“You always had American-made underwear!”
That’s a direct quote from my mom. She made it after hearing that growing up my friend Sabine wore European underwear, which was deemed to be of better quality and greater value by her German-born parents.
Mom wasn’t trying to convince me that my parents had made some great sacrifice to keep me in made in the USA BVDs. No, she was telling me that my upbringing could’ve been worse.
I grew up in a pretty traditional Greek family: Stuffed grape leaves, tiny old ladies dressed entirely in black, and priests with ZZ Top beards were everyday events. I was even in an all-Greek Boy Scout troop. I guess because I wasn’t weird enough.
Raising my kids “Greek” was a no-brainer. It’s the only upbringing I know, and as odd as it can be, it can’t be any stranger than having two dads, right? It also provides the boys with an identity beyond their dads’ sexuality. And I think that’s important.
I’m also confident that being raised in a Greek family with two dads will appropriately screw up the boys. I did struggle with how to prepare them for the myriad of bad jokes they’ll hear, however. Trust me, being both gay and Greek, I’ve heard them all. It got so bad in college that I started referring to myself as Hellenic-American!
But I’ll cross that bridge riddled with jokes about Greeks in tennis shoes in a few years. Right now I have to help them deal with a loving and very-well meaning big, fat Greek family, many of whom often resemble characters in that Vardalos film.
Most of you probably don’t know it, but the Evil Eye is rampant in Salt Lake City. Just ask my mom.
Gus was diagnosed as having contracted the Evil Eye on his very first trip to Utah. We had spent the day with Kelly’s family, and that evening Gus was having trouble sleeping. In the morning my mom held Gus, looked at him closely and declared that she knew what was wrong. Unintentionally of course, someone in Kelly’s family had given him the Evil Eye. She then did the sign of the cross over him, “spat” on his head and declared “garlic in your eyes!” to ward off the Devil.
And my dad is worse. He once blew a gasket because we let Gus play in an empty cardboard box that moments earlier had held Niko’s Pampers. He looked at his grandson sitting there, legs stretched out in the box, and thundered that he had never put me in a box as a child.
We met his anger with blank stares.
My mother explained our faux pas. Evidently seeing a child in a brightly colored cardboard box complete with photos of smiling babies on the side is just like seeing your kid in a coffin! Seriously.
Of course, this is the man who once tried to convince me that the word sari — the word for the Indian dresses — comes from the Greek word psari — fish.
Then there was Niko’s baptism. After much consideration, the family determined that December 6th — St. Nicholas’ Day — was the best choice for it because that day would bring extra blessings. And he’s been “spat” on, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, his great aunt protected him from contracting an inadvertent case of the Evil Eye from a woman in the store who kept commenting on how cute he was.
OK, it’s not just my family, it’s me too. A good third of the songs on my iPod are in Greek — most of which, my cousin Eleni in Athens reminds me, are also found on the MP3 players of every 11-year-old girl in Greece. And to protect myself from the Evil Eye, I wear a mati, a glass blue eye, around my neck every waking minute. There’s a large one on the boys’ bedroom door, too.
Sure, I’m focusing on the slightly more bizarre aspects of our life. I know that my kids, when they grow up, will share with their friends the weirder stories of coming from a whacky Greek family. Just as I have done with my friends. But I also hope that they’ll remember they were raised within a family that may “spit” on each other and hold strange views about cardboard boxes, but in the end also a family that supports their dads unconditionally.
And I hope they’ll recognize how they are accepted and loved by an entire ethnic community, one which embraced them as two of their own. That’s what being Greek is really about.
By the way, I’ll never be able to repeat my mom’s underwear quote to Gus and Niko. On their last trip to Europe, Sabine and her husband John brought back made in Switzerland BVDs. The kids love them!