“There are two kinds of people in this world…. People who are Greek, and those who wish they were!”
You probably think that this is a line from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But nope, it’s not. This is something that we heard from our dad a lot as kids. I think every Greek-American heard this growing up.
I call my dad “patera” meaning “father” in Greek, but all my friends thought/think I call him potato. On this Father’s Day, I would like to dispel the impression that I am calling him any type of spud and I would like to share one or two snip-its out of my Greek-American life as a kid. Being the second oldest of four (and a girl), there really wasn’t anything that special about me– I wasn’t the oldest or the baby and not the beloved “boy” able to carry on the family name. But looking back, I can say that I was pretty d@mn spoiled.
I don’t want to repeat any cliches about growing up Greek in America. Like how I used to open my lunchbox and the stench of feta cheese wafted through the lunchroom. Or, how my dad used to try to convince every friend I ever had that the Greeks invented everything. Or how on Easter we roast a whole lamb on a spit outside and eat everything, including the eyeballs and make soup out of the insides. I’ll leave that to the movies and stand up comics.
What I know about my dad is that he worked hard to give and provide his family with the best of everything he could, in the best way he knew how. He shared stories of his life growing up in Greece and how it was different than ours here. He provided a perspective on life that when hearing it at the time, it didn’t mean much because we had no way to measure what he was talking about. And when he did, it sometimes sounded like preaching, not teaching. “You should be PROUD to be Greek!” He taught us that there was something special about us, being Greek; we were different. Maybe it comes from deep within the soul or maybe it’s just in the DNA. I don’t know, but it’s there. I mean, how could it not be? We gave the world democracy, philosophy and architecture to name a few.
He made sure that we didn’t want for anything. He set out to provide his family with a better life than he had, and he did. We attended Sunday school and church every week, sang in the choir (my brothers served as altar boys-they can’t sing worth a darn), went to Greek school, private elementary school and graduated college. And through it all he was there, usually stoic in the background, but there providing whatever was needed. In college, it was a Manganese Brown Diesel Two-door Coupe. Boy did I love that car!
I think what he tried to do was live by example, instilling in us the values he grew up with and by doing as much as he thought he could, putting the rest in God’s hands while still hoping that we grow to our full potential and lead full, meaningful lives with axios.
So now, we carry within us the spirit of what it means to be Greek, our passion for life, commitment to family, love of country and never forgetting our past and where we came from. And we share this spirit and richness of culture with everyone we come in contact with.
One last thing about my dad. He’s the kind of man who will give you his last dollar if you are in need and he will give you the best of anything he has in order to demonstrate his love for you. Of course, he doesn’t hesitate to remind you of that, if it will get him a laugh and bring up some good memories. To this day he will tell the same story to my kids every time we visit, about how when “your mauther was leettle I yousd to give herr thee best parrt of my sta-ik. I yousd to cut herr a bite fram the meat that is close to thee bone.” (Please excuse my phonetic Greek accent.) They all laugh of course because they’ve heard this bit hundreds of times and I usually roll my eyes for affect. But it’s true. He did. And I loved it! (Still do.)