forever.

If you are a present father who could do better, go for it; your kids deserve it.  But don’t let guilt over what you could do diminish what you are doing, just by being there.  If you are an absent father, it’s never too late to come back.  Until it is.

And as for those acts of kindness, know that little cowboys appreciate them very, very much.  They are not a replacement, but they are remembered for a lifetime.

Go figure.  It was a Russian ballet dancer with no children who really got the Cowboy thinking about fathers and sons.

As I remember him

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 17:06  Leave a Comment  
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