What I Learned From My Grandfather

It was 2007, I had just moved to the US, when I received a call from my brother: My grandfather had died. I was his namesake, and his favorite grandchild. People always told me how much I came after him. He was a larger than life character, always believed that I was special, that I was destined for greatness. I had learned so much from him, and now he was gone. I felt terrible. And then somehow, I felt the desire to write him a last, final letter. In this episode, I re-read this letter for the first time in many years.

grandfather just died. This is my last letter to you. Who is grandpa in Greek? Vassili just called me to tell me that you died. You were so sick for such a long time that I hoped you finally found peace. I hope you know, that I’m very proud to bear your name. But I have much more than just your name. Do you remember all the times you were joking that I got all my good qualities from you. You were right. But not only the good ones. You came to Germany from Greece with nothing but a dream. You learn the language, how to read and write, worked in factories, saved money to be able to start your own grocery store. And then finally your own restaurant. You work very hard and I respect you for that. But growing up. I realized that you weren’t a Saint. You were never a hero, not a good husband, not always a good father. Not perfect at all. But you were a man of great charisma. A man of the public adventurer, a knowledge seeker, storyteller, dancer. Leader and a man full of passion and great pride. Yeah, get some heart. I’ll give you that. But you broke some hearts too. And you never wanted to face that fact, always in denial with your faults. I want you to know how much I’ve learned from you. I learned what I want to do with my life and what I don’t want to do. I learned about my strengths and my weaknesses. I learned to face the truth about me. And change what I don’t like. I learned to live a life with no regrets. Because your life was full of it. And I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want a life that will end like that. I hope you finally found your peace without any regrets, without pain, without looking back. I hope you feel how I really feel about you. I hope you can feel it right now. I love you. Papou. Rest in peace.

