Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Party on Good Friday

Several years ago - well before the boys were born - I came to Utah on business. I had meetings the Wednesday and Thursday prior to Greek Easter, so I took a vacation day on Friday and stayed in Salt Lake to celebrate the holiday with my family.

I wanted to make the most of this unexpected visit, so I made plans to see my friend, Aimz. Only thing was that she was only free on Friday, so we agreed to go out for drinks after dinner.

That afternoon, my Theia Sophie called me (for those non-Greek readers, Sophie is actually my dad's cousin, but in Greek that makes her my's confusing to you, I know, but makes complete sense to us!) She asked me if she would be seeing me at church that night. Maybe I should have been non-committal and said "I'll try." Instead, I told her about Aimz and drinks.

That's when she let me have it: She was horrified that I would even consider going out and enjoying myself on Good Friday. She reminded me that Jesus had had only one chance and he didn't use it to have a good time. When I was unconvinced by her arguments, she made me promise not to go dancing and instructed me not to have a good time. (That evening, the irrepressible Aimz - a devout non-believer - told every bar tender and server we met that we were not having a good time.)

Well, my Theia Sophia must have influenced me. Saturday I was shocked to learn that Niko had been invited to a birthday party on Good Friday. A birthday party...on Good Friday!

The invitations posed a great conundrum for me: Do I let my son go to the party or do I tell him he cannot attend? I know many people - perhaps even some who read this blog - who without hesitation would keep him home. And I know people, who would smirk at me for even considering not sending him to the party.

But I think it's a greater issue that many ethnic and religious minorities probably also deal with: the conflict between personal "traditions" and the activities of a larger society.

The birthday boy's family are wonderful, loving people. But they have a different tradition. One in which Good Friday doesn't have quite the impact it does in Orthodoxy.

I want my kids to understand and embrace their dad's culture, but I also want them to be typical American kids. I remember what it was like to pull a blood-red egg out of my lunch sack weeks after "American" Easter, and have the entire table stare in disbelief - assuming the egg had long gone bad (or was a pink PAAS aberration.)

So we compromise: The Easter Bunny visits our house...even when American Easter falls during Orthodox Lent. My kids can have fun during Lent...even on Good Friday.

This whole situation reminded me of something I heard from Fr. John Bakas of Saint Sophia Cathedral in L.A.: statistics repeatedly show that people are more likely to attend church services as adults if they attended them as a child with their father. My boys will get their religious cues from me. The choices I make will influence their choices. The way I handle the conflicts of a 1st-century religion in a (thankfully) secular 21st-century country will determine how they deal with them.

So in the end, Kelly and I decided that he'll take Niko and Gus to the party. A three-year old won't understand why he's not having cake and playing games at his buddy's party. I will not attend. If asked by other parents or the boys, Kelly will smile and tell them I'm preparing for Good Friday services, and if pressed that in my religious tradition a party on Good Friday isn't appropriate.

As the boys get a little older, they will attend Friday-night services with me. And when they're men, I hope they'll follow the example I've tried to set - just like the example my much-loved Theia Sophie set for me. I hope they'll have a foot planted squarely in both cultures, will compromise on the insignificant differences, and stand firm on the bigger questions of our faith. Kalo Pascha.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Citius, Altius, Fortius! My Olympic Adventure!

You know a vacation is going to be good when the very first day includes:

- flying to another country on a plane with propellers that seats less than 60 people;
- praying you don't have to lie to Canadian custom officials by saying you're staying with friends (whom you've never met in your life)and whose surname you didn't jot down; and
- laughing so hard your stomach hurts because you and your best friend are crouched down in the hatchback portion of a Suburu hiding from the Mounties because you have 7 people in a car that seats 5.

Now that's a vacation!

Our Generous Hosts:

Long story short, our original accomodations fell through so all six of us ended up descending upon the home of Martin and Judith Siegert - whom John, Sabine and Mary had met last year while rafting some remote river in the Yukon. How cool are they to generously open their basement to six Americans? What amazingly folks - they made our trip.


We were hoping to get some additional tickets, but the Canadians bought the place out. However, we were able to see:

Curling - for those who don't know, curling is sort of like shuffle board...on ice... and with brooms. We saw a men's round robin featuring the Canadian team (that went on to win the gold), the Norwegians (who would get silver, and whose garish harlequin pants were the talk of Vancouver...and their King Harald), the Chinese, Swiss, French, Danes, Brits and Swedes.

A couple of days prior to the event, we took a curling lesson - I reminded everyone you never see ice on the Acropolis, and I naturally sucked. Kelly, of course was brilliant. It gave us a new appreciation of the sport and the night before we left we had a little match...I'd improved enough to be the Lead on the men's team as we trampled the women! Of course, the Lead is usually the weakest link...but I think I'm probably good enough to be Skip (as in skipper) of the Greek national team in Sochi in 2014...

