Archive for the ‘Family (Series)’ Category

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A LETTER TO COUSIN NICK

May 18, 2011

Dear Nick,

I waited a few months to write this because I wanted to allow time for some healing. I think about you often and the impression you left on so many lives. I think about your wife, Karen, and your two children, Kallie and Jimmy, about your mom, Theo, and your sister, Denise. But this letter is not to them, it’s to you.

I’ll start by recalling a quick phone conversation we had once in 2008, realizing that this was so typical of our usual call-to-action: lunch.

“Hi Mike, cousin Nick.”

“Hey Nick, what’s up?”

“Wondered if you were going to be around today?”

“Not really, man. I’m at the rally downtown.”

“John McCain’s?”

“Not hardly.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll call you sometime next week.”

“Lunch?”

“Sounds good.”

I don’t know if you were kidding when you said “John McCain’s?” but I smiled anyway. You’re sense of humor saw no bounds, manifesting itself in virtually every conversation or situation.

Although we were just cousins, we were also very good friends and in the last several years, you felt like a brother to me. As children, our parents saw to it that we cousins were around each other often. As adults, we didn’t see nearly as much of one another for the obvious reasons: we began families of our own with some of us moving to a different city or state. But after your brief stay in California and my travels as an entertainer, we finally settled down back in our home town and slowly started reconnecting.

You and I were raised in very different environments. Your upbringing was far stricter than mine, which was fairly relaxed. Your dad was always telling my mom how she was being too easy on me. What was she thinking, letting me play in a band? I don’t think he ever understood.

Over the last 15 years or so, we spent many-a-lunch discussing our parents, our siblings and most of all, our own families. We also discussed politics (yours more conservative than mine), religion (different paths, same destination), and our extended families. We ended each lunch with a handshake and a smile, vowing to “do it again soon.” And we did.

At some of those lunches, we talked about your son Jimmy and my son Kenny. They were in their teenage years. You and I were experiencing the typical teenage “issues” with them. When I finally realized that for me, these issues were mostly mine and not Kenny’s, you were surprised by my confession. A few weeks before you passed, you told me that you had let go of your deep-rooted ideas about fatherhood – wanting only that your children be true to themselves first and foremost – and not to be concerned with what they think you (or anybody else) might want them to be. In your words, you “broke the cycle.”

It seemed that your passion for music, which was put on hold for so many years, was somewhat resurrected later in your life. And although our tastes were not very similar, we enjoyed each others’ talents. In the 80s, you managed to break away a couple of times to record some drum tracks in the studio, saving me from having to program my antiquated drum machine. I know you remember the instrumental in 1984, but even I forgot about the time you joined my sister (singing), her husband (on guitar) and me on a tune in 1986. You were far more talented than you realized, but when I said that, you made some self-deprecating joke about it. I wasn’t “blowin’ smoke” cous – you played well.

But the shocker for me (and everyone else in the room) was the night you got up and sang “It’s Now or Never,” the old Elvis tune, at my mother’s 70th birthday, with your mother standing right next to you. After all these years, I had no idea you could sing – really sing!

I know why you didn’t take me up on my offer to join Reflection, back in 1979. You didn’t want to disappoint your parents  – a scenario that is all-too-common with people of our generation. Personally, I believe the  musical desire of your heart was never fully realized. There were a few occasions where it did shine through. Two that come to mind immediately were when you took time away from your day gig (which I know you did not enjoy but maintained to please your father) to put together an Elvis show for fundraisers at your church. You brought down the house, brotha!

You were always so selfless, putting everyone else’s needs way ahead of your own. I often wonder how different your life might have been had you chosen to be just a little selfish with your time. I can’t help but feel you might still be entertaining us mere mortals. 

My hope and prayer is that those closest to you have learned at least one thing from your brief 56 years on this earth: that it’s just as important to feed your soul as it is to feed your family and help others around you. I know many understand this but I also know there are some that don’t.

Case in point: at your viewing, standing not more than fifty feet from your coffin, I overheard one of our relatives lecturing another relative. “You need to make sure your finances are taken care of before you get involved with frivolous activities that are non-productive,” he said. “There will be plenty of time for that stuff after the kids are grown and your stock portfolio is ‘healthy’.” Sadly, it may be a while before he “gets it,” Nick.

In closing, I want you to know that because of you I’m a better person and I really miss our call-to-action lunches. 🙂 Most importantly, I will never forget what your presence in my life did for me.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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ADAM AND KENNY… POKHIAS?

December 21, 2009

 

 

“I thought I told you boys to never leave your bikes in the driveway!”

