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Meeting the Invisible Man
At 15, I asked my absent father for answers
Athena Karoutsos
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The last time I saw my father was three years ago, when I was 15. My mom and I had spent the summer in Greece, where he lives. I was about to go back to America and we were sitting in his car, just him and me.

I looked out the window. It was black outside and the dust from the road flew up in the air, making the darkness seem like it was sparkling. I thought of how close my father and I had become that summer. We’d spent almost every day together sitting in cafés drinking European lemonade, going to see other towns, and visiting relatives.

I didn’t want to go back to New York and let it be like it had been before. I hadn’t seen my father for six years before that summer and this was the first time we’d really spent any time together.

My father could tell I was anxious. “Don’t worry. I promise things will change,” he said in Greek. “We’ll call each other now. If you ever need anything, just tell me and I’ll send it to you.”

I stayed silent. His words seemed too good to be true. “Why should things change now?” I thought to myself. Still, I wanted to believe him.


As a little kid, I hated Father’s Day. When the teacher made us draw cards for our fathers and all the other kids fought over the markers, glitter, and colored paper, I always felt empty inside.

One year when I was about 6, I watched the other kids scribble on the bright paper and felt embarrassed because I had nothing to do. When the teacher asked me why I wasn’t joining in, I had to tell her I didn’t have a father. She asked me if I knew anyone else who was a father and told me to make a card for them. I made a card for my uncle.

Before that I had never thought of my father. I knew everyone had one but I didn’t know exactly what a father was. But now I began to wonder, if everyone else had a father, why didn’t I? A few months after the card-making incident, I asked my mom about him.

She told me how she’d gone to visit her family in Greece one summer. When she was on the boat going to the island she’s from, Ikaria, she saw my father looking at her. Soon after that they fell in love.

My mom got pregnant with me, and my father told her to live in his apartment while he was away. (He’s a first mechanic on boats so he spends half the year at sea.) But my mother didn’t want to stay there alone and she needed to come back to America to take care of her mother, who was sick. Besides, she wanted me to be born in New York so I would be a U.S. citizen. So after a few months she went home to New York.

When I was born, my mother called my father and told him I was a girl, but he didn’t seem happy. She was so upset that when the hospital staff asked for my father’s name for my birth certificate, she left it blank.

He’d never come to see me, but my mom reminded me that I’d met my father once, two years before, when I was 4. She showed me some pictures of us together in his apartment in Athens (the largest city and capital of Greece).

There was one picture of me watching him shave and another of him reading to me while I held a doll. I suddenly remembered how I had left the doll there. I missed the doll and didn’t think of anything else. My father seemed like a stranger to me.

Most of the time, I didn’t feel anything was missing from my life. My mother gave me whatever I needed and tried her best to give me what I wanted. And I had the rest of my family, too. My aunt and uncle threw me big birthday parties and let me bring my friends to their house in Long Island for the weekend. They bought me toys and gave me ballet lessons. My other uncle took me shopping and even gave me spending money, since my mom often couldn’t.

I saw my father again briefly when I was 8 and my mom took me to Greece, but all I remember was pulling my hand away when he tried to hold it and meeting his new wife. After that I didn’t see him until we went to Greece again, the summer I turned 15.

By this time I had several friends whose parents weren’t together. But their fathers called them and saw them as often as they could, even if they lived in other countries. I never even got one phone call.

For the first time, I wanted to see my father. I wanted to ask him, “Why?” I knew half of myself but I didn’t know the other half. I was growing up and I wanted to know myself as a whole. So when my mom told me he was going to be in Ikaria that summer and he wanted to see me, I was glad, though nervous.


But once we got to Greece, I felt unsure if I was ready to see him. I was filled with the same uncertainty that I feel when I think about death, that there’s no way to know what it’s going to be like until it happens.

I watched my father a few times before I met him. The first time, my mom and I were eating on the balcony of a café in Ikaria and my father and his wife passed by down below us. My mom pointed him out to me. Another time I was in a taxi and I passed by him sitting at his sister’s restaurant. Each time I couldn’t believe it was him. He was so close to me but at the same time so unreachable, like he’d always been.

