“It is not until much later, that children understand; their stories and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the water of their lives.”
The words of author Paulo Coelho lend themselves to the recent work of publisher, writer and former lecturer Helen Nickas, Fathers from the Edge.
The compilation of 24 short stories, a companion to Mothers from the Edge, contains reflections on the father-child relationship by Greek Australian writers from all over Greece and the diaspora.
After writing a memoir on the women in her family, Nickas kept thinking about the complexities of family relationships.
“The inspiration came around 2004-2005; I was teaching at La Trobe University at the time, and interested in writing by women, and in particular by Greek Australian women.
“I decided to see what writers were going to say about their mothers, and not just any mother-daughter relationship, but mothers within the migrant experience,” says Nickas, which is why she chose to include the term ‘edge’ in the title, as she says migrants often live on the periphery of mainstream society.
Following its successful reception, Nickas thought it was time to create a dialogue around migrant fathers.
Among the writers are poets, journalists, academics and those who have a flair for writing, including the likes of Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Eleni Elefterias-Kostakidis, Justice Emilios Kyrou, Dean Kalimniou and Victoria Kyriakopoulos, to name but a few.
While Nickas admits that it is often assumed Greek Australians share similar life experiences, there is great diversity among the experiences recollected.
And though the focus is on Greek Australians, the publisher says this is a book for all those “living between cultures”.
“When you live between cultures, or inside some cultures, it can be very hard; you might not be on the border looking in or looking out, you could be very well integrated in one culture, perhaps not so in the other,” she explains.
Like all others, migrants have everyday living to deal with, but also grapple with deeper issues related to “displacement, language, culture, identity and a sense of belonging (or, more likely, not belonging) to the main culture of the adopted country, while reluctantly relinquishing the country left behind,” Nickas writes in her introduction.
Each story, written in a style unique to the writer, deals with complicated issues in an attempt to untangle the complexities of living a dual life.
Academic Elefterias-Kostakidis was approached to take part in the project during a talk at the Modern Greek Conference in 2014.
Her first time writing prose for publication, she chose to write about life following the death of her mother. Upon deciding to honour his wife’s wish to be cremated, her father was suddenly ostracised by his friends in the Greek Orthodox community.
“He died seven months after my mother. There, where he had a lot of friends around him, he was isolated and alienated. He was very depressed and down; I often say he died of a broken heart,” she says.
While she does admit to showing the “good side” of her father, she is adamant that it is a truthful depiction.
“It was my first time writing something like this, so I wanted to write exactly how it happened, to the point where people who knew him and read it were crying because that’s exactly how he reacted.”
By writing about their parents, the result is a cathartic experience, Nickas says, both for the writers themselves and the readers.
“By revealing aspects of their fathers, they in turn reveal a great deal about themselves,” she explains.
“The writers don’t seek to romanticise their fathers, but rather to understand them, especially as time has mellowed and matured their feelings about family relationships. For me it was a very, very interesting experience and I enjoyed it very much.”
But a child’s relationship with a mother as opposed to their father can often differ greatly.
While Nickas says the two collections are similar in the sense that they are all trying to analyse their relationships with their parents, when it came to their mothers, the writers, all of whom were women, reflected on them in a particularly “loving way”.
“In a way they were apologetic for not having appreciated their mothers when they were younger. But you know women grow up, they become mothers themselves, and they start to appreciate what a mother is,” she says.
“But with Fathers from the Edge, you’ve got the men as well trying to look at their relationship with their fathers, and there are differences between fathers and sons, and fathers and daughters; the reasons why are complicated. Though in general, fathers were a little bit remote, they didn’t have a close, loving relationship with their daughters or sons.”
A significant factor, she believes, is that they were migrants focused on trying to make a living to survive and provide for their children.
Despite the differences, the final result is a touching and insightful collections of stories, evoking the visualisation of the writers all sitting around, and in Nickas’ words, ‘laughing, crying, reminiscing, eulogising, mourning, celebrating, exulting, reflecting, or intellectualising’.
Not only is Helen Nickas creating interesting content, but by asking writers to create new material, she too keeps Greek Australian literature alive and thriving, adding to the reflections on Australian history during the 20th century and beyond.
“The stories can go a long way; they’re not something you just read today. I read something from Mothers from the Edge now and I really get so much out of it; it helps you to understand yourself and your own relationships.”
To purchase Fathers from the Edge, visit www.owlpublishing.com.au/fathers-from-the-edge.html or in store at the Bilingual Bookshop, 837 New Canterbury Rd, Dulwich, NSW.