Raised in Australia to Macedonian parents, Sandy marries a German man whose life parallels hers in many ways.
Well, my parents met back in Macedonia when mum was about 19 years of age. She grew up in a very authoritarian environment, my grandfather was raised in the time of the Ottoman Empire and in those days women were chattels so she had no control over who she was going to pick to marry. So at 19 she decided—she saw this boy in the next village and he looked handsome, he was in his army uniform, and she thought that’s it, he’s the one, so they basically ran away together. They took off at midnight on a horse, so she told me, and ended up in my dad’s village which was on the other side of Macedonia. She left her family and didn’t return until three years later with a baby in tow. My grandfather was very reluctant to welcome her back into the family because she took off and ran off and that wasn’t appropriate in those days. You had to have your father’s permission to marry.
My own story, fast forward to the present day, and how I met my husband. It was through mutual family friends who lived in a shared house with a chap, who had a friend in Benchley. She came to stay with us and she introduced Michael to me one evening when I came home from work and we started to see each other and eventually we started to, you know, live together. From a cultural perspective this was really quite challenging because Macedonian girls don’t live with anyone in a de facto type of relationship, certainly not in the 90s. If you brought someone home that was the person that you had to marry, and I wasn’t going to play that game. So when Michael and I started to share our lives together I became, basically, quite isolated from my family—or at least I chose to because it was very difficult for him to be introduced to them. So I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t introduce Michael to the family until I was committed enough to say look, this is the person I’m going to marry. Look, I was 33 years old at the time when I met him—so it wasn’t 19 like my mum—so I was an adult and I decided that that was what I wanted to do. In spite of the difficulties, I mean you push through all that eventually because that’s how strongly you feel if you’d fallen in love with someone, as my mum did. She was very strong about who—her journey with dad, she made that commitment to run off and she knew how difficult it was going to be for her and I guess for me it was the same. It was difficult but we pushed through that.
For me, it’s really interesting because, as some time moved on, we got a little bit closer to dad in terms of, you know, we’d go and visit and you’d find the things you feel comfortable talking about and my father was very good at growing vegetables and he loved giving his vegetables away and if you talked about vegetables and flowers that was something that was easy for us to communicate about. So over the years my husband has cultivated his own garden and now if you look at what he grows, it’s very similar to what dad grew and I think if dad was around now he’d look and go, “he’s not a bad guy.”
I would visit my parents on my own, that was what I had to do and I was never asked, “Oh, how is your partner?” You know? It was almost as if he didn’t exist for me in many ways, in their eyes. Mum, though, was very happy that I was in a relationship and she would come and visit but if we had a Christmas celebration mum would visit but there was always that other missing person in my father and it was, you know, really hard too, because you just have this idea that your parents are going to accept this wonderful person that you’ve met because basically he was tall, dark and handsome, he was smart, and he was unlike any other person that I’d met while growing up and I fell in love with him. I fell in love with who he was and his family and it was wonderful and I wanted to share that with others but it was not open to me and I think that was very difficult but I think I got through it because I had his support.
I was planning the wedding and mum was getting her dress organized and I’d organized her and I said, “Mom, you’re gonna look gorgeous you know, on the day and everything” and she looked great and I said at the last minute, “Look, is dad going to come to the wedding? You know I’ve got to know, is he gonna come?” and she goes, “Ah, no, he’s not going to come. Because dad’s suit is from the 1970s, pinstripe and in a chocolate brown and that’s the only suit he has” and I thought, “Well no, there’s no way that you’re coming to our wedding in that 1970s pinstripe suit” although it’d probably be very popular now but back in 2001, I thought, “No you can’t, you’ve got to wear something new.” I was prepared to pay for it, you know, but he just said, “No, I’m not buying another suit, I’m not coming to the wedding.” I actually asked him many years later, I think it was Christmas, it was about 45 degrees in the shade, and I said “look, why don’t you come and have a drink with us at Christmas. I really want to know why it’s so difficult for you to come to my home. All you have to do is come and have a drink, you know, it would be really nice, just come and have a look at our garden because …”—because he was the gardener, he was the king at gardening and everything and he just could not, he was such a difficult communicator, it was so hard for him and he sort of virtually said—under his breath—he mumbled something about, “We only get married once” and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. What? We only get married once?” Well it was very interesting for me because one of my siblings was married three times. But he was a male you see, so for men it was different. For boys it was different, for a girl you had to be, you know, the perfect daughter, you know, virginal, and you did what your father wanted. I’ve lived a little bit of my mother’s life in that way, so I guess I went against that. She made a decision to run at 19, away from an authoritarian father who was not going to dictate who she married so I made the choice my own and I’m happy about that and I think in the end, that dad could, in spite of not seeing Michael, my husband, over many years, he respected him for who he was and that was good and I’m happy with that.
I feel that how I’ve been raised is who I am now and it’s helped develop me as a person. It is the sum of who I am and I think my Macedonian upbringing has helped me to empathize and connect with people in the community—I feel that I can understand because I’ve been there and my story is the same story as many others in a microwave sort of situation. You know you’re growing up in a dual sort of situation, you’re between a rock and a hard place sometimes, you want to be this free-going Aussie girl, you know, going to the beach and being a surfer chick but you can’t, you’ve got this other side. There are these restrictions but overall I don’t think it’s really impeded my working career or my making friends or living a really good life.