My Father, The Paradox

by Brenda Athanus
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brendadad1I met my father when he was fifty, I was a newborn and he was in the twilight of his life. He attached like a lion protecting his fold and he never let go in a tender and loving way. My dad was a paradox. He migrated from Albania at the young age of 5 with nothing to carry because they had nothing and anything was an improvement: simply arithmetic. James Anthony Athanus was a force to be reckoned with, he knew who he was and he knew what he wanted out of life. You either loved him or not, but if you didn’t embrace him believe me it was a fatal judgment call on your part.

My Father was all of 5’8” but he ‘operated’ like he was 6’4” with all the trimmings. Charismatic, handsome, impeccably dressed, full of common sense, fine manners and always right - oops, did I say that? Well that has taken a while to admit it slipped out and I fear his wrath if I delete it.

He was a delight and he was MY dad. Older and a whole lot wiser than all my friend’s fathers and he was a true hedonist of the old-fashioned kind. No, not a Diamond Jim Brady but he knew good food and critiqued a dish until it was ‘proper’.

So, the unanswered question still - how did a five year old migrating from Albania who struggled to find food since birth, which continued for a few more years in America, be SO discerning? Don’t look at me, I still haven’t any answers but he has my respect and admiration after all these years. I still don’t understand him - he was a royal maybe not in this life but definitely in his last one.

Okay, now I think it is time to tell you what he looked like. His eyes were his defining feature: a perfect solid chestnut brown and the whites of his eyes were a tad yellow, not unhealthy but aged. My Father had a story and eyes were the front cover. His hair was wavy and black and never turned white or solid gray and I knew him for a while. His teeth were perfect but a European yellow. He dressed in a suit everyday of his life at sunrise and then he’d sit and drink his mucky Greek coffee that my mother lovingly made for him as they talked, non-stop.

brendadad2His coffee had to be boiled 3 times, each time removing the almost boiling over coffee and quickly returning it to the red hot electric burner. He liked it sweet and he never drank it in a demi-tasse, always in a large American size cup with a saucer underneath. He drank 3 or 4 cups in the morning, everyday and then he went to work while my mother stayed at home to get my sister and me ready for school as she shifted gears into her day. The 3 of us, talking away…her making the best feta cheese omelets in the world.

At 10:30 it was breakfast time for my parents. We were long gone to school and my dad’s coffee was starting to wear off but I’ve always thought he missed my mom and their cut to the chase, pillow talk in broad daylight plus he loved how my mom cooked and she cooked like an angel.

Thank God she loved to cook because she cooked constantly as well as managing to run a successful business and do all the accounting as well as raise 2 energy filled kids. She made double-meals at breakfast and lunch but dinner was a family affair. We at late, continental style. Not true, we ate late because my parents had to decompress from a hectic work life and we adapted. Afternoon snacks were de rigor, so rare compared to my Mayflower landed friends who had to abstain from ‘all’ afternoon snacks in our Catholic community. My sister and I kept the secret of our decadent childhood raised by progressive and loving parents that were radically different from the rest of central Maine.

To say that I had a wonderful Dad would be an understatement. He wasn’t perfect but he wasn’t dull and if I had to spin the bottle, un-dull wins every time.

cocktailsTwo weeks before my Dad died he invited me out for a cocktail, just the two of us.

No, I wasn’t expecting our conversation to unfold as it did but I cherish that it happened. He said, “order a cocktail.” “I’m underage.” “Order a cocktail, don’t worry, they’ll serve you, he repeated.” “Okay, Jack Daniel’s on ice,” in my best grown up voice.

And, he was right, they did serve me.

We clinked glasses and he said “I have had a wonderful life. I have known bountiful love and I am eternally grateful for that but my body is tired and weak,” he said as tears poured down both checks. He was never embarrassed to cry. “I want you to know how much I love you and I wouldn’t change a thing but I won’t be around too much longer. Let’s talk about everything this afternoon and squeeze a lifetime in.”

Two weeks later he died peacefully, at home in my mother’s arms….

Happiest of Father’s Day, James Anthony Athanus with boundless love, your proud daughter.

 

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot

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