After a few days, I decided I had to meet him if I was ever going to get any answers. My mother, who wanted me to have a relationship with him as much as I did, was relieved. She planned for me to meet him at my aunt’s restaurant that night.

image by Whitney Harris

Of course he was late. I sat in the restaurant waiting and felt too much all at once—sadness, fear, and hope. When I saw him come in, I felt my heart in my throat. I couldn’t move.

He looked nothing like he had in the few photographs I had of him. Age had caught up with him. He’d grown a round belly. His hair was thin and straight, not curly and thick like in the photos. When he smiled, his teeth were yellow and chipped.

He came over to hug me, but I just stood there and wouldn’t hug him back. So he shook my hand. My father was shaking and his eyes were wet. I had always thought of him as emotionless. I hadn’t thought he might be as nervous about our meeting as I was.

Everyone was staring at us—his wife, my mother, my cousins, my aunt and uncle. He told me to sit down and got me a Sprite. I couldn’t speak or drink. I couldn’t even feel the cold glass in my hand. Then he asked me to go for a ride in his car so we could be alone to talk.

When we were in the car I wanted to say so many things. He just asked me how I was, how my mom was and how my aunt and uncles were doing. Then I finally burst out, “Why don’t you ever call or write to me?”

He sat, thinking. Finally he stuttered, “I tried calling once. Did you change your number? I lost your address.”

What shocked me most was how lame his answer was. “Couldn’t he at least have had the decency to make up a good excuse?” I thought.

My thoughts raced. “I’m his only child. I don’t care if he willingly or unwillingly made me. I am a part of him. How could he abandon a part of him? How could he not even care to know how I was all these years? What if I was suffering? What if I was dead? He wouldn’t have known. Did he even care?” I thought. But I said nothing because it was hard enough asking the first question.

We drove back in silence. It hit me that maybe he had no idea how badly he was treating me and if I was ever going to have a relationship with my father I’d have to be the one to do something. Even though I thought he didn’t deserve forgiveness, I knew it was the only way for things to change. So inside of me I forgave him.


I ended up having a wonderful summer. I got to spend time with him, which was all that mattered to me. He’d try to buy me things, but I didn’t want his money. I just wanted his time. I wanted to know I was worth my father’s time.

One day we drove to a town on the other side of the island. We sat down at a restaurant and ordered something to eat. “Do you want some lemonade?” my father struggled to ask in English. His terrible accent was endearing and I laughed. “Why are you laughing? Is it funny how I said that?” he said in Greek, smiling.

“No,” I lied, as I tried to control my laughter. Then the food came. We didn’t talk, but the silence had become more comfortable.

Though I saw him nearly every day that summer, we never really talked. I learned only a few things about my father, and one was how similar he was to me when it came to expressing emotions out loud. I could tell how my father kept it all inside and I saw regret in his eyes.

But even though there was silence between us, I liked being near my father. It made me feel safe to know that if anything were to happen he was there to protect me, like a father should. I spent every moment I could with him. I even called him “Father,” and when I did he would smile. I knew I made my father happy. I felt complete.

The summer passed by quickly and soon it was time to leave. We sat in his car that one last time and he made his promise—his lie. As soon as I came back to New York I went out in the pouring rain to buy a calling card because I missed my father.

When I called there was that silence between us again. He asked if I was all right and if I needed anything, and then we couldn’t think of anything else to say. After that phone call the days went by and he never called. I waited for a letter and it never came.

It’s been three years now and I haven’t heard from him. Things are just like they were before that visit. Except in a sense it’s worse now because I know what I’m missing.

I don’t think my father is someone anyone can have any kind of relationship with. He doesn’t talk to his own mother and he has gotten divorced from his wife. I think his mind is like a child’s and he doesn’t know right from wrong. He doesn’t realize all the people he’s hurting. I feel sorry for him but I’m tired of trying and I don’t think I’ll try again. It’s not worth the pain.

Despite all this, I’m not angry at myself for trusting him. In fact, I still do trust him. There are many ways to trust someone and I trust that though he won’t be there for me, he does love me.

I wouldn’t take back that summer because it gave me good memories of my father. And even though I don’t expect it, I will never stop waiting for him to call.

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(NYC-2005-05-03)


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