“We’re sorry,” we said in perfect unison. We had spoken those words so many times, one would think we were auditioning for “Leave It to Beaver.”

As she drove away, we rolled the now wobbly-wheeled bicycle to the front lawn, examining the damage and wondering how we were going to fix it without anyone noticing. I was five years old – my brother was four.

A few minutes later, a man pulled up in a car, got out and walked over to us.

“Hi Mike and Nick, I’m your dad.”

You guessed it. This post is about the first oldest son in our family.

I was born to William and Viola in 1950. In 1952, after having their second child in January, they separated. William enlisted in the Army and left my mother, my brother and I living with our grandmother on Hague Avenue on Columbus’ West Side.

A couple years later, the four of us moved to the North Side. My mother worked full time and continued with her college education at Ohio State. She was 24 years old. My grandmother (Yaya), Despina, was our other parent. My grandfather (Papou), Nicola, passed in 1946.

This first encounter with my biological father occurred in the summer of 1956.

“Tell your mom I’ll be calling her later. Can you do that for me?”

No doubt, our mouths were wide open as we nodded our heads up and down very slowly, never taking our eyes off this total stranger, who somehow knew our names.

This is all I remember about those few minutes. There was probably more conversation, but the shock of actually meeting him quickly erased those memories. We ran as fast as we could back to the house.

“Mom! Mom! We met our Dad! He’s going to call you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Dad! He saw us in Jimmy’s front yard and talked to us!”

“How do you know he was your Dad?”

“Because he knew our names!”

She did in fact, receive a call. He asked her to join him in Baltimore but she refused, saying that she would only consider it if he had a good job and maintained it for at least a year.

We never moved.

Two years later, Mom had graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Social Psychology. The divorce she filed on grounds of desertion was granted. She began using her maiden name.

Kontras.

I was born to William and Viola… Pokhias.

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I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church as Michael Pokhias.

My name remained Michael Pokhias until March 24, 1958, when Mom had my last name (and my brother’s) legally changed to her maiden name. This process involved receiving consent from the biological father, which he gave.

I understand why she did this. All of our relatives’ names were Kontras. Small kids are curious, so if our name was different than our cousins’, there would be some confusion. The name Kontras was well-respected in Columbus, and especially the Greek Community. We had an attorney/CPA, a doctor, a dentist, and an insurance agency all with the name. Add the other Kontrases throughout the country, and the list of professionals is extensive.

In 1961, mom married William… Petikas.

My stepfather is the only father I’ve ever known and loved, and still is. In order for us to have his name, he would have had to adopt us, which would require again contacting – and receiving permission from – our biological father, something I’m sure my mother had no desire to do.

I only saw William Pokhias one other time, in 1966. He was in Columbus on business. He called, wanting to see all three of us. Mom declined, but because we were in our mid teens, she allowed us to make our own decision.

I had just passed my driver’s test. Any excuse to drive was all I needed to say “yes,’ so I drove to downtown Columbus, with Nick riding “shotgun” in the family’s 1965 Pontiac.

We waited in the lobby of the Deshler Hotel, watching everyone who came off the elevators.

The fourth time an elevator door opened, a few men stepped into the lobby, and I knew immediately which one was William Pokhias. I saw myself in his face. I knew then what I would look like in my forties.

We drove to Jerry’s Drive-In, a North Columbus landmark that featured in-car dining in the late fifties and early sixties. It was the weekend hangout for all the hot-rodders. The restaurant is now a Tee-Jayes Restaurant.

We ordered Jerry’s “Super Jumbo” burgers and made small talk – Nick and I on one side of the booth, with William facing us from the other side. He smoked a cigarette after we ate, actually offering us one – which we refused. Thirty minutes later, we drove him back. The entire event didn’t last much more than an hour.

What do two teenagers say to a total stranger?

Very little.

What does an estranged father say to his sons?

Apparently, very little.

I went into that evening with no expectations and even less curiosity. I was not disappointed. I was being raised in a healthy environment, with a loving parent, step-parent and grandparent. I had all the essentials of a good family upbringing. There were no voids to be filled.

So Adam and Kenny, the next time somebody misspells or mispronounces our name, be thankful.

It could have been “Pōk–hī–as.”

Love,

www.MichaelKontras.com

A Political Post Script for Birthers: Note the copy of my birth certificate, which was issued in 1972 (22 years after my birth) is called a Certificate of Live Birth. If you’re still saying our President has not presented ample evidence of his birth in Hawaii with his Certificate of Live Birth, give it up.

NOTE: This story was read by an unknown niece of an unknown step brother. She contacted me in April of 2011. The rest of the story is now available here.