The Unorthodox Website Blog

Father’s Day

16 Jun


Father’s Day is not something I’ve ever thought about or celebrated. My father was a virtual stranger to me, a foreigner who I hardly remember being part of our family. We lived together till I was 6, when my parents separated and later divorced. However even in those first 6 years my father was hardly ever around. He slept till midday or so and was out half the night.

I and my brother never learnt his language, Greek, because he was seldom around to teach us. One day he asked why his boys didn’t speak Greek, and my mother said he should be at home more to teach us. My father replied that it was the woman’s job to teach children the language. This was ridiculous as my mother is English and didn’t speak Greek herself! However that’s chauvinistic Greek-Cypriot logic for you. I have 1,001 tales like that about my father. ‘In Cyprus we have a saying: women and dogs stay in the house!’ (This was when my mother asked why they seldom went out together.) He was questioned by my mother as to why he slept around, didn’t he love her anymore?  His reply was: ‘Yes, I also love baked beans, but I don’t want them every night!’ More Greek-Cypriot male logic.

We never celebrated his birthday either, nor he ours. My brother and I in later years did get a Christmas check (cheque) from him every year. Once as children we tried to give him a present for either Christmas or his birthday, and he gave it straight back to us. A very difficult man to understand. We had diametrically opposite views on almost everything, so until the day he died (when I was 53) every time we met he’d give me a lecture on everything I’d done wrong in my life, and my brother got similar lectures. We should have our own businesses, we should speak Greek, we should have married, preferably to a Greek or Greek-Cypriot woman, and had children. I am gay, and my brother’s married to a Yorkshire women and they never had any children, didn’t want them. He tried to arrange a marriage to a girl cousin once. She sat next to me and said my father thought she would make a good wife and give me lots of Greek babies – I was having nothing to do with it naturally. Sounded to me like Hell on Earth, a woman and a load of screaming brats! So we were both failures in my father’s eyes, failures who knew little about Greek-Cypriot culture and didn’t even speak his language.

He was living in England for decades, since before the Second World War (he came here to escape an arranged marriage, his brother had to marry the woman because she had a large dowry) and only went back to Cyprus to live some 40 or 50 years later, I can’t remember now exactly when. In all those decades, like many of my Greek-Cypriot cousins, he never learnt to speak English properly, always with a heavy Greek-Cypriot accent in broken English.  On the occasions we met up he invariably took us to Greek friends/relations and they talked in Greek all the time, my brother and I sat there bored stiff and not understanding a word. People would say to him: ‘we should speak English so your boys understand and can join in the conversation’ and my father would reply it was our fault for not learning Greek. We did try once, when we were in our teens, but I found it a ridiculous language with a crazy alphabet, not used or spoken widely in any country but Greece and part of Cyprus. I got on with French and German better, and at least they use our alphabet and are spoken in more than one and a half countries.

However in 1977 my father took me to Cyprus for the first time, and I got to know him a little better, and met my paternal grandmother for the first and only time. An emotional meeting, she died a few months later, but due to the language barrier we couldn’t communicate, only by sign language. (My brother was taken to Cyprus in 1966 and also met our paternal grandfather, who’d died by the time I got there. I couldn’t go with them in 1966 as I was on my first trip abroad, by train, from London to the Soviet Union. My father disapproved of this, not revealing he had traveled to the USSR on probably more than one occasion.)

In my later years I realize, although we had quite different lifestyles and diametrically opposed political and other views, we are very similar in many ways. My father was very opinionated, and I too hold firmly to my opinions which many people find quite extreme. When I went to Cyprus I discovered, although he was never very helpful financially to my mother when she was bringing up my brother and myself, he was extremely generous to people in his village in Cyprus. So generous, in fact, that they erected a monument to him in the form of his name in metal letters on a wall before he even passed to Spirit. When he died his funeral was on the local Paphos news, he was such an important man in the area. A benefactor of Paphos and the surrounding area, including his home village.

