Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Kontras’



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.


I was born to William and Viola… Pokhias.

(Click on document to see full size)

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.”


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.



December 19, 2009


His bedroom was the biggest room in the house.

He needed it.

Unlike many of his friends, Kenny was not into video games and had no intention of mastering the computer. His was a very different passion.

He liked making things “go.” He once found a lawnmower that had been put to the curb for pick-up, wheeled it down the road, up our driveway and into the garage. Within a couple hours, he not only had the engine working, but had it mounted on an old wagon and was “riding” it back down the driveway.

He was twelve years old.

It was the same with every gas-powered engine he came across. If it wasn’t working, or was working poorly, he’d tear it apart, figure out how it worked, why it wasn’t working, and then get it running better than ever.

But like every teenager, he did overstep his bounds on occasion.

One evening, I walked in the back door to the unmistakable odor of an auto service garage. Kenny had brought into his bedroom (which was in the basement) a V-8 engine – a very large V-8 engine. God only knows how the steps survived the weight.

Assuming he understood why I was so upset, he said, “Don’t worry Dad, there’s no gas in it.”

Kenny! The whole house smells like Mr. Goodwrench! Get that thing outta here!”

As irritated as I was with the situation, I also gained an understanding about Kenny that heretofore, was only a passing thought.

He has a gift and passion for understanding mechanics. His love of the workings of cars and motorcycles equaled my love of music. He, like me, was blessed to have learned this about himself at a young age. And as music did for me, mechanics kept Kenny from experiencing many teenage pitfalls.

Thanks to my wife’s connection with a well-established neighborhood auto repair service, Kenny was allowed to apply for a job at age fifteen. I drove him to the location and waited in the car. I thought to myself, “If he comes back in ten minutes, he didn’t get the job.”

A half hour later, he comes strolling out of the building, expressionless.

“So how’d it go?”

In typical teenage fashion, he responded, “Okay.”

I thought to myself, “This kid would make a great poker player. His face reveals nothing.”

“Did you like the place?” I asked, hoping for more than a one word answer.


(No luck.)

“So did the owner like you?”



Realizing he was not going to offer any more syllables than absolutely necessary, my curiosity got the best of me. “Well, did you get the job?”

Completely shocked that I would even ask, he says, “Come on, Dad. Of course I got the job. I know more than most guys that have worked in a shop for two years!”

He was right.

Our next-door neighbor is a man who knows auto mechanics inside and out. He has a degree in psychology but at that time, was the supervisor of a very large manufacturing company that builds Mobile Veterinary Hospitals and Mobile S.W.A.T. Team Police Units which are delivered nationwide. In his spare time, he raced a 1967 Chevy Camaro he has owned for more than 20 years. He also owns two, top-notch Harley-Davidson motorcycles. When he was a boy living in Northern Ohio, there was a man in his neighborhood that taught him all about cars and he passed that knowledge onto Kenny, along with many great life lessons.

From the time Kenny was in his early teens, his head was under the hood of that Camaro as often as possible, helping the neighbor. He also worked on the motorcycles and other cars brought to our neighbor’s house for repair. (BTW: the tatoo is fake.)

To this day, he and Kenny are still the best of friends. Our neighbor became a mentor to him. He helped keep Kenny grounded in a way that parents can’t always accomplish. Even though the messages were congruent, it was the neighbor’s words that seemed to have the most impact during those critical mid-teen years. I couldn’t be more thankful.

In the nearly four years he’s had a driver’s license, Kenny has owned more vehicles than I’ve owned in the last twenty years and seems to be on a first-name basis with the people at the Deputy Registrar’s office. He currently owns a Volkswagen Jetta and this Suzuki motorcycle.

He’s been employed as an auto and/or truck mechanic since that first job, where he stayed for two years. His passion for mechanics has not faded although his desire now is to get involved in designing and building custom engines.