So looking back at this, this was in 2007. The biggest thing that stands out to me. Is. The part about regret. Because. I really loved and admired my grandfather and more so. I don’t even know if I admired him that much. But I always felt his admiration for me. I was always his favorite. Now I had his name. I think he had. five grandchildren. And I was by far his favorite. I was not the only one that has had his name. But that helped, you know, being his namesake. What helped on top was that I had some of his qualities, you know, I was kind of loud and confident and people would tell him that I come after him and that gave him great pleasure. And I know that he was always. Talking about me with great reverence and pride. And he was always telling me that I’m going to. to do great things in life. And that he wants to live long enough to see all that happen. And I know my mom told me many times when I left. to the U S. The last couple of weeks of his life, he told her many times. I’m going to soon. I’m not going to see everything this child is going to do. Right. He’s going to do great things and I wish I could see all of them. Right. I’m not going to be around to see all of them. So as a child, you know, it felt good to have a grandfather that everybody was afraid of my granddad. He was like the. family boss. Everybody was afraid of him. Everybody was admiring him. And he was looking at me going, you’re going to be the one, right. That. was nice. But I also know the last couple of years of his life when he was battling cancer and he lived with us with my mother and us. I felt that many, many, many times I could see. His regret. For life. He’s he had. Many regrets for the choices he had made. Some of the things he had done. And my grandfather was not okay that his life was over. Like my grandfather would have sold his soul to the devil. You would have sold all our souls. It’d be like five grandchildren will go to hell, but I can be 20 again. All right. Where do I sign? Right. That’s too good of a deal to, to pass on. My grandfather so wished he could be 20 again. He was like, oh my God, I wish I could be young. But he was really not at peace with his age. He was not at peace that he couldn’t be chasing skirts. Right. He would see like young, attractive, sexy women and look at us and go the, shake, his head and go. If I was trying to be, I would not. Not own a single piece of underwear, right? It’s like, it’s a waste of time. And, just regret that he was not young and could go on great adventures and do all kinds of crazy shit. Um, But also. my grandfather. Accomplished a lot. But my sense was that. Sends was that. W live the life. Still significant amount below his potential because he also fucked up a lot. Right. So he would make a lot of money, but then spend it on stupid shit or. Invest in things that all of them turn out well. He was somebody that wasn’t faithful to my grandmother, you know, it was kind of known in the village as a. a Playboy. But was always telling himself that nobody knows of any of this, because in public, he was always pretending. He’s like the most family, family man ever. And he thought he’s so clever. Nobody ever noticed. And one day I remember. he was telling my mom a whole story about this. this father that, cheated on his wife and how the whole village feels about it. He was giving a whole speech of like, ah, you know, how could you do this? Everybody knows shame this, that, and the other. And my mom looked at him and went. Is the problem that people found out of that he did it. And the way my mom said it sent a clear message to my grandfather. And if you could have seen him. Getting stopped at his tracks. He was giving this big speech and then he became, he turned from like this big man to like a little mouse. It was put in this place. He just went like And just set down. You know, And didn’t say anything. For the rest of the night, because you could tell, he was like, oh, okay. Fuck. My daughter knows my mom’s like, do you think we’re all dumb? Everybody knew, like, do you think you’re that smart? Apparently not. So, There. moments with my grand mother. I remember my grandmother had unfortunately also battled cancer in the last couple of years of her life. And she also lived with us. through those times. And I remember my grandfather at times wanting to be sweet to her because he had love for her. Like they had lived a whole life together and raise family and all that. And. Whenever he tried to be sweet or her, she would reject him. Like she would reject that. And that was kind of a weird dynamic between the two of them where I think she. Was very bitter. because she had known her whole life that, you know, he was traveling around and doing all kinds of naughty business and then come coming back, pretending he’s like the best husband ever needs awards. And she was not a woman to leave him. So she just like internalized and kind of went cold. I don’t remember. Most vividly in his last year of, um, Living with us and being alive regret. Like that’s the kind of totally, that was the tone I was picking up from him. Just a lot of regret. I think that was. Powerful for me to observe. Because I knew. Easily happened to you as well. At that point? Not today. I think that I, I honestly. Have taken a lot of gifts from him. But I think I’m not as much of a copy of him as everybody believed. I think I’m very different in many areas. So it’s not my great willpower and wisdom that made me not make certain mistakes that he made. This is a story I was telling myself when I was younger, but I think it’s just that I have a very different personality in many areas. Uh, that kind of shielded me from some of them. Shadows of his, of his life. But nonetheless, I think seeing that. And at that time, believing that I’ve exactly like him made me very cautious and made me. Ponder this question a lot. I don’t want to be. Delusional. I don’t want to treat some people very close to me, very harshly. My grandfather didn’t talk to my, to his son, to my uncle before he died. They were as strange. Right. And so they, they had a big argument two years before he died. And so they never spoke to each other. And my mother told me just a couple of days ago that on his death bed kind of the last day that he was still alive. My mother was sitting on one side of the bed and holding his hand and my uncle on the other side. And my grandfather was the entire time turned around to my mother. Even when my uncle was talking to him, it was not. Looking at him. That’s sucks. This is not a good way to die or live your life. It doesn’t matter what my uncle did. My uncle did some. bullshit. But my grandfather and my uncle did not have a good relationship father and son, and a good amount of that was my grandfather’s fault My grandfather had a very tender relationship to my mom. But he was very different, much harsher to my uncle. And. Dying in a way where you don’t want to look at your son. This is, this is hard. Shit. I, I, I don’t want that. Like, that’s never going to, like, it should be careful with saying that’s never going to happen, but I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that that will never happen. And so I saw these things, you know, not as strange with his son. His wife and him were not on good terms. He was a man that, although you worked. A tremendous amount. I mean, my grandfather was very entrepreneurial, very industrious, always coming up with schemes, always, . Putting in the work like he was not trying to be smart about work. He had a great work ethic. But he died with nothing. He didn’t have anything. Right at the very end, like a little house at a village, that house was worth 20 K. I lifetime of work. That was what he had to show for any could have had more, not that he would have been a super rich. But it could have had more. But he spent it on wisely. So in many areas that I judged as a young man, I thought. Here’s a great, incredible man. But in this category, loser in that category loser. All right. Well, what happened here? Right. What happened here? Now, like reading this letter to me, I think when I wrote the letter that was more bitterness, maybe some anger. I was, it seems, it feels too harsh to me. Right. I know that he made mistakes, but also now I think. I don’t know. I look at the life he’s lived. And I think, well, how should he have. Become perfect. In many areas. My grandfather’s. Father was killed. In the village when he was a little boy. he basically at age 10 became the family man and his mom was also a very tough cookie. My grand grandmother was a tough fucking woman that was very harsh and heart to him. And he was, you know, in the fields working as a child and he didn’t have nobody. Pod him, How to talk about emotions and conflict and how to deal with your child. He didn’t get anything. And in that little village that he grew up. He was the only man in that village that ever traveled outside of Greece, lived abroad. That spoke five languages. Right? All self-taught. Nobody in the village spoke any languages. He was the only one reading books. He never went to school, but he taught himself to read and write. He taught himself to read and write in German. He went to Germany with nothing, similar to me, but without the, I could just take a ticket and fly back. And there’s a family. There was nothing. Yeah. He didn’t have like the same starting point that I had in life. And also he married my grandmother super young. What did he know about how to choose a partner? Not much. He didn’t have the choice to be a bachelor. They, they fell in love when they were like 17, they got married at 18. They got children at 20 or something. And then if that kind of man, once he grows up a little bit and travels the world and sees things is like, well, I like women, men. I want to, I want to dance and I want to be a man of the city, but I have this family, and this is a little village. not to excuse all his mistakes. In discretions, but I look at this today and I go, well, You know, It’s tough to expect him not to have made some mistakes. He didn’t have an easy life. And nobody handed him like a great manual on how to do everything right. So when I read this today, I feel like, well, this was a bit more judgemental and harsher than I feel towards him today. I feel. Much. Sweeter. when I think about him and I’m proud I have his name. I think about all the things I learned from him and not just the regret and I don’t want to be like him and blah, blah, blah. I think it was a bit, a bit full of it at the time. again, this is a letter I wrote when I was 23. Right. And some change. So. You know, I have to take it with a grain of salt, but I’m very glad. There’s something beautiful. About. This letter existing and me being able to reread it, to know exactly how I felt, what I thought. To be able to revisit. So beautiful. It’s such a big gift. and just. A few months ago. At the company, actually, we had some people that lost. Family members, not grant parents, but Bravo sisters, that type of a deal. And, I told them about the power of writing final letter to somebody that has left too early. Even when you think you have nothing to say, just start writing and just. See what happens. Yeah, I’m glad I did. And I’m also glad that I don’t feel. The same way. More than a decade later, right? This is like 50 years ago or something. I’m glad that my, that it would be a tragedy. If my feelings have stayed the same. If I, my feelings had not matured and changed and evolved over time. And sure, I’m sure this is something I’m actually looking forward to. I can’t. Believe. How much, I believe in the fact that. Everything will change or how much different everything will be once I’m a grandparent. But that will change everything again. We’ll add such a different perspective. And so I wonder how we’ll feel about him. When I’m his age. As a grandfather. And then I reflect back on his life and my life and everything.