I also realize in retrospect, that having escaped an arranged marriage in Cyprus, he later felt trapped into the marriage with my mother. Witnessed by the fact, recently disclosed by my mother, that on their wedding day he failed to turn up at the Register Office, and had to be physically dragged there by my two uncles (who were policemen) from my father’s place of work. He’d just gone into work, not intending to turn up at the Register Office at all. My mother should have been warned when he bought her a cheap wedding ring (more like a curtain ring) and then bought himself an expensive watch in the same jewelry store.

My father remains something of an enigma. He seemed to have extreme rightwing views politically, whereas I was always on the extreme Left of politics. However after he died and I got his photo albums, I discovered he had been to Moscow in what was then the USSR. He may have paid more than one visit, as the photos were in color so of a later period, but he also had the Soviet Calendar from 1947 to celebrate 30 years of Soviet power. This is a large book with color portraits of Joseph Stalin, and I can’t imagine how or why my father got hold of such a book praising Stalinism.

Was my father a secret agent of some sort? I strongly suspect he knew much more than he admitted about certain things, including the British military bases in Cyprus and the Greek invasion of Cyprus in July 1974 (yes you read that right, the Greek invasion, which preceded the Turkish liberation!  See, I told you our political views were diametrically opposed. Apparently.)

The fascist military junta in Athens organized a coup against the Greek-Cypriot government in July 1974, and the Presidential Palace in Nicosia was bombed. The fascist Nicos Sampson was put in power with the objective of annexing the whole of Cyprus to fascist Greece, presumably ethnically cleansing the poor Turkish-Cypriots. However the plan failed when Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus, escaped and turned up in New York to tell the UN General Assembly that Greece had invaded Cyprus (a speech now conveniently forgotten by all but the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot  authorities.)  Britain with two huge military bases in Cyprus and thousands of soldiers, supposedly there to guarantee Cypriot independence, refused to restore the legitimate Cypriot government. Turkey was left with no option but to intervene to provide a safe haven for the Turkish-Cypriots in the Northern part of the island. It has been blamed by the world ever since for ‘invading Cyprus’, but clearly, in view of the British complicity in doing nothing to defeat the Sampson coup, this was a NATO plot to get rid of Makarios, which failed when he survived. However he very conveniently died 3 years later in 1977. Make of that what you will.

What I do know for certain is that my father, who had a picture of rightwing EOKA-B terrorist George Grivas on one side of his mantelpiece in Hampstead and a picture of Archbishop Makarios on the other side, was in Cyprus at the time of the Sampson coup engineered by fascist Greece. He came back to England and removed the picture of Makarios from his mantelpiece, saying the Archbishop was a ‘Communist’.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my father knew a lot more about the coup and the reason for it. Maybe a NATO conspiracy because they feared Makarios was going to give the Soviet Union’s ships access to the Mediterranean via Cypriot ports, maybe even a base in Cyprus.

My father also seemed to know a lot about the British bases. We were driving thru one of them one day (these two bases are more like British zones of occupation. Public roads run thru them, but any Greek-Cypriots arrested for any offense in these areas are tried by British courts under British law.)  There was a big artificial hill inside one of the military compounds, and my father said something about nuclear weapons being stored there. I said I didn’t think there were any nuclear weapons in Cyprus, and he remarked that there were a lot of things I didn’t know (which he presumably did.)

I do, however, now see many similarities between myself and my father. Not just a facial resemblance, but in many other ways too. He was not all bad, witnessed by how he helped people in his village. He always said it was important to make money in order to help people.

He was an avowed atheist, yet donated money to the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox Church, giving money for a Church youth club in his home village. In London he was on the church committee in Camden Town. When we visited a church in Cyprus connected to a monastery, he kissed all the icons and made the sign of the Cross, criticizing me for not doing the same, saying my brother and I were like heathens treating the church just like tourists. In private, however, he’d point to all the land the Church owned in Cyprus, remarking some of it should be given to him to compensate for land lost in the North. He then ranted about religion being ‘fairytales for women and children’ promising immortality, saying when you’re dead you’re dead. Obviously, the Church being so powerful in Cyprus, paying lip-service to it was as necessary as paying lip-service to the ruling Marxist-Leninist Party in the former Socialist countries. You didn’t have to believe in it, but you had to appear to do so.

