Sunday, June 20, 2010

Meet my dad

By Nancy Kotsifakis
The last time I saw my dad alive, we hugged and I got to tell him how much I loved him. The next time I saw him I was smoothing down a lone gray hair on his eyebrow as he lay still in death, and I knew that this body was not my dad. The soul of my father with all of his stories was the man I missed. He had an incredible memory and was one of those that could remember and embellish a joke so well that you would not recognize that it was the same joke you told him a year ago. He loved to make people laugh. My mom put on a variety show for her church and just handed a microphone to my dad between acts. Without a script he just went from one joke to another - 'almost like a vaudeville act - and it made me join this church' one person mentioned at his funeral. I honestly think my father would have made a joke about the manner in which he died. He just 'dropped' dead as he was washing his hands for lunch. It was horrible for everyone especially my mom trying to revive him, my brother taking 3 phone calls to complete the sentence telling me he died - all of us were crushed. I walked around that funeral holding a big box of kleenex - for I had lost the man who taught me that I could do anything I had my heart set to do.

My dad would sit for hours everynight and explain scientific things to me - things such as how a TV worked, or on summer nights we would talk about everything under the stars. As a very small girl I would understand some very complex things from my dad - and he never told me that I was too young to understand. Of course, I might forget half of the explanation before I walked halfway down the hallway - but still for that fleeting moment I would really understand, and it led to my love of science and math and all things logical (music is such a part of math and logic to me as well).

My dad came from Crete when he was 6 years old (Petros Cotsifaki as listed above). He remembers days walking on that island, the trip on an Italian boat to the 'promised land' of America, and Ellis Island. During the trip he was tasked to take care of a little girl, and wanting to run around the boat instead - tied her up to a pole so he could run off and play. During that time the water started rising in this room, and he got into all kinds of trouble - but the Italian crew stood up for him and helped him hide from the irate mom -- the girl was just fine, but it was very scary! When he arrived at Ellis Island with his mom and 2 brothers, he was had to go off exploring on his own. The officers decided to divide the group in half and send them in two different directions. No one spoke English at the time, but his mom could see that my dad was on the other 'half' and that this other half was being herded to an entirely different process. She cried, and tried to plead her case to the officer's that did not speak Greek. Finally, my dad remembers that she opened up her blouse to reveal a breast and pointed at my dad - the officer made the connection, and probably never saw THAT kind of communication before!

My dad's father had to send the family to the US ahead of time, and they were instructed to take the train west as far as their money would take them. He joined them in Hanna, Wyoming where many other Greek families settled together - a community of Greek speaking people. My dad's father took a lunch sack everyday to the coal mine entrance until they eventually hired him. My dad was such a proud American, he spearheaded his own paperwork as a child, and was shocked when his paperwork was returned 'the name of the boat you put down is not the one you came in on'. Well, he thought...if they know THAT, then let THEM tell ME what boat it was! Unfortunately, things don't work that way in govt. and he eventually found someone who was on the boat so he could get the paperwork resolved. In the meantime he schooled the neighborhood kids on American history, and the boss of the coal mine took him and some of his friends under his wing to let them research subjects from his personal library. My dad said that he learned quickly not to ask questions because the answer was always, 'look it up'! Back to becoming an American - when the test day came for my dad and his friends, they got a ride to Rawlins and my dad was so confident and ready for this test he just couldn't wait. He knew all about the presidents, everything....but the judge said, 'I have only one question for you, and if you get it right that is all I will ask'. Well, the question was 'who funded the building of our new Rawlins courthouse?' My dad was crushed, he had no idea....heck he lived many miles away in Hanna and I doubt the newspaper was anything he spent time with as a kid.

Skipping past many more stories, my father was in WWII, and got a bronze star for 'shaving 2 1/2 years off the war' (as he remembers the letter saying - burned in the St. Louis fire, and lost in the Ruskin tornado). He worked on the airplanes and avionics - but had figured out a way to improve target accuracy and also to turn the airplanes around quicker (so he could get more sleep, he said). This is the same guy that twisted an old antenna around to heat up as a makeshift toaster. He went on to invent many things at Bendix and when he later opened an Avionics shop, he invented a Pitot Static tester that was portable and more accurate than standards even today. He envisioned making money for us, but that never happened. Instead, we got a better deal - to see this incredible mind at work, and his knack for finding the best in all people and events. I never saw him down or defeated - he was always looking at life with a positive attitude.

