It Is What It Is!

I want to tell you a story about a most remarkable man, Bo Frolchenko. There will be scant links to economics but read it anyhow. It’s a story about hard work, intent of purpose, success, honour, and love.

Bo is one of my best friends and his life can indeed teach us something.

He was born in 1947 and spent his tender first years in a German refugee camp. You guessed it; life was not a rose bed. He and his family were listed as refugees and on a waiting list to be shipped out to new lands—and one day they joined a queue which made a ‘Y’. To the left a boat was waiting to take people to America, and to the right was a boat headed for Australia. Bo and family were directed to the right. The year was 1949 and Bo was two years old.

The family