My friend Evan’s tribute to his father resonated with how I feel about my dad. Evan tenderly illustrates the importance of recounting a parent’s influence and meaning in one’s life. I share this in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same, if not at least contemplate gifts and lessons you’ve received from your parents.
By Evan Brown
No recipe, but maybe an acknowledgement of the recipe of life. Sometimes we face moments we know are coming, think we are preparing for and find ourselves so unprepared and wishing for more…more time, more conversations to say all the things we wanted to have the chance to say, more time to just be in the same room enjoying their company.
My father, Lee Brown, passed away, gently in the early morning. He was 82 and had spent a long time with some serious lung issues. I will really miss him, for all that he shepherded out of me. He taught me so many things, things that in some ways are so ephemeral. He taught me how to think and how to reason. He taught me to look deep into questions, consider all the points and how to explain my reasoning with confidence but not arrogance. He taught me to question things, including myself, with honesty and integrity. I might have many times failed some of these lessons, but I think they took hold.
My father was a philosopher of aesthetics, and I mean that like the kind who taught at Ohio State University and wrote books. He was a man of incredible knowledge across a dizzying array of subjects, wickedly well read and with a steel trap of a memory. A simple walk down the street with him was an opportunity for him to share his knowledge about any number of things. From botany, biology, chemistry, ecology, history, art, literature, music and philosophy, he could always teach you something while being conversational. As my stepmother so perfectly put it, he could as easily discuss Proust as farm pond ecology. And when he read an author…he read all their works. It was always right that he was a professor.
He most loved music, especially jazz, but he could also talk about such a wide array of musicians as Sid Vicious, John Zorn or Bartok with equal ease. I shouldn’t even put any classical in that list because he knew as much about classical as jazz, at least from my point of view. The point being, he was very aware of currents in all kinds of music, interested in them and loved to discuss them.
Jazz, though, that was his music. The music he most loved. The house was filled from top to bottom with jazz music, from piano rolls all the way to mp3s, my dad had the complete history of music playback technology represented in the mediums and devices tucked everywhere in the house, most of it jazz. He loved it and lived surrounded by that music, the music of my childhood that filled the house.
He really, really loved live music, loved taking others to hear what he found and wanted to share. From the concert hall to the seedy, gin joint, he moved with a style and ease that I have never seen matched. He was equally at home in either environment and many in between. He could engage with the musicians with humor and respect. It is why, at his famous Hair of the Dog New Years Day parties, so many musicians came and played for the crowd.
It was this love of the live music, and jazz, that led him to become a jazz critic, writing for the Other Paper. He gave voice to live jazz music in a time where it was so easily drowned out by rock and then other forms of contemporary music. He took his job as a critic seriously, but I believe that he had a light touch when he had something critical to say. I know he wanted people to really listen to jazz, and saw his mission as giving encouragement to the entire local scene, warts and all. And when he had something great to say, he said it. His columns were about the music, his impressions, and his respect for the bands and musicians, but not about him.
I have so many memories right now, all competing, about what an intense and magical light my father was. I am barely hitting the high notes, but maybe like good jazz or a good stir fry, some things just need to move, letting the magic of the song or food play out.
I bet some are wondering where the intersection is between my love of food and cooking, and my dad. I think I needed to share a bit of his mind, his intellect and his passion before I could share how he influenced my love of food. From the earliest age I can remember, my dad was dragging us (willingly) to any new, ethnic restaurant that was popping up. This at a time in Columbus (and really the nation), where the food revolution hadn’t really started yet. We were just coming out of the time of casseroles with cream of mushroom soup, jello molds and the like.
While my step mom and mom taught me the process of cooking, the constructive part, and beauty of certain combinations, I really think my dad help develop my palate. From eating really amazing Hot and Sour soup in a little hole in the wall Szechuan restaurant, to Bulgogi in a funky old house turned into tiny restaurant tucked just behind High Street, to my first Thai food (and first Chicago style dog) in Chicago, and eating real KC BBQ at Arthur Bryant’s, just so many firsts were had as a child in my dad’s tow. And my dad, just as he loved taking and sharing the live music he had found, seemed to have the same expression when he got to share a new cuisine, a new restaurant. I am sure that it was more complicated than this. I know all my parents (all 4, you figure it out) are and were lively, experimental eaters and loved trying new things. But this is my childhood memory how my dad was.
I remember the two of us trying to deconstruct Arthur Bryant’s BBQ sauce, tasting from the bottle and vainly trying combinations of ingredients. I was too young a cook at that point to have any great insights, but the experience never left me. It was moments like that, with my dad, concocting, that started my love of cooking.
So with that, to a great mind, a great wit and a man of great charm and love, I say goodbye, Dad. You started me out well on my journey. No one can ever be like you, and I know there are so many others out there who feel the same. Your loving son, Evan
Evan Brown writes a regular blog on making the world a better place through cooking that is healthy, interesting, and much more about people rather than profits.