By Frances Vidakovic
When I was growing up I had a lot of opinions about my Croatian-born parents. I thought they were too strict, too loud and I was often embarrassed by the fact that they said EXACTLY what they were thinking (zero filter).
They also seesaw-ed between two parenting extremes: from not fussing about our homework (they trusted we would just do it without prompting) and leaving my sisters and I at home all day unsupervised during holiday breaks while they went to work, to the other extreme that included no sleepovers, a strong resistance to us attending school camps and any social event that didn’t involve other Croatians.
Back then I was predisposed to think about all the ways my life would be a little better if my parents were just a little different, without taking the time to truly acknowledge how amazing my life was in so many different ways.
So as a fully-grown adult with two teens of my own I want to take a moment now to acknowledge and honor my Croatian-born parents’ journey through life.
I want to acknowledge how difficult it must have been for them to leave behind their homeland that they loved so much to travel to the other side of the world with nothing but a suitcase filled with hope and possibility.
I want to acknowledge the difficulties they must have faced coming to Australia knowing only a few words of English and without a cent to their name.
How hard it must have been for them to start from scratch in a new country, to find a new job, to face discrimination, to often work two jobs just to get ahead, to save enough money to buy a house here, to be away from everything they loved so much and to somehow land perfectly on their feet.
I want to acknowledge the pangs of longing they must have felt to be away from their parents, their extended family and friends, to live in a time when video calls didn’t exist, when phone calls were so expensive that they needed to wait weeks or months for a letter to arrive to hear that all was well back home.
I want to acknowledge the pain my father must have felt when he got a call informing him that his father and then mother had passed, knowing he would not be able to go home for their burials. The heartbreak they would have felt when their country was stricken by a war, to listen each day with worry and fear, hoping for news that would put their hearts at rest.
I want to honor the strength it took for them to be away from Croatia for years at a stretch as they saved money, paid off our home, raised their kids and built a future away from a place where their heart truly lay, away from their brothers and sisters, parents and friends.
I want to honor the fierce connection they always had to their motherland that led the Croatians here to build a new home away from home, a glue that was laced with a deep longing for their roots mixed with a determination to succeed here despite all odds.
I want to honor the resilience it took for them to stay strong and stick to their values and raise their kids in a way that was infused with their heritage, the always-present memory of their motherland, living a different life than they had probably imagined as kids, but still played to the same background tune of our amazing Croatian music, food and culture.
I acknowledge them for always teaching me the value of family, of protecting and standing up for your own, of never forgetting the roots of the tree from which they rose.
The Croatians here in Australia built a strong community that allowed us kids to connect with what felt like fellow village friends, to play freely while our parents sang all night long to Croatian music, played cards and buce, all of us soaking up the beauty of our culture newly created here in a foreign country so that we never felt as if we were missing out on the other life we could’ve had back home.
But their pain would’ve been real because I too feel it at times. This strong indescribable tug and pull to return to my island back home but knowing that this season of life requires me to stay put so that my kids can complete their education and create a foundation that allows us the freedom to travel back to our motherland as often as we feel called to do.
So many Croatians like my parents came here out of necessity, to escape hardship and/orpoverty, to create what they truly believed was a better future in a promising land, always believing one day they would return to the place that made them who they are, never predicting that there would be an invisible snare that kept them here longer than they needed to be.
And yet my parents always did what they felt was best for us. The fear and worry they felt when their kids wanted to go out and explore the world was real. They always felt more comfortable when we were living life with other Croatians. There was a sense of safety in our community, an undeniable feeling that we would always take care of each other, watch out and protect each other, and be a soft space upon which we could fall and land.
After years of living here in Australia, my Croatian-born parents have never once compromised their values or forgotten where they came from, or felt like they needed to change who they were at a core, even when they were 14000 kilometres away from home.
I honor them for embedding in me such a strong love for my people and motherland, for weaving in me a culture that is now deep in my bones and for teaching my kids too that no matter what they go through in life there will always be a place they can return to.
Even if I didn’t know it as a teen, I 100% know it now. Our Croatian-born parents – like all parents in this world – did the very best they could with the tools and resources they had at their disposal.
So let’s take a moment to acknowledge and honor the way our parents raised us with grace and love. That’s not to say they were perfect or that they didn’t do things we didn’t love or that they regret. As we will all surely discover over time, life is full of challenges and struggles, marked with precious pockets of joy and happiness. Just as this is true for us, it was true for our parents too.
This reflection brings to mind the words of Oliver in his song Oprosti Mi Pape:
Oprosti mi, pape
sve te grube rici
i moj zivot sada
na tvoj zivot slici
Oprosti mi, pape
ca san druge slusa
ja san, pape, isti
jer san zivot kusa
I know after all is said and done that my parents have left me with a gift more valuable than a pot of gold.
It’s the gift of their love for Croatia, which is now running through my veins.
The gift of a fiercely-loyal community so that wherever I go, I never, ever feel alone in life.
The gift of a home away from home, so that my children and all the generations that follow will forever have a place where they can feel the echoes of their past ancestry.
And finally, the gift of deep, firmly-planted roots, so that I can always feel strong whenever I hear the silent whispers of those who came before me – my grandparents and great-grandparents and all the history behind me – who remind me exactly where I came from and which undeniably supports and influences who I am today.
With the sincerest of love and the utmost of gratitude, I say thank you to all Croatian parents.
About the author
Frances Vidakovic is a life coach, author and course creator who helps women manage their mind, time and life better so that they live life with zero regrets via her website InspiringMomLife.com. She is also the host of the INSPIRING LIFE SCHOOL podcast.