But yeah, right now, When I think about him, I’m glad that my heart is just full of love and gratitude. Both that I experienced him in his element, in the village, you know, every summer we would go to the village for a couple of weeks. I hated it there because there was literally like, 65 people living in that village. And there was nothing to do for me as a child. Just absolutely nothing. But now I’m so treasure the summer so much. seeing my grandfather in the village, in his element and being in the fields and in the nature and the small. Rule Greek village. That’s such a powerful experience. I can’t buy that today. And I’m very grateful that I experienced. And lived. With my grandfather and my grandmother and their final years battling. Old age and cancer and seeing that and being there for them and. Caring for them The lessons you learn about life. When you see your grandparents die and you see them age and you see how they are and what struggles they have. That’s incredible education about life and death and about the final stages of life. That. I wouldn’t want to miss for the world. I’m like, if you didn’t have, if I didn’t have those experiences, age and in sickness and family would be a black box. Right that I have like, no. Frame of reference towards, and I learned. A lot about how. Both beautiful and difficult those years are how in old age. Grandparents and parents turn into children. Like they. First you have children and then your children have you, right? Like when you’re in really old age, you turn into a little child first physically and eventually mentally as well, a little bit. You act out like a little child at some point. I feel I have a very different outlook. On. Those years, hopefully they’re still ahead of us with my mother, right? Like how I want to be with her, where I want her to be, how I think about exposing my children to my mother doing her last years. I would not know anything about this, a good friend of ours, Sophia and. just, half a year ago, his grandmother died. And she was very sick. And at dementia eventually and all that. And he. Spent while she was still living at home. I think once or twice a week, he would go to his grandma mom because she needed. somebody to take care of her and he experienced this, like having to help somebody go to the bathroom, having to help somebody clean up after themselves, putting them to bed. And then in the last two weeks before she died, she was at the hospital and he would go every night and he experienced her, not recognizing him, her being confused, like her last struggles with life and death. And. We had many conversations during that time of how impactful those experiences are and how, although they are hard, there’s a real. Blessing and sweetness. That you can take from that the real gratitude for being able to having experienced. Those days with somebody that’s that important. Um, Yeah.

