YOUR TURN: “Goodbye Melet” By John Malik

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently, Upstate South Carolina was rocked by the tragic deaths of nine members of two very close families vacationing together in Alaska. People in and around the Greenville area are still mourning the loss of Chris, Stacey, Meghan, and Conner McManus as well as Melet, Kim, Mills, Ana, and Olivia Antonakos. Whether you knew them or not is irrelevant. If you have friends in the Upstate, chances are you know someone who not only knew them but knew them well.

While their plane crash happened on July 7, this tragedy is still fresh as the Antonakos family was laid to rest today and the McManus family will be on Saturday. Our friend Chef John Malik is one of many touched by these families being ripped away from their community, and we wanted to share his thoughts as so many continue trying to make sense of this. Although CRESCENT doesn’t exist to debate theology, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have my own feelings about this. Personally, my hope and genuine prayer is that God reaches out to comfort everybody who has been affected and that the faith of a community and the love and support of family and friends helps provide peace. — Taft

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I’ve done plenty of tough things in my life, and being a Dad is definitely the hardest. The job description changes almost daily.  As both parents and children grow and evolve, so do the challenges of parenting.   Yet I’ve known folks that have made it look easy and Melet Antonakos was one of those guys.  Melet was easy going, always smiling and whenever one talked to him, he treated you like you were the most important person in his life.  He gave you his attention, gripped your hand mightily, patted you on the back, and never missed an opportunity to smile.  I never caught Melet disciplining, correcting, or counseling his children yet he and his wife Kim raised three great kids.

Olivia, Mills and Ana were kind, diligent, athletic, smart, polite, and reverent.  They weren’t coerced into good behavior. They just lived it.  I often looked at Melet’s kids and wondered what he was feeding them — what was he doing that I wasn’t because he made it look so easy.  Some kids behave a certain way out of fear while others are constantly testing their limits.  I’ve heard kids say something to the effect of, “If I don’t do this then Mom and Dad will hear about it, and I’ll get in trouble.”  Well that may be accurate, but if I’ve been an effective father, my kids will do what’s right because they want to and not out of fear.

Melet

Melet and Kim Antonakos with Mills, Olivia (in purple), and Ana

My son said it best.  “I never heard Olivia say one mean thing…ever.”  In this day and age of a 24/7 media bombarding our children with repugnant stereotypes and glorifying the concept of foolish, bumbling parents, how is it possible to raise kids that were as grounded as Melet’s and Kim’s?  Amy and I have two great teenagers, yet we’ve done this by the skin of our teeth. We’ve lost sleep, prayed, struggled, worried, fretted, and coerced them into responsible teenagers while Melet and Kim made it look so easy.  And now they’re all gone.

Many of my friends have struggled with, “Why?”  It’s in our nature to look for an answer, a sense of understanding as we come to terms with such a monumental tragedy, and as Christians there’s always that element of “God’s plan.”  Well forgive me but I can’t buy that.  I can’t see our creator planning so much heartbreak as this. And I’m struggling with images of a faltering engine, the unmistakable shudder of a wing as it loses lift, Melet reaching out for his kids, and the ground rushing up to meet them.  And I see not the hand of God but rather a technical issue with a turbine engine at the worst possible moment, on takeoff.  When airplanes encounter problems, altitude and airspeed can give a pilot options.  Airplanes are most vulnerable at takeoff and landing — when airspeed is just above the minimum needed to fly and even a small problem can leave a pilot with little recourse. Was it contaminated fuel, a broken fuel line, or a failed bearing?  In time the NTSB will find out, and issue a directive which may prevent a future crash.

Yet that will be little comfort for the friends and family left hurting by the loss of these two families and the wife and children of the pilot, Walter Rediske.  Our community is in shock, yet in death, Melet has once again set an example for parents everywhere.  We’re hurting because Melet and Kim, as well as the McManuses, were such good people.  They were actively involved in many aspects of our community; made friends easily and led by example.  Yes. Melet was successful, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell when you met him.  They didn’t live extravagantly, and he never bragged about anything.  I occasionally kidded Melet (who was just a few years older than me) by telling him that, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

Not that long ago I had a brush with death that earned me four days in ICU.  When I left, I made amends with God and have tried my best to be a better person, better father, and a better husband, yet I haven’t even come close to the example that Melet Antonakos set and to make matters worse, he never divulged his secrets of being a great father.  He claimed it was a daily struggle that kept him up at night, that he and Kim worried, struggled, and fretted and that the stress of parenting was so great that he’d pulled all his hair out.  Yet he made it all look so easy.

There are no guarantees in this life.  Tomorrow is a whispered promise as fragile as a dandelion blossom in a summer’s breeze.  When our time comes, we will be measured not by our conquests, bank accounts or possessions, but rather by our friends, our relationships, and our children.  And when we depart this earth, whether in a timely fashion or through an unexpected tragedy, it would be the greatest testament to our lives that an entire community would be in anguish.

Melet, I still want to be like you when I grow up.

John Malik is an award winning chef in Greenville, SC. Along with his wife Amy, they owned and operated 33 Liberty Restaurant from 2001 until 2008. Following that he was Excecutive Chef at two upscale retirement communities in the Greenville area. John has a BA in English from Southeastern Louisiana University and has written for Smithsonian Air & Space, Saveur, The Greenville News, Greenville Journal, e-Gullet and has been featured in Southern Living, Bon Appetit and Chile Pepper magazines. John holds the whimsical title of Kingsford Charcoal Flame Master and was named Who’s Who in America Barbecue for his sophisticated take on traditional smoking. While 33 Liberty was open John hosted the entire team of Michelin’s “Red Guide” inspectors for a private meal and lived to talk about it.

John has made numerous guest chef appearances including the Food Network, Fox & Friends, the International Food & Wine festival at Disney World, Great Chefs of the South (Beaufort, SC) “Fixin to Eat” a Salute to Southern Chefs (Paso Robles, CA), the Epicurean Evening (Los Angeles, CA) Charlotte Shout! (Charlotte, NC), Drager’s (San Mateo, CA) and Greenville’s own Euphoria.

John and Amy celebrated 26 years of marriage in May 2013.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CRESCENT: The Magazine.

To submit an op-ed for CRESCENT’s “Your Turn” section, please email it to input@crescentmag.com.

 

 

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