It is universally agreed within my family that our father was the most unique person we’ve ever known. We don’t have grand illusions that he was the greatest dad, best husband, or most successful man, but when it came to being distinctive, unfathomable, and just downright otherworldly … ladies and gentlemen, the Oscar goes to … Chris T. Yoannou.
Born in a small village in northern Greece in 1934, his early memories were of the mischievous trouble and fun he had during the WW2 years, with no school to bore or structure him and all the adults preoccupied with other issues, like food and survival.
Arriving in Canada in 1947, he and one of his older brothers, speaking no English, were placed in the local elementary school. Dad would boast that our Uncle Jimmy was the best athlete the school ever had, breaking all the records. For years, we were so proud. It was only much later that we realized Uncle Jimmy was 15 years old at the time, probably had a moustache and hair on his chest, and was undoubtedly faster and stronger than his nine-year-old classmates. But still, a record is a record.
Dad’s family and community were mostly conservative, business minded people, hard working immigrants in the restaurant industry, putting in long hours, saving every penny, supporting their families.
Dad went against the grain. He was fascinated with Shakespeare plays, memorized almost every English word in the dictionary, spent money recklessly, befriended oddball characters, championed the underdog, dreamt of forming idealistic societies and clubs, smoked like a chimney and drank like a sailor (until medical issues required him to quit both habits cold turkey, which he remarkably did).
One time, my uncles, who ran our family’s restaurant, sought to take one day off per week and they asked Dad to manage the business on Sundays for them. Dad jumped at the opportunity of being in charge and proceeded to invite dozens of friends for evenings of free food, drinks, storytelling and laughs, turning Sundays at the restaurant into one big party. Not long after noticing the significant Sunday losses, my uncles fired him .. but still loved him.
Dad was remarkably liberal in relation to his peers, but he always wore suits, and his idea of relaxing was taking off the jacket and loosening the tie.
He was a deep thinker, and his mind was always elsewhere. You would ask him a straightforward question, “Dad, could you pick me up from school later today?” and he would look back, almost right through me, and answer, “So, who do you think shot JFK?.” I don’t know Dad, I’m only eight years old.
When asked late in life by new people he met if he was retired, his standard answer was, “Retired? I haven’t even started.” Asked what his job was, he replied with a straight face, “fresh air inspector”.
He was a great “ideas man”, but not so good with “putting the plan into action.” Schemes and dreams. God bless Mom for keeping it all together. And God bless them both for looking after my brothers and me, celebrating our successes and supporting us through our struggles.
One time in my mid 30’s, my stress levels were at an all time high. I had taken over a law practice, with new employees, leases, and responsibilities. Married with three young children under the age of 5, a new house and a big mortgage. Overwhelmed.
Dad’s opinion? “You’re no fun anymore, way too serious. You need to take a year off, go to Europe and write a book”.
I loved that advice. I wish there was a parallel universe where I could see what would have happened had I followed it.
He would often ask me what my book would be titled. One time I replied, “Lies My Father Told Me.” He looked up quizzically, with that characteristic gleam in his eye, “Yes! Promise me you’ll write it!”