Above All Else, Respect Your Father

By Tina Tsironis

There’s this small boy I know.

In a tiny Greek village wedged within the port city of Perama, he loves playing hide-and-seek with his closest friends.

He always picks the best hiding spots: among the branches of his parent’s lemon tree, folded into the musty shoe cupboard in the laundry, or squeezed into the usually out-of-bounds outhouse just south of the family farm.

One of the boy’s hiding spots, under the polished mahogany table in the living room, isn’t so innovative. Cheek pressed against the itchy grey carpet, breath shallow, he’s not aiming to impress his friends with this hiding spot, or win himself another round of hide-and-seek.

He’s showing respect.

The boy watches as his father’s temper gradually rises.

‘You don’t listen to me.’


‘You looked at me like I was a piece of garbage.’


‘You look frumpy in that outfit.’


‘You look like a whore in that outfit’.


Smack, smack, smack. Sharp as a knife’s edge.

Each time the boy gasps.

His father appreciates his son’s fear. He need not punish his son as much as his wife—just the same as any other unruly child, really. His wife, on the other hand…

‘When you’ve got someone so rude and unappreciative in your life, what else can you do but stick up for yourself?’

The little ruddy cheeked, hide-and-seek aficionado grew up to be my father.

He is, by many accounts, a great father. He works hard and never leaves us without food and shelter and, oh boy, does he provide.

But he also happens to be mean.

Belittling statements will often tinge his familial interactions. Statements regarding our personalities, our looks, our abilities.

At times I think he views his words as helpful, that they’ll help whip us into shape and ultimately elevate the aspects we so fundamentally lack.

‘The best form of love is tough love, Tina mou. I’m not gonna sugar-coat things.’

Though it took me a long time to come to terms with the reality of his behaviour, deep down in the pit of my stomach I knew his methods were faulty, that this ‘tough love’ did far more deep-seated damage than improvement.

According to my father, I’m not a good person. I’m too loud. I can’t cook. I wear too much makeup. I wear not enough makeup. My grasp on the Greek language is pathetic. I used to be so quiet and cute when I was a baby—what happened? I’m selfish.

I was especially selfish as a teenager because I liked to socialise with my friends. Good Greek girls don’t go out. They stay home and serve their elders.

‘Where are you going now?’

‘To the movies with Jess and Vanessa, and then we’re having lunch.’

A stern look and a shake of the head would soon ensue, as if I was a toddler being told off for sneaking cookies into their room at night.

‘Out with Jess, out with Vanessa, always too busy going out with your friends instead of spending time with your family.’

‘Really, dad? I’ve been out a grand total of one time this month.’

‘I just want you to stop being so selfish, and think about your family for once. Friends will come and go but family is forever.’

Never mind that I felt far more alive spending half a day with my friends than I did spending a week cooped up at home in my bedroom.

‘I am not selfish for wanting to spend time with my fucking friends, that’s not and will never be a thing.’

‘Would you watch your bloody mouth? Can you not respect your father for a change?’

‘Why should I respect you when you never respect me?’

‘You respect me because I’m your father. The adult is allowed to treat the kid however he wants, but the child must respect his parent no matter what!’

My friends wouldn’t see me for weeks outside of school, after these interactions. Socialising was simply not worth the hassle.

I can only begin to imagine the stress I put my parents through as a teenager. I was temperamental, anxious, and even prone to getting blackout drunk at times.

My father was correct in saying that I was selfish. But that’s just it—I was a teenager. I was growing, developing, and wanting to experience life. If anybody stopped me from doing so, especially by using manipulative tactics, my emotions would overflow and splash out onto them, a malfunctioning kettle raring to empty itself.

Yet the narrative flowing throughout that tiny Greek village (and perhaps many more European villages) espouses that family is first, man provides, and woman keeps house—at all costs.

But I am selfish. Forever against the grain. A second-generation, unladylike Greek Australian.

For a man or woman to shift from this narrative, even slightly, would be downright callous.

‘You’re not stuck in your tiny village back in the 60s anymore, Dad.’

To a second-generation Australian, not rewriting this devoid-of-female-agency and exclusionary narrative would be a death wish.

To our detriment, I rewrote my family’s narrative. I grabbed a thick red permanent marker and scrawled all over my father’s blueprint of the decent daughter.

How could his beautiful baby girl become such a selfish, disrespectful person?

Respect, to some, might mean hiding under the table while their father beats their mother for no reason other than the fact he can’t control his temper. They might be scared, the carpet might sting their face, but they’re proving to the king of the house that he’s the one who matters most.

Respect to me meant lashing out at my father, scaring him senseless. Getting so drunk I had to be wheeled out of school on a stretcher by lunchtime. It meant years of anxiety, of worthlessness, of picking at the belief that I was a horrible person until I grabbed that permanent marker and scrawled over what had become my own narrative.

Above all else, I learned to respect myself.