Wedding Anniversary

August 11, 2022
“Hello Everyone!”

Anthony Laskovski is “Tony” to many of us, “Ant” to his family, and “vujko” to his niece and nephew (the Macedonian word for “uncle” where all of the letters are silent except for the “v,” pronounced “voochay”). Tony was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, in 1984. And like all Australians, Tony spent the first few months of his life in his mother’s pouch.

He emerged to find himself part of a tightknit community of Macedonians who first immigrated to Newcastle in the 1950s. Newcastle is the largest coal exporting harbor in the world and has numerous steel mills, and jobs, as a result. Steel companies filled those jobs by recruiting workers from other countries. Though the jobs were hardly glamorous, through hard work and perseverance, fathers and grandfathers could eventually earn enough to bring their families with them to Australia. The entrepreneurialism and work ethic of these folks led many in the community, Tony’s parents included, to go on to great success in other fields. By 1984, Newcastle had become far more than an industrial city. And how could it be otherwise given its spectacular setting on the Pacific Ocean with beaches, parks, and promenades with open-air coffee houses and cafes. Tony grew up in this setting, steeped in the history and values of his community. It is for these reasons that, although he would eventually move to the other side of the world, the truth is he never really left.

Tony earned a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering and worked at the local power company before founding a technology start-up company. Growing the company was a struggle, but his and his partner’s hard work ultimately led them to an investor who brought them to Silicon Valley, opening up all sorts of opportunities that boosted Tony’s career and earned him his current role at NVIDIA—sort of the 2000’s version of the success his father had from driving a factory truck to owning commercial and residential properties.

Tony is deeply proud of his Macedonian heritage. In July, he took me to Macedonia with his family. We had a birthday lunch for his sister with extended family in Bitola, the town adjacent to the two villages where his parents are from. During the lunch and other visits to Bitola, Tony ran into relatives he wasn’t expecting to see, as well as other Macedonians living in Newcastle on their summer vacations. One afternoon Tony drove us to the village where his father lived. We parked near a house to take a look at a fountain that his grandfather had once refurbished, now overrun with cherry trees. We ate a few of the cherries. The owner of the house where we parked came out and recognized Tony as a Laskovski because he looks so much like his father. On one of our final evenings, we ate at a restaurant serving traditional Macedonian food. Tony’s father paid the musicians to play for us. As they surrounded the table, Tony’s mother teared up. Tony was beside himself to see his parents so happy.

At some point in Tony’s childhood, he met a dog, and a cat, and obviously a koala and a kangaroo. The records are unclear on when these meetings occurred, but historians unanimously agree that these events had a profound impact on Tony. He is an animal lover like few others, disturbingly so. I recall a trip to Sydney where Tony saw a puppy with its owner. After asking permission and not listening for the answer, he started playing with the puppy, which had razor sharp puppy claws. Undeterred, Tony kept playing until his hands and wrists were shredded and bleeding. The owner was horrified but Tony explained calmly and irrationally that it had been worth it. Tony recently summoned a pack of stray dogs in a park—dogs that make a living off of exploiting the Tony’s of the world. Not surprisingly, they all came at once and we had to strategically get back to the car and find some food before they decided we were the food. After that, I crossed “safari” off our bucket list.

One of our early dates was a weekend trip to Tahoe, just as Harvey was recovering from major surgery on his knee. Tony instantly became Harvey’s second father. He was cheating though, because his dog Maxie was still in Australia. Tony talked a lot about Maxie—the car ride home with his parents from the facility where they rescued Maxie as a senior, and what Maxie meant to Tony during some difficult times. Animal lovers are automatically good people, but with Tony animals are a way of connecting with others. Leave your dog with Tony for just a minute, you’ll end up with amazing pictures and videos set to music. A friend’s dog died this year and she still talks about the picture Tony took that the family cherishes. When he heard the dog had died, he baked snickerdoodles for them.

And you don’t have to lose your pet to get cookies from Tony, because he loves cooking for himself and others—traits and skills he acquired from his mother and sister. The wisest and most manipulative among us have learned that if you just mention something you’d like to try in front of Tony, he’ll make it for you. If you’re not around when he makes it, you’ll probably find it in a box on your front porch. Tony is one of those people who can go into a kitchen stocked only with baking soda and dish soap and somehow put together a memorable meal.

When Tony was a young boy, he would walk into a room filled with people, put his arms in the air, and say “hello everyone!” This lack of inhibition definitely came from his father. Tony’s years in Newcastle were filled with family events, birthdays, weddings, and any number of celebrations involving lots of food, Macedonian music, and dancing. But while Tony is more than happy to show off his dancing prowess in any setting, I would not describe him as someone who still enters a room demanding attention with his hands in the air. At some point in his 20s, Tony began to live two separate lives as he came to terms with being gay. Tony was not ashamed or confused about who he was; rather, he was afraid of losing the most important part of his life—his family. He misjudged and underestimated them, as so many of us do. But even once resolved, the trauma of those dark times has a blunting effect that takes time to fully heal.

I haven’t seen Tony cry many times over the years, which I take as a personal failure, but I remember two times in particular. The first time was at the end of a year when Tony had struggled with whether to come out to his family. The fear and stress had gotten the best of him, and the man who takes on everyone else’s burdens had finally had too much. He collapsed onto the bed sobbing; he knew it was time. Within two years, Tony’s family and friends came from all over the world to watch him get married in Tahoe. And that was the second time i remember him crying. On that little wedding stage when it was his turn to speak, he began to sob, but this time with joy—the joy and optimism that comes with knowing you can live your life as yourself, loving everyone you want to love without fear. I see in Tony the happiness, still blossoming, of realizing that we are now all part of the same family. I remember hugging Tony as he sobbed and glancing over at the grand piano floating on a bed of white carnations and thinking that, in terms of coming out of the closet, there was certainly nothing left to do.

To try and write about someone you have loved for years is to realize all you take for granted. Happy Anniversary, Tony.

Oh, and that thing where you put your arms in the air, more of that.