Ten years ago, today, my father died. I’ve been wanting to commemorate him for some time, but when I sat down to write, only words of sadness and grief and mourning slipped out. Words of loss. Just because a decade has ticked by doesn’t mean that I am “over it”. I haven’t “moved on” from losing him. My loss is constant. A friend of mine who has also lost a parent, recently likened grief to a piece of clothing that you always wear. Sometimes it is a tiny little broach, or a shoelace, and you barely notice it’s there. Other times it is like thick velvet cape or a woollen scarf that wraps around your head. But whatever its shape, or size, it is always there. And I miss my Dad, every single day since he’s been gone.
But I don’t want to write about my father in a sad way. I want to celebrate him. It’s the things that I miss so much that I want to talk about! So instead of banging on about why it’s so awful to lose an adored parent, I am going to talk about how awesome my Dad was!
A Lifetime Of Hard Work
From a very young age my father had to work very hard. He was the oldest of six children born into a very poor family and was expected to help support them by doing hard physical work in the fields. In 1964, at the age of 23, he immigrated to Australia, hoping to make a better life for himself. He worked wherever he could, getting jobs as a factory worker in a glass factory, collector/seller of copper, a real estate agent and a builder/labourer.
After marrying my Mum and moving to Adelaide, my Dad bought a 50% share in an 18 wheel big-rig! But driving a truck meant that he was away for weeks at a time, leaving my Mum at home alone with a young baby (that’d be me). He hated being away from us but he sacrificed that time to make a better life for his family.
While I was growing up I remember my father having a very entrepreneurial spirit. He bought and ran a fish & chip shop, and he also drove a taxi for many years. But regardless of his day job, he always had ideas about how to make extra money. For many years we had a stall at the Royal Melbourne Show – sometimes selling light-up yoyo’s that we would assemble in our little flat in Elwood. Other years it was hand-painted ceramics that we’d bake in a kiln in our backyard. He also went into business making and selling such disparate items as bowties and reflective silver screens for car windshields. Remnants of these enterprises are still packed away in boxes in my parents’ basement. A reminder that not making a million bucks from an idea is not failure. Failure is when you don’t try. And he always tried.
His most successful career was when he started his own solid plastering business, called Plastercraft. He succeeded because he always put in 100% effort and took enormous pride in his work, and as a result his services were in great demand. While working in the building industry, he practically rebuilt the family home. In fact, I clearly remember being mortified at the rather grandiose wall he built around the house, not to mention the working fountain he put in the middle of the courtyard. But c’mon, I was a teenager. I am not at all embarrassed that his skill and craftmanship were so recognised and renowned that he was commissioned to single-handedly build the same fountain, on a much grander scale, on the grounds of Government House in Melbourne. I am so very proud of that. And I am thrilled that he was able to leave a lasting legacy of his work. If I had kids, I would probably drag them to every Australia Day open-house to see the fountain that Grandad built. I always love to hear that my youngest sister and her partner visit every year.
The last business endeavour that my Dad was involved in was probably the one that actually could have made him a million bucks, if he’d lived to see it through. He started a three way partnership exporting Australian steel to Europe for the purposes of steel-frame housing. Unfortunately, after he got lung cancer he couldn’t keep the business going. After he died, his two partners attempted to continue without him but it had always been my Dad’s brainchild. His baby. Without his passion, energy and knowledge, the business just died with him.
The Life Of The Party
Just like my father, I am a very serious person. I don’t take my responsibilities half-heartedly and sometimes that can come across as being overly solemn or grave. Perhaps even humourless. But that’s OK. Because also, just like my father, I do know how to let my hair down. In certain situations, with the right group of people I’ve been known to… well, we’re not here to talk about me, are we? Let’s talk about my Dad. Yes, he was serious about work and his responsibilities, but he also loved socialising. He loved being with friends and family, convivially plying everyone with food and drink, singing and making music and being merry.