My being gay was another thing which greatly upset my father. Cyprus is an extremely homophobic country, and gays are simply not accepted, despite their membership of the European Union. My father said a neighbor in his village was that way inclined, so they arranged a marriage to a woman for him and forced him to go thru with it. A Greek-Cypriot cousin of mine who is also gay now lives with his partner in Italy, apparently because the Greek-Cypriot community in England and Cyprus would not accept such a relationship. My father told me never to bring my own life-partner to Cyprus, which made it obvious he had told everyone in his village of the nature or our relationship. However, in his defense, when my brother’s wife-to-be, who also appears to be homophobic, said my life-partner was not welcome at their wedding, my father got on the phone to my brother and told him I could bring whoever I liked to their wedding. Double standards from my father yet again, but there you go. The fact that my brother and I never went into business, as my father hoped, was largely down to my father. He never made any attempt to bring us into his restaurant in Swiss Cottage when we left college or university, or into any of his subsequent businesses (except one time when he had a belt factory and wanted me to fiddle the accounts to fool the taxman, and I refused!) Cousins, however, were brought into the restaraunt as waiters, etc.

One last story which illustrates that my father was wrong about there being no afterlife, and that he is learning certain lessons a little later than I did. He once visited my mother’s flat in Camden Town in the very late 1960s/early 1970s and she took him up to see my bedroom (I was out) because she was so worried about me. The room was a shrine to Communism, with Soviet and Maoist posters on the walls, an atheistic altar to Communism draped in the Soviet red hammer and sickle flag with the Collected Works of V. I. Lenin in place of The Bible and a statuette of Lenin in place of the Cross, and Maoist tapestries of V. I. Lenin and J. V. Stalin on the bedroom door. My mother said my father went beserk, raving about going to his son’s room and seeing murderers on the walls. When my mother told me about this rant, I calmly replied it was a bit rich coming from him, as he had a portrait of the murdering rightwing terrorist George Grivas on his mantelpiece.

I eventually left the British Communist Party and the pictures of Lenin and Stalin were taken down. However the picture of Grivas remained on my father’s mantelpiece, and when he went to live in Cyprus, the wretched picture went with him and had pride of place in a frame on the wall of his lounge. After his funeral in 1998 we were sitting in this lounge for just about an hour, and that picture fell from its frame. I then knew that, on the Other Side, my father was clearly demonstrating that he had now at last taken down his picture of a murderer.

One other thing, my father was a joker. Never knew when to take him seriously. Not too long before he died, I was visiting Cyprus with two friends. We were invited to a meal at my father’s house. His common-law wife was of course not allowed to sit at the table with the men, but had to behave like the servant women were expected to be in that country. While she was rushing in and out serving the men, a friend of my father’s remarked that my dad was now an old man. My father agreed that he was, and that he would die soon. Then he said something which shocked/perplexed my two English friends. He pointed to a rifle hanging on the wall, which he used to go hunting with, and said to his friend: ‘But before I die I take that gun and go up to the village and shoot all my enemies there, then I take it to England and shoot all my enemies there’. Clearly he meant his sister and relations in the village (they were not on speaking terms when he died), and probably me, my brother and my mother (among others possibly) in London. This was evidently a joke, a form of black humor. Glad to say the threat was never carried out, obviously.

Well, we never celebrated Father’s Day when he was alive on Earth, but I hope he has a good one. We should regret nothing we do while here on Earth as it is all experience. We are here to learn from our mistakes and from other people we relate to in order to progress Spiritually. I know I have learnt a lot from my mistakes and from other people, and the Grivas picture falling from its frame at such a crucial time shows me my father too has learnt lessons and moved on.


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