Women's Hockey - we were lucky enough to see the bronze medal women's hockey match between Sweden and Finland. Naturally, we split evenly between the Swedes and the Finns. Seeing how I had a LOT of blue and white, I was a natural Finn...and I like to think that it was MY inspiration that helped the team win its first-ever women's hockey medal! Oh, and before the game I got to eat an Yves veggie dog. That's right, VEGGIE dogs at hockey events! Is Canada great or what?

2-women bobsleigh - it rained at Whistler that day. But with the Greek flag draped around me I wasn't, I was warm in the embrace of Mother Greece. 'Least that's what I was telling everyone. And as the ONLY Greek flag to be seen the ENTIRE week we were there, I was also much photographed! (I reminded people that without the Greeks there'd have been no Olympics...or math, science, or history.) It was really great: when the Canadians came in 1 and 2 the crowd spontaneously burst into "Oh, Canada." Um, we politely reminded everyone that the US team took bronze...on the way to the Americans' record-breaking 37 total medals.

Other Highlights:

Well, taking a bus, train, seabus, different bus, and gondola to Grouse Mountain to go snow shoeing...only there wasn't really enough snow to warrant snowshoes, so we muddle our way to the top in our boots. Oh, then we slid down on our butts! (I stupidly wore Levi's, earning me the nickname "Sticky Pants"...that is until I body luged - head first - down the last part!) In the gondola with close to 100 other people, Kelly uttered possibly the best line of the Games. Crammed up against everyone, he looked at me he said, "So, I guess it's safe to assume I'm over my claustrophobia thing."

Even when the Games aren't in town, there's an hour wait at the Japadog cart in downtown Vancouver. John bravely stood in line for close to 90 minutes to get one regular and one veggie Japadog (again the veggie dogs!). Basically they're a hotdog with dried seaweed and teriyaki mayonnaise on them. Yeah, I don't think I ever need to eat another one...

Although if they opened in America, Kelly argues I'd never step in one, I couldn't get enough of Tim Horton's. It's kind of like a Duncan Donuts but with breakfast meals. Sabine and I really dug the (B)ELTs (Bacon, Egg, Lettuce, and Tomato, minus the bacon). Plus, they offered an array of donuts and donut holes, which we took back to Martin, who encouraged me to wash them down with beer. Donuts, beer and curling on TV, does it get any better than that??

But most of all, we enjoyed what the Olympics are really about: meeting people and laughing and for a moment forgetting what separates us as nations. Whether it was cheering with the Finns, or chatting with an older Austrian guy, or surprising some Russian athletes when I thanked them in their mother tongue for retrieving Terry's hat, it was nice just to be a citizen of the world.

Of course, it helps to have some of the greatest people in the world traveling with you. And meeting fantastic new friends like Martin and Judith.

Oh, and since this blog is about being a dad, yes, we missed the boys...starting about the third day. And when we walked down to the luggage claim area at Salt Lake International, they shouted our names and threw themselves into our arms. And honestly, that was better than winning a gold medal.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bonnie Jean Scott Huntington

I've been gone for a bit, and I know most of you probably expected me to blog about our adventures at the Vancouver Olympic Games. And I will get to that in the next couple of days.

But the night after we returned home, Kelly's mother passed away. Bonnie had been suffering from Alzheimer's for several years, so in a way her passing was a great blessing. But it's still hard.

Per her request no funeral service is planned. Her kids have requested that no flowers or cards be sent.

So this blog posting is just for me.

Before Alzheimer's stole her, Bonnie was a gifted, recognized artist. Her paintings regularly received ribbons in county and state fairs. Her work was featured (and sold) in galleries across Utah and the Mountain West.

My favorite memory of Bonnie and me comes from one of the first Christmases we were together. Kelly's sister-in-law had made a huge feast and served if buffet style. As we were going through the line, RaeEllen noticed someone had placed the spoon in a pan of simmering potpourri. She naturally got angry and one of the kids got the blame.

Bonnie and I sat next to each other eating. She leaned in to me and whispered, "Dear, have you tried the stewed vegetables? They're kind of chewy." I looked over at her plate to see what she was talking about since I hadn't seen any stewed vegetables on the stove. And there spilling into her potatoes and everything else was a big pile of potpourri.

"Bonnie! That's not stewed vegetables, that's the potpourri!" She looked at her plate, looked at me and dryly said, "No wonder it's chewy." And we both burst into laughter.

My only regret is that my boys didn't get to know their Grandma Bonnie. And that she didn't get to know them. I'm afraid their memories of her will be of a feeble person unable to perform the most simple tasks unassisted.

So it's up to Kelly and his brother David to tell them who Bonnie really was. A dynamic, funny, gifted person, who saw the good in everyone, loved to laugh, and made a loud, talkative Greek guy feel welcome as a part of her family.

May her memory be eternal.

I'll be back and more frequently beginning next week - starting with my Olympic recap!