A tribute to our immigrant parents’ generation: My Father

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By Kathy Karageorgiou

Working since he was 7, never complained about a thing all his life’s been tough, yet he still finds time to sing

His father died when he was young, so he was left in charge, In charge of a mum and sisters, while a war was on at large.

I’m one of his two children, and he has a loving wife, Now he’s almost (90)* and I’ll love my Dad for life.”

written by me when I was about 10, *(changed to dad’s age today)

Wonderful stories. Amazing, resilient people. Our Greek-Australian (or Greeks in Australia) parents stories.

I couldn’t resist but to write about my father. I couldn’t resist back then on his birthday, as the above poem shows, and I can’t suppress the urge now – even though it’s not his birthday.

Perhaps I just miss my Dad, as I live faraway in Greece, and saw him last time, in 2018 for four weeks when I was visiting Australia. Though, I think there’s more to it than that. Perhaps I’m biased, but even if he wasn’t my father, I’d want to write about this man who I consider to be a great man; a role model; a hero.

I always sensed that Dad was somewhat different to most Greeks of his generation in Australia. He didn’t care much for money and material things. He was, and still is, into learning, singing, conversing, life! He was born in 1933 in Patras, Greece and came to Australia in the 1960s to escort his 6 year old nephew to the latter’s parents who had been working in Australia.

My Dad had no intention of staying in Australia, as he had a job back in Greece that he enjoyed, waiting for him. Alas, he met my mother and stayed on in Australia, had a family (me and brother) and worked hard – night shift, to pay off a house and provide for his new family, but also feeling responsible for his unmarried sister back in Greece and hence sending her money.

What is more, he refusing to let my mother work as he wanted her to have a stress free life. Dad is still in Australia, apart from a few trips to Greece. I moved to Greece in 2000 with my husband and then 2 young sons hoping Dad and mum would move here soon after…

In Australia, my Dad worked as a baker at large industrial type bakeries. and we’re not talking hot bread shops. We’re talking big factories producing tons of bread where the noise was deafening – hence my father’s hearing problems now. But Dad abhorred being part of a subculture of worker’s compensation claims and so worked on until the age of 75.

As a child, I’d visit Dad at work sometimes. I remember him with his loose white work pants on and bare chest lifting long, wooden paddles into huge ovens and almost simultaneously manually adjusting the large, circular dough mixing machines.

He’d be singing, and sweating, and as cheesy as it may sound … be further imprinting his heroic status in my mind. Not to mention at home, with images of him, back turned while he was shaving in his white singlet. I was fascinated, and if he’d catch me staring at him, he’d turn smiling with shaving foam still on his face, and lift me in his arms and spin me around. I know it sounds cliché, but I swear it’s true!

Back to his much consuming work though, whereby my Dad in fact began learning the bakery business at the age of 8, in Patras. Yes, that’s right, he went out to work, to provide for his mum and sisters at that tender age because his father died.

This was during WW11 when both the Germans and Italians bombed Patras, and my dad recalls seeing people hung in the Psila Alonia Square close to his house, not to mention seeing dead people on the way to school and work in Trion Navarhon Street, now a trendy paved walkway with cafes and restaurants.

My Dad’s sisters would tell me how they came to despise the “horiates”, the villagers because they felt that they took advantage of the city people, including Patras (Greece’s 3 rd largest city incidentally).

They related to me that they would sell ornate, wooden furniture from generations back to them, “for a handful of sultanas”. My father did not mention a word about this. As was his way, he just gave a good natured, half laugh, indicating with a hand gesture “that’s all passed”.

His sisters also told me that he would have to go down to the local cemetery and pick weeds amongst the graves. These weeds would be boiled, constituting many meals for the family, as starvation was rife back then due to war.

My aunts would also relate how they shudder to this day when they hear our Greek Easter fireworks, as it reminds them of the bomber planes that used to fly down low and bomb their nearby (again, Trion Navarhon) street. They would often spend days and nights in the bomb shelters close to their house too, which can still be seen today, under the stairs of Psila Alonia.

And yet, with all these early childhood hardships and traumas – I have never heard my Dad complain.

He is always positive, with a great sense of humour – an intellect that betrays his leaving school early due to war invoked poverty back then. He has read and re-read and I’m sure memorised the World Book Encyclopedias, apart from reading both English and Greek newspapers every day, and borrowing to this day, many books from the local Northcote library.

His mind is still curious, and he is and has been my true teacher. He has brought me up, gently and humbly, stressing to me the love there was amongst his mother and sisters and himself in their poverty stricken house, and that where there’s love even a shack is paradise, thus not to care much for material things.

He’d also discuss history with me, and tell me adventure stories when I was a young child. Due to his night shift work I’d lie beside him to spend some time together, and even in his tiredness, he would always take me in his arms and tell me how much he loved me and succumb to my demands for “the stories about the wolves, baba”. Even though I knew they were perhaps imaginary, I not only loved hearing his voice, but also his mind.

Every Sunday, on his day off, he would take me, sometimes accompanied by my god brother and two god sisters of my age, to the port at Port Melbourne.

We would look at the ships, and sometimes board them (this was in the 1970’s) and I even once boarded a submarine with him. And we’d buy hot, crinkle cut chips in a cup, from a food van there and feed the seagulls. As a return treat, I took my now elderly Dad to see the Averof ship moored at Paleo Faliro in Athens, on his last visit to Greece with my mum in 2010.

So much more to say about my dad, so little word space, so much life, so much feeling, so not knowing where to start and end.

My Dad’s final wish is to come back to Greece, but alas my mother doesn’t want to, and being a good family man who loves her dearly, will have to wait – for her to perhaps change her mind.

I hope he makes it here. Regardless, he lives with me forever.

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