When people meet me and ask me what parent I’m more like, I argue that I’m an equal balance of both. An equal balance of Macedonia and New Zealand. My father Sasho has always had the reputation of being one big brute whose mouth has upset some people over the years. But I’ve never seen that as a bad thing – it’s something called brutal honesty. And whilst both of my parents possessed that trait, it was one my father had instilled in him from an early age.
My dad had the unique honour of being born in the home country, whilst it still remained under Yugoslav rule back in 1973. Conditions were harsh and when we complain about summer and winter here in Australia, I often think of the brutal weather that Europe experiences – hot summers that break the mercury and blistering winters that dip well below 0 degrees.
Dad fell very ill as a young child and even faced the prospect of a heavily premature death. His grandmother Elena (Lena) cooked up onions, garlic, potatoes and a large variety of village vegetables, wrapped it all in a sock and placed it on Dad, plopped him in front of a fireplace and told him “whether you make it through the night or not, this will help you”. It indeed worked, a traditional Macedonian village remedy.
Eventually, the Ristovski family would move to Australia. Like any Macedonian migrant family, it took a lot of back breaking work and grit to get where they are today. Even with multiple moves to find the dream family home, my father and his family would never leave Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It would explain a lot as to why he supports the royal blue and white of the North Melbourne Kangaroos in the AFL.
The famous story goes that Dad learnt independence from a very young age. When he was in the first grade, he was left to fend for himself in the morning by my grandparents who were working. He would have breakfast left out for him, a house key attached to a shoe lace to lock the house and eventually unlock it at the end of the school day.
He would walk the busy streets of Preston to get to and from school, without adult supervision. That would probably be deemed criminal these days, but this was the way things were back on and I’m sure many of you whom immigrated from Macedonia at the same time would have similar stories.
His childhood would continue to pass here in Australia, where my uncle was born six years his junior. He started his first year of high school in Oak Park, but the remainder of his high school years would be spent at St Helena, a school yours truly would attend almost 30 odd years later. This is where he would meet some great friends of his, but also cause a bit of mischief at the same time.
They were known to steal from the canteen, give the teachers a bit of a hard time and even go missing on school camps. The teacher who gave Dad and his mates a scolding for going missing on the camp would be my Year 8 math’s teacher Mr. Atwell many decades later. My Year 10 Sports teacher Mr. Fremantle was also Dad’s teacher. They used to play indoor soccer every Friday afternoon.
The good side of my Dad was also there – he used to beat up bullies who picked on the vulnerable children.
When schooling days were over, Dad would enter his working career like the rest of us. His careers were various, but as he likes to say, as long as your putting food on the table, it doesn’t matter what your occupation of profession is.
Work would allow him to meet my beautiful mother Elsa. And mere months into their romance, they would be married and have yours truly.
Sister Jelena would follow 10 years after me and the family was complete. Even when those tragic times struck, we learnt to be the very best humans in such testing times from both Dad and Mum.
Our family unit has grown stronger by the day in the face of Mum’s passing. Time to time, Dad spoils us to a holiday and it has become our way of taking some quality time out to explore the country and world, and make new memories as a family together.
Dad has taught us many things over the years, but the most important was learning to fight our own battles. Learning that some people enter our lives when it’s only convenient for them. And that the best words to say to people like that are too vulgar for an article like this. Love you Dad – even if you do get on my nerves a bit!