My dad passed away unexpectedly yesterday at 82 years old.
I am still trying to process this sentence. To many, their dad is someone who is invincible and impervious to death. To me, my dad was no different. As my childhood friends can attest, he had the strongest and largest hands that you would ever seen. As an athlete, I was blessed with my dad’s large hands, but the thickness of his fingers was something that I have never seen. He literally could put a dollar coin through his wedding ring with ease, yet he could barely squeeze that same ring back onto his finger. As a joke, he would walk into the basement where my friends and I would be watching TV, and he would grab their neck and give them the “Greek Massage”, which was simply squeezing them into submission. It was something all my friends were deathly afraid of, but it was kind of a passage into manhood for them as well. You never avoided it; you simply tried to withstand it. No one could.
When I was younger, I was somewhat of an athlete and did very well in the sports of football and basketball. My dad, owner and operator of restaurant, never saw me play a full game. I struggled with this as a child. Why wouldn’t he just come to one game? As I grew older though, I realized how little my dad came over to Canada with. As a Greek immigrant, in a foreign land that he did not know the language, he worked his way from dishwasher, to cook, to owner. He came with nothing, but wanted to ensure that his kids had everything. That is exactly what he did. My dad worked his butt off to provide for his family to ensure that we had an education and we wouldn’t have to work as hard as he did and start from zero. This work ethic is something that has been instilled in my family. My oldest brother once said to me, “Couros’ don’t do anything half way.” That was a tribute to my dad.
As I grew older, my dad knew he had missed out on a lot and did whatever he could to partake. He has met many of my colleagues, as he cooked for many of my staffs that I have worked with as a teacher. He wanted to share his love for cooking with those that I was closest with. As a coach, I even brought my entire basketball team home for a tournament. As we had some problems with accommodations, my mom and dad had 12 boys stay at the house one night and cooked a big meal for them. My dad made up for missed time, by cheering on my team that I now coached. One of my favourite moments was my dad coming to watch me referee basketball game, something that he knew I loved. With all of the harassment that a ref gets in a game, my mom and dad sat in the stands and cheered for everything I did. Imagine that…a dad cheering for his son the ref. When I got off the floor, my dad marvelled at how fast I was (which I wasn’t) and the endurance that I had to play the entire game. He kind of considered the players wimps, as they got breaks, but I didn’t.
As a kid, I just wanted to make my dad proud, and you could see the sparkle in his eyes, yet you could also tell the resentment he had for what he had missed. He did everything in his later years to make up for that lost time. He followed where I was speaking, he read my blog, he looked at my tweets, and he would send me messages on Facebook and email, although he never learned to read and write english formally. My dad was the most connected 82 year old I have ever known.
With a grade 2 education, my dad was a constant learner. Any technology he could get his hands on, he wanted to play with. We had the first VCR in our hometown, and the price tag was near 2000 dollars and it was in two large pieces. He loved that thing, and would often take the video camera he made and create videos of family events. He bought a horn that had 99 preset songs for his van, and it was the coolest toy ever. Anything we had, he wanted, and he learned to use. He played, learned, and continue to grow. My dad was 45 when he had me, yet he was never too “old” to learn anything. A model for students and staff and how we must continually grow. My inspiration for why I have the mindset that I do.
People loved my dad. Not only because of the way he cooked, but most importantly, how he connected with people. He would often come out and talk with people that came to the restaurant and he created a bond with them that made people want to come back. He loved people and him taking jabs at you and laughing was his way of showing love. As I gave my first “speech” at my university convocation, I was lucky enough to do the “toast to the parents”, and in about five minutes, I had people rolling in the aisle taking jabs at my mom and dad, making jokes at their expense. When I walked off the stage, my dad hugged me and again, he was proud. He loved seeing people laugh, but was a lot happier when it was from one of his kids.
My dad was not the most affectionate person when I was younger, but that grew a lot in the last part of his life. I would often say “I love you”, and receive the response of “I know”. I knew my dad loved me and had always accepted that was just not his thing. But in the last little while, he had started saying “I love you” every time I got off the phone with him, and when I would leave the house. My mom was the “crier” in the family, but my dad took this role lately. He loved his kids more than anything. The invincible man was the biggest teddy bear you would ever meet. The gig was up.
As I sit in the airport, writing this, as I wait to return home, I think of our last conversation. I told him about my trip to San Francisco this week and he just asked me what I was doing. I don’t remember much of what we said, but I remember him coughing a very dry cough and sitting there listening. He told me “I love you”, and I returned with “I love you too”. For a man that had trouble saying it, he had no problem in our last conversation. You never want to see your dad go, but if you are going to have last words, there is no other words I would want to hear.
If I know my dad, he is probably reading this blog right now. That’s what he did. So this is too him.
Thank you for ensuring that I had every opportunity in the world. Thank you for modelling what you want me to be. Thank you for always laughing and having a sense of humour. Thank you for inspiring me to work my hardest at whatever I do. Thank you for teaching me to be generous. Thank you for showing me that you can be a tough man that can show love and be affectionate.
I love you and I miss you.