As my dad....zoom past alot more stories to the days I was 1 1/2 years old, and would just stop breathing. My father studied for his electronics degree from KU at night next to my bedside to make sure I kept breathing. Eventually - after more horror stories, they found my problem to be a very bad tonsil infection. My dad was the one I called at night the first time my foot 'went to sleep' ....this was something for dad, 'there are ANTS crawling all over my feet!', and he just chuckled but set my mind at rest as he explained this phenomenon.

I am writing this as I cook a special dinner with my dad in my heart, and just wanted to share some of my special memories. I inherited my dad's love for ice cream - and oh yes, when I look in the mirror now, I see this wild stray gray hair on my brow that I am so proud of. Thanks for everything, dad - you have been on my mind all day, and these wonderful new and old friends have made Father's day special for me once more!


  1. WOW! I am in AWE! Way to go Nancy-so glad I have had the pleasure of connecting with you<3

  2. Oh, Nancy, what a touching first post. What an incredible father. What a phenomenal story!

    Your love, respect, and affection shine through in every word you've chosen.

    I love the Greek people, Greek food, and Greek wine. My daughter's first ballet teacher is Greek (83 yrs old and still teaching) and I take her each year to the annual Greek Festival at her church. I love the historic dances, the spanikopita, and of course the baklava dripping with honey!

    When my son had his first child, she said to me, "You're too young to be called 'Grandma.' I'm calling you 'Yia-Yia'...and it stuck! I'm Yia-Yia to two grandchildren now and just love it. I tell people I'm Greek by osmosis!

    "...he never told me that I was too young to understand."

    Well, that explains it all, doesn't it? I'm so happy to finally have met your father. What an extraordinary man.

  3. A wonderful tribute to your father Nancy. Thanks for sharing him with us.

  4. Thanks Nancy. The meaning of the Greek translation of Mathew 16:17-20 is debated but for sure Petros, whether smaller pebbles making up one rock or what Christ meant exactly about being the foundation of the church, is about rock. It seems like the right name for such a solid man.

  5. Wht a beautiful post. What a GREAT father. Hey the apple did not fall far from the tree. Thanks for this. xx

  6. Ahhh, Nancy. I can hear how incredibly proud you are of your Papa. I'm always in awe of people who immigrate to this country and how successful they become in addition to really appreciating the opportunities we have here. He sounds like a wonderful man and I know how much you must miss him. They are always in our hearts. Big, big hug!

  7. Thank you so much! Vicki - I am glad to connect with your strength and energy! Jo - somewhere I have a few really good recipe's - but baklava takes 2 people to make, and the recipe I have is for a gazillion people. We also slather honey/nuts between every few layers of Filo dough - none of this inch stack of dry dough in the recipe my family has! There is another post I have in mind about some of the customs that did NOT work out well - next month...probably. Rick, Lindi Loo and Reya - you guys made me cry again....if I could do just ONE of the things my dad did, I would be happy! Dubby - I always knew my dad as Pete....Yia Yia would run to him with open arms 'Pedro Pedro' - but a rock is how I knew the translation. This reminds me (as if my post isn't long enough ALREADY...) of my mom saying, 'Well, the Lord got another Peter' because he was fearless, and had even more stories of his 'guardian angel' - he was not afraid (as I am) of stepping out - embracing life - I had a football sized rock engraved for my mom with one of his favorite sayings 'Always remember....nothing is impossible'. This is so healing to share -and I didn't think I needed to heal. Thanks for the welcome!

  8. What a great first post, Nancy. It was nice to meet a kindred spirit in your dad. Love ya!

  9. Thanks Danny! Spirits and souls....neat creation, eh? Lots of love to all of you too! <3 - BTW - off topic - now I know why so many less than and 3 symbols are out there - sometimes they make a heart, yet sometimes I see them as the symbol and number and always wondered if it was a nose and an ear, or what the heck it was!


Your visit makes my heart smile. Thank you.