Six Lessons my Old Fashioned Greek Dad Blessed me With

Old fashioned picture of parents

There are some things I will never forget about my dad

November 2nd marks 20 years since my dad passed away. I was so young when he died — Dad was the foundation of our family.

He kept the structures in place, and when he passed away, they turned to dust. I dreamed about him for several years — and he looked immaculately dressed in the suit we buried him in. He would never talk — only stare at me with an expressionless face. In my last dream of him, I was going through a horrible time — contemplating suicide because I was stuck in such a toxic situation. I didn’t have my fatherly foundation to put his loving arms around me for protection.

In the distance, I saw him with a group of people arguing with me. The sight of him startled me to stop arguing and stare.

Was that Dad? What’s he doing so far away from me, and why isn’t he saying anything? I began to cry uncontrollably, calling out ‘dad — dad’ several times for an answer. I woke up hearing my silent echo of calling his name with tears in my eyes. Dad showed up in several of Mum’s dreams before she was diagnosed with cancer and before the journey of heartbreak began.

He told Mum to pack her stuff soon — that he would come and get her. Those dreams scared me because their love was strong, and I could feel the truth in them eventually, which manifested into our reality. That Church incense engulfed me outside of mums home a few days before she passed, and I instantly knew it was him — he patiently awaited her as promised.

Dad made it known to get ready and that they would finally be together. Although our parents leave us, their lessons linger on for years to come — and are unconsciously passed over to our children. I will never experience that ‘old fashioned traditional’ way I grew up, and it’s precious and sacred, which I will carry until my passing. Here are a few lessons that will never die:

One: Work hard to support your family — no matter what

My dad worked a lot, usually up to 2 or 3 jobs. My parents owned a business together for several years and worked tremendously hard. I also saw my dad work for many years to support us. He’s always instilled that hard work ethic — that staying power to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

His ethics rubbed off on me because I’ve always been the last person standing, going the extra mile no matter what.

Family is one of the most critical units you can have, and looking after them is a privilege as parents, and it silently shows our children the necessary lessons for their future. I love working so much that I plan on doing so for as long as possible. If you have health and enjoy it a lot, why not?

Two: It’s essential to learn how to cook well

Although Dad always said to be a good housewife, I must cook well. Being referred to as a potential housewife annoyed me, but I have always been terrific in the kitchen. I’d make Dad an apple pie from scratch when I was eight, and he’d eat every piece, day in and day out, with his Turkish coffee in the morning.

When I cooked, Dad constantly critiqued my creations, helped me refine them, and made them better the next time. That gave me the confidence to experiment in the kitchen and not worry too much about the outcome.

Eventually, this led me to create a vegan and paleo bakery. I would create recipes from the ground up — just out of my imagination. Selling them in whole foods stores and displaying them in markets and festivals was a great joy. I owe that experience to my dad. He helped me embrace my gift of cooking, and even though I don’t bake a lot now, I make some marvellous meals to keep the whole family healthy.

Three: Practice the things you love doing

Dad always encouraged me to stay creative and do the things I loved doing. I wasn’t big on studying books, although I’d love to read and write (surprise, surprise). My only true love was creating art on canvas or on one of those many hundreds of sketchbooks I’d accumulated.

Sometimes, I’d draw Mum or some landscape. It didn’t matter; I just kept drawing because I loved it. Dad never hounded me to put the brushes or pencils down; he just observed and encouraged me along the way. I’m so grateful for this because I was insecure about my abilities.

What isn’t a teenager insecure anyway? It’s the one thing I take and use on my teenage daughter, and I encourage her to do things she loves and create good habits by practising daily.

Drawing isn’t something you become good at overnight; it takes many hours of endless mistakes, scribbles, and self-doubt. But the more you do it, the better you become. This taught me to push through adversity and keep going. Perhaps you are a banker, lawyer or something of high calibre — that doesn’t mean you should abandon something you love doing. No one has to see your artwork or read your stories. Get lost in the moment and find your ‘zen’ away from the complexities of life — although it might be for only 20 minutes.

Four: Encourage your children to try new things

I had an obsession with photography for a good number of years. I am revealing my age now because I learnt how to develop film and print photos on photo paper! I would spend hours developing and using the chemicals to manipulate images at school — from sepia tones to black and white.

My dad loved my photos and even built me a ‘mini’ darkroom in our laundry that I could use. We lived in a suburb about one hour from a magnificent waterfall.

I begged my parents to take me there; you can imagine how many photos I took when they did! We didn’t have digital prints back then, so I was left up to my instincts, using my eye and creativity as guidance.

It was such an incredible feeling of the unknown — and then unpacking the film in the chemicals to discover the results of my labour. He blessed me by re-creating a darkroom in our home, so I could let my creativity flourish with my camera and imagination. If you haven’t tried chemical film creation, I encourage you to do so. Back when I was a teenager, we didn’t have instant gratification. Imagination, patience and practice were the keys. The step-by-step process of photography is an art and meditation.

Five: Laugh regularly & don’t take life too seriously

Dad would always visit his friends daily for coffee and a good laugh.

Usually, this was accompanied by a smoke — but he enjoyed it a lot. Dad would sometimes come back home with a story to tell us that would bring a bit of comedy into the home.

Laughter was a big thing in our family, as it helped us all forget about our worries. Nothing is perfect, and we all have regrets or something we didn’t explore due to our fears. But, instead of feeling guilty and letting that pull us into negativity — we have to laugh and brush it off. What’s the use of constantly reflecting on negative things that have hurt us? Instead, focus on the beautiful things you have now — no matter how small. There are many other people right now who are worse off.

You are lucky, even though it’s not apparent right now. Make your gratitude obvious by praising those little things and having a good laugh with your friends and family.

Six: One day, it’s all going to end, so focus on the essential things

Dad had regrets when he was dying. The regret of not seeing his three grandchildren grow up, the guilt of not seeing me grow up and being there to protect us. He worked so long and hard and lost a lot. So it’s only natural to reflect on these things when close to death.

Dad wondered if working so hard was worth it — at the expense of not seeing the people he loved as often as possible. But that’s what life leaves us with. We regret so much, yet are obligated to work long hours, pay the bills, school our kids, buy uniforms etc.

These are life’s essentials, and we cannot bypass them. I don’t think we put enough importance on these items that will eventually encourage our kids to be self-sufficient and understand that life isn’t lying on the beach with a cocktail in your hand every day.

Parents must work hard to give their kids opportunities — and they will return the favour in due time. There are moments for work, joy and relaxation. Instead of reminiscing about the lack of time with your family, focus on what you do for them so their life can be of better quality.

What can you sacrifice that’s not important to spend more time with them? We can’t spend every waking moment with the people we love, but scheduling regular catch-ups and doing nothing will add to love points.

It’s not the amount but the quality and attention you give to those you love most.

Now that my parents are gone, I reflect on the beautiful memories we shared as a family unit. Those days were the happiest I’d ever been, and I felt safe, warm and loved in that space, and anytime I want to feel that again, all I have to do is look back on those lessons — which have somehow sprouted and begun to flourish as a 43-year-old woman.

As much as I miss them, I’m grateful for all my parents have taught me and my dad, who gave us many beautiful years of positive influence, laughter and love. Find what things they did and said created the character you are right now.

Hold on to that, no matter where your parents are right now. Eliminate the negative and focus on the wins. No parent is perfect, and we are all just trying our best in the school of life.

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