What was the. The closest moment that you can recall with your grandfather kind of the years before him passing away.

That’s a good question. There were a couple of moments that pop up. Almost feel like rejecting them all because none of them fits into the. question perfectly, but I’ll share the ones that popped up to me. One, this was. Four years before he died. So this was just when he. Was he sick already? I think it was, he was living with us at the time. He might’ve gone through first chemo and then had recovered and felt really good, but was still living with us. He went to the U S the very first time to visit a cousin of his favorite cousin in Chicago. But he went there with a lot of encouragement from us. We bought the ticket. He w it was a life dream of his to some degree to visit America. And so he went to Chicago and he spent, uh, two weeks with his cousin and they went to Las Vegas and he, you know, His cousin showed him around. And when my grandfather came back, he was the grey, the biggest fan of America. Like he was so impressed by everything. Constantly talking about it. And I remember. One night. My grandfather always had like these nice shirts. And he would always have all these little papers P note. No notes. Uh, pieces of notes in his pocket shirt pocket, because anytime he would hear a word that he didn’t understand the German, he would write it down if it was outside or. In a coffee shop or somewhere, and then it would come and ask what the word is and write it down. Or if you heard somebody say something particularly smart or a joke. My grandfather was a great joke teller. So he would always write down. He always had notes with him. And I remember him taking out a piece of paper and. out a word. I don’t remember which word it was. That was an English word that it written down in the U S and asking me about it. And he’s like, I’m trying to fit it with a Greek word, but it seems like none of the Greek words really make sense here. Like we talked a little bit about it. And then I remember my grandfather looking at me and my mom. In turning into a 11 year old boy. And with, uh, an innocence and a sweetness, he asked us very shyly, like, um, Do you guys think. That with 86. One could learn English. You know, it was like this. This, he had this hope, but also the heartbreak that he thought. I want to learn English, but I think I’m too old. And then he looked at it and he was like, do you guys, you guys think that at 86, One could still learn English. And I think my mom and I, don’t even remember what we said, to be honest, I think we said, yeah, why not? It might take awhile and whatever, but I remember thinking. This motherfucker. This is a bad man here. Like this guy. Wants to learn. He was always. Thirsting for knowledge. So like he wants to learn so much. He speaks already so many languages. He’s so old. He’s sick, but he’s like, could I learn. Is this still possible? I remember feeling a great tenderness towards them in that moment. Another thing that popped up was. This was a couple of years before, but it was probably the most proud of ever seen. My grandfather. Towards me. So my grandmother. My grandmother had a much harder time in her last year before dying hit, she suffered more. She was more in pain. Let’s say it that way. And my grandmother was incredibly religious. And so. I remember that for her last year of being alive, I would, every night I would go into a room. And I would read out of a. It’s called it a Bible. Like it was kind of a book with. Uh, Psalms and, and, and, and prayers. And I would read with her. And I remember one time I went in there to read with her. Then I heard the. I heard people coming in and I heard my grandfather came in and the were, there was a friend of his that also kind of visited us. Right. And I heard my mom saying, Hey, you know, um, Stella is inside. He’s reading with her and she’s going to fall asleep. She’s very tired today. And I read, I read the prayers with her and then she wanted me, um, Sometimes she didn’t, she didn’t have the strength to go and take a shower. So we would have like a little, um, cloth and put you. Put some stuff on it and like, I would just clean her. And so I cleaned her a little bit and I put on her, her shirt and we read together and I put her in bed. And when I opened the door. I kind of stopped. It was just open up a small crack because I saw my grandfather was crying. And he was telling this friend that was there. It was telling him a bunch of things about me. Like basically that I’m a Saint like that. He’s never seen a child this young, clean, the grand mine read a prayer and he was like, just crying towards him, talking about me. Um, And. I don’t know, that was, that was a memory that popped up like a, maybe a moment that I felt that I saw, like just. Incredible love or tenderness or pride for me. Um, And then there was a third thing. Oh, yeah, he was. It was sleeping in our living room. I think one night. He paid. Crazy noises. 3:00 AM. Like, he sounded like a man who was struggling for air. And I heard it and I woke up and I ran into the living room. And then I woke him up and he turned around and I was like, grandpa, are you okay? Is everything fine? And he’s like, yeah, no, nothing. No, everything’s fine. And. I think before I could leave, he gave me a kiss. Which just, I don’t know, this is not like a. You kissed me many times, but that was just a memory. Something that popped up. Yeah. I wish, you know, in hindsight, like one of the, one of the regrets, I have one thing that I, that I fucked up. Um, was that. So my grandfather had tremendous knowledge about our family history. He knew many, many generations past. Wearing. You know, in Turkey, what battles, what travel, what migration backgrounds, histories. And I had a camera, a video camera at the time. This is. Prior to having smartphones. And my middle brother wanted me to record my grandfather, telling us about the entire history of the family. And I did it. It’s like a three hour recording or something. And then I moved to the U S and I remember my brother would pass pastor me and bother me about. Sending him the file. Right? Making sure I sent him the file. Um, my, my brother was the most conscious that this knowledge is precious. I really didn’t care if I’m honest at the time. And I also regret that I didn’t pay attention. I had recorded it for three hours to ask questions, but I remember nothing of what he said. I was busy with myself. And, um, two months into being in the U S my brother had pinged me a couple of times again about it. I was like, yeah, I’ll do it someday. I’ll do it someday. And then a friend of mine was doing a post-doc at Stanford, said, Hey, can I have a camera? I want to record my lecture. And I said, yeah, sure. He is the camera. And the next day he told me that he left the camera in the, in the passenger seat, in this car. And somebody broke the window and stole the camera. And my brother still to this day is not. Forgiven me for this. Right. Rightfully so. This sucks. I mean, again, in hindsight, I can’t feel too bad about it because I was 20 fucking three. I was like busy with myself, my own life. I didn’t have the wisdom to understand these things. And I was

