I have outlived my father by a week or so. He died on March 29, 1993; he was 62. I turned 62 on March 3. I have lived longer already.

When he died, I had just turned 31 and had just started a new life in Melbourne as the director of Multicultural Arts Victoria.

Keating had won the unwinnable election, and Kennett was about to become the new premier.

As my father was being lulled into his endless sleep by Hypnos, Thanatos’ brother – he said he was happy to die knowing Keating had won the election.

My old man arrived in Australia in 1957 “for adventure,” as he’d say.

His mate, when they served in the Hellenic Air Force, was migrating to Australia and asked my father to come with him.

They thought they’d make money and return home in a year or so.

My old man completed his compulsory 24 months of service Air Force and six months extra for bad behaviour.

The ‘bad behaviour ‘was being a communist. He had missed out on being sent to Makroniso by two months. The process of the desert island where they exiled left-wingers after the fratricide of the Greek Civil War 1945 -1949.

In Adelaide, he met his mate’s sister, Barbara, and they fell in love. He wasn’t the right guy for them. He was urbane, read too much, and was not a salt-of-the-earth good Greek boy. She became my mother.

His first attempt to live in Athens was in 1966; we returned, then returned again to Adelaide in 1971.

My mother and he never went back.

By most Greek immigrant standards, he was unsuccessful. A petty bourgeois man with only one sibling, a younger brother, he was not cut out for the factories of Australia.

He was not ambitious or entrepreneurial. He had an embarrassing amount of books and an intimidating intellect.

In Australia, he played cards and beaded wedding dresses, which my mother sewed. Neither of them seemed to sleep.

I was the only university student to come home at any time of the night, and I was usually wasted when those two were up sewing or beading, listening to the leather-bound radio on some soft rock station, or watching TV.

“Hey, look, Barbara, our son is back”, he’d say sarcastically, aligning the beads on the silk materials while trying not to drop ash from his ever-present and lit cigarette.

“Your father is right; what sort of time is this, 4 am?” my mother would chime in.

I liked their agreement; that meant they were happy. Anyway, I didn’t care; that was my problem, according to them, “careless” and “not serious.”

Thanatos calls

One day, after complaining about “something” in his eye, he came back from the doctor ashen-faced.

“Cancer of the eye – melanoma”, melanoma, literally the inky darkness.

He had the eye removed. And soon became very alive.

Photo: Supplied

All the plans died when, a year later, the secondary cancer hit his liver.

He had little time left. He tried to make up for a time, and we became close as a family.

We even went to the cinema to see Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It was the first cinema we’d been to together since he last took me to see Born Free in the late 1960s.

In the cinema, I remember Mum and him crying over Dracula’s eternal love for his dead wife. My sister and I could never have seen that film again without thinking of our father.

That year, I left for Melbourne and would visit as often as possible.

I would ring from Melbourne and hear his voice diminishing over the phone.

March 1993 was my final visit before he died. My sister said I should, as he was fading.

His paper-thin skin was stretched over his bones, and his legs had become bloated purple melintzanes (eggplants)

I saw him die in hospital. He lifted his arm and counted “One…Three… Five…” then expired.

My mother wept over his empty body.

“Tasso mou” (My Tasso) “Agapi mou (my love), what will I do without you?” she kept repeating.

I knew my father loved me. I had no doubt.

But ours was a usual Greek father-son relationship of that time.

I never fully met his expectations.

Regardless of how well I did at uni, I wasn’t as intellectual as him.

I did not become a lawyer or a politician.

In hindsight, I know he was angry at himself. Due to migration, he never met his full potential, so it was my role.

“You’re not serious enough, just like your salesman uncle, my brother” he’d say.


Baba I want to be a comedian

He never stood in my way except once.

I came home from uni enthused at my comedic prowess one night and said.

“Baba, I will become a comedian.”

He ashed his Senior Service and turned to look at me with a death stare—the sort he used to give me as a child when I reached for the nuts or an extra piece of cake when we visited people’s houses.

“Barbara, get our son’s bags ready. He is leaving home,” he said.

He then lost it.

“You’re not funny, who told you you’re funny?

“I did not migrate here; I lost my whole life to have a comedian son, a clown!”

“Don’t talk to him like that; you’ll give him a complex”, my mother and eternal defender jumped in.

Before I knew it, an argument had blown up between them.

He accused her family of being “illiterate fascist peasants”, and she accused him of being “a failure” and “a monster”.

Screaming, crying, swearing. The usual uncontrolled interlude in an overworked, stressed, petit bourgeoise family without money ensued.

Regardless of my comedic genius – I did politics at uni. In hindsight, I am glad.

I met almost every expectation and consistently wished my father was around to see me.

When I worked for a period in Washington D.C, a year after his death, I wanted to pick up the phone and say, “Hey man look at me.”

“He would be so proud of you,” my mother said.

When I became a premier’s adviser again, my mother said, “Only if he could see you now.”

I named my only child after him, Anastasios, which means resurrection.

Given we were never religious, in fact, atheist – it was my father’s resurrection I sought.

Now, at 62, not a day passes when I don’t hear him speak in my head. The words that often come out are his words.

My arguments with my son, wife and others are his arguments.

The disdain I cannot contain for stupidity by what should be intelligent people, is his disdain.

The anxiety of not having reached a telos, a point of happiness, is his anxiety.

When my son decided to drop international politics to study teaching, I lost it.

My shrink said I was “crazy”.

“Yeah, okay. That’s not the point; we know that, but I had it all set up,” I said.

“I told him to start interning for the Labor party, which I had all set up because while young and living in the north, they’d think he’s a wanker if he moved to the Libs.

“However, if he did not get the posie he wanted by 35 in Labor, I’d shift him into the Libs – which I had set up,” I said.

“Who’s talking in your head, your father? You? He hasn’t told you he doesn’t want to study; he hasn’t told you he’s on heroin!” my shrink said.

I loved my father. I outlived him, but I wish he could have seen me become a man.