But most of all, he loved to dance. He was straight laced at work, but on the weekends his spirit was set free by the rich, resounding rhapsody of the bouzouki. I remember many festivities in which my father would try to persuade me to join him and the others carousing on the dance floor. I’d cringe in my chair and shake my head. Sometimes I would actually run out of the room to avoid the humiliation. As a 15 year old, I could think of nothing worse than being forced to participate in a round of Greek dancing (except, of course, living in a big white house with a big Corinthian fence around it and a fountain, spewing ostentatiously, in the front yard!!!). Of course now, I would do anything to grab a hold of the other end of that handkerchief and dance a rousing tsifteteli with my Dad.
An Adventurous Spirit
Kon Stathopoulos was a man of contrasts. He had an amazing work ethic, yet he loved being the life of the party. He was very responsible, yet he also took (calculated) risks. I think for him, one thing fed the other. Life would be unbalanced without both, in equal measure. As a result, my childhood had constant exposure to the two extremes. He always paid the bills on time, but as a family we put together light-up yoyo’s after dinner for goodness sake! He always made me do my homework, but when I was six years old we up and moved to Greece for three months in the middle of the school year. I had been selected to skip a grade at school that year, but because of the trip it never happened. You think I give a shit?! I lived in Greece for three months! That kind of life experience is priceless.
When I was 11 years old, my parents bought some rural land with some relatives. It was a 5 acre hobby farm in Cape Schanck, with dirt road access to the back beach which was about 1km away. I do believe that this investment is one of the greatest things my parents ever did. The memories from the farm are amongst my favourite. Ever. Nearly every weekend of my teenage years was spent running wild on this land with my sisters, friends, cousins, neighbours’ kids and the dog from the farm next door. We ran down monstrous sand dunes, quad-biked, rode horses, swam in deep rock pools of crystal clear water, fished and hunted for abalone (probably illegally, but don’t tell anyone). I learned to drive a manual in an ancient Land Rover, chopping across hillocks and sand dunes.
One of my all-time favourite activities was being woken up at 2am and driving down to the rock beach at low tide armed with gum-boots, buckets and torches to go crab hunting. Then, when the buckets were full of flailing, salivating crabs, we would drive back to the farm and cook them up and eat them. Around 5am we’d all go back to bed, stomachs full of sweet crab meat and heads full of amazing memories (including almost losing Uncle Paul when a particularly large wave almost washed him off the rocks and out to sea). Was it reckless, allowing young children out on dangerous rocks in the middle of the night? Probably. Was it one of the most incredible things you could ever do for those children? Absolutely.
Family Comes First
No matter what business my Dad built up from the ground, his proudest achievement was the family that he built with my Mum. Every family goes through ups and downs, and of course ours did too. I went through a period of hating my parents passionately. Then I went through a period of not giving them a second thought, taking them for granted. And then… then I grew up, and I realised that the greatest gift my Dad (and Mum) ever gave me was unconditional love. Yes, he really bugged me sometimes. Other times he was a real asshole. And sometimes, OH MY GOD, he embarrassed the hell out of me (honestly, you have NO idea how much he embarrassed me). But, he was also my greatest fan. He supported me when I gave up hope. He encouraged me when he knew I needed it. And he believed in me, no matter what. My mother nurtured me, but my father shaped me. He was the benchmark for how to live my life and the kind of person that I want to be. My father’s devotion to my Mum also set the bar for the kind of man I looked for in my own relationships. Not always with the greatest of success, but I feel confident that Dad would fully approve of my choice of husband.
I’ve left out a lot. I could honestly write a whole book about my father and what he means to me but I’ll stop here. It’s been ten years today since my Mum, and my sisters and I, lay beside him on my parents bed, in the house that he built, as he took his last breath. Comforting him and trying to ease his passage into the unknown, into death, was absolutely the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life. But I belonged there. It was where I simply had to be. With my Dad.