is so weird. I did the same thing. I did like a record video. This. I already had an iPhone. This was my first iPhone. Uh, and I recorded a video of my grandma talking about kind of her history of the family history. Um, went back to two and this idea has just gotten this iPhone. Things weren’t synced with the cloud yet. And all of that. Go back to Bangkok. Go to party in this nightclub. And my phone was stolen. Wow. It’s crazy.

I didn’t know that story. That is crazy. I don’t know what. What the world. A universe wants to teach us here, but. Now I think just a few months ago, I saw somebody tweet. I just spent two hours with. My mother on zoom, recording her life story and our family’s life story. This is something you should do with all your family members. You could just easily record it. It’s instantly the crowd it’s zoom. Everybody can use it, do it. And I thought that’s brilliant. And so I want to do this with my aunts. I want to do this with my mother. And now we do have the cloud. So like, you know, this is not that difficult of a gig to safe and secure forever. So I definitely want to. Want to tackle this project. But yeah. I have a bit, I mean, The stories that he shared with us. I’ve gone now. Right? Like nobody knows these stories. My mom doesn’t remember most of this. It’s so difficult to appreciate. The value. Of your roots of your family tree of the history of your family. I think we when you’re young, you’re kind of like, I was totally like, whatever. Fuck this shit right. I don’t care. I make my.

I was telling this to Sophia when you’re young. All you will. All I wanted to do was I didn’t want to be connected to anything I want to do. I’m going to become my own thing. I want to be my rocket ship that goes to the stars and who cares about my ancestry and all that shit, all that seems like baggage that holds me back. Don’t tell me, I’m just like this person and that person. And we are this way as a family. I don’t want to hear that. I want to define myself completely. Disconnected. I want to fly into the sky on my own. And as you age, you start seeing that. Yeah, there is a part of life that is a self definition and you can evolve. You don’t have to be the history of your family, but there’s also roots that we have, and those routes are not just limiting. Those roots are also nurturing. Right. And knowing who your family is. Knowing your ancestry. Knowing your roots. And appreciating them and connecting with them. It’s something that can give you so much fulfillment in grounded as you can’t just be pie in the sky. You need a balance between the two, but it takes age. To understand this. How could you know. Take some living. To understand certain things.

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