Apparently, at the tender age of twenty (next month), he’s “outgrown” simply repairing cars. 🙂




September 22, 2009


His visits are fast-paced, sometimes with places and times charted on a spreadsheet so that hopefully, all can be seen. A large family and many friends require extensive schedule coordination and pre-planning.

And so it is when my oldest son “drops in.”

Adam’s most recent visit was, as usual, multi-faceted and this time, with a High School Class Reunion thrown into the timeline. He never worries about a place to stay – whether it’s at our home or elsewhere. There’s almost always a car he can use while he’s in town. And food.

Meals are beyond plentiful – often causing weight gain for him (and me!). Because he genetically inherited my “non-existent” metabolism, it’s a major effort to get weight off quickly, which is exactly what he must do when he returns to the West Coast after a visit. He’s maintaining that “Hollywood Look.” Everyone in “the biz” is always ultra-focused on staying very slim. I’ve been “very slim” a couple times as an adult and I can testify that it is not easy for either of us. Eventually, I’ll get upset with myself enough, again, to do something about my weight, again. It’s a never-ending battle. Kenny (my other son), to his fortune, did not get this gene.

A couple of events stick out about this visit. Adam, Kenny and I – for the first time ever – had dinner together with no one else around. I felt a little like Lorne Greene’s character, “Ben Cartwright” in the old NBC western series “Bonanza,” dining with my two grown sons.


They couldn’t be more different and even though they are 15 years and 2,258 miles apart, they appear to have a good relationship. I’m sure they know more about each other than I know about either of them – which is fine by me. I am not one of those parents that needs to know everything about my adult children’s personal lives. Lack of knowledge, in this case, is a good thing.

The other event that seems worth mentioning is – oddly enough – my brother, Nick’s, tattoo.

A little background.

Although we are only 14 months and 9 miles apart, Nick and I are as different as Adam and Kenny, and yet, there does seem to be a commonality between us. If you were to ask me to define it, I would fail the task. Other than being raised in the same household, by the same parents and grandparent, and attending the same schools through high school, those who know us would find it difficult to describe that which makes us enjoy each other’s company.

Defining the differences is much easier. Nick is ultra-gregarious – I tend to be more reserved. He really enjoys “a few” beers – I’m good for one, maybe two, as long as there’s food involved. He’s been married to the same woman for over 30 years. Me? Not exactly.

So Nick might do some things that I would never consider – like getting a tattoo. And not just any tattoo – but one from an award-winning tattoo artist.

Adam and I were saying goodbye to Nick, his wife and oldest daughter after a nice visit – and of course, lunch. As we were walking towards Nick’s car, I asked Adam if he had ever seen Nick’s tattoo.

“No. What tattoo?”

“Show him, Nick” I said, smiling as I anticipated Adam’s response.

With absolute pride and no hesitation whatsoever, Nick couldn’t pull up his T-shirt sleeve fast enough to show off Road Runner and Wiley Coyote, complete with background. After his initial shock, Adam immediately decided it was worth a picture on his cell phone.




Here’s another “look” from Nick. He’s wearing a Christmas gift from his very patient family members.

Nick 01

Please don’t get the wrong idea. Nick does have a “normal” look.

 Nick 02

But even this picture says, “If you’d have given me two more seconds, I would’ve given you a very different face.”  Like the cat that ate the canary.

Could the fact that Adam and Kenny being as dissimilar as my brother and me also be genetic? I don’t know and life’s too short to care. I’m just thankful for the relationships.

 Nick 04 


There is an old Ricky Nelson tune called “Travelin’ Man” that I would also attribute to Adam’s visits here, there and everywhere. (I couldn’t resist the Beatles‘ reference). “Travelin’ Man” starts out like this: “I’m a travelin’ man made a lot of stops all of the world. And in every port I own the heart of at least one lovely girl”

This is where I exit and your imagination takes over.



PS – Adam’s name came from Pernell Roberts’ character on Bonanza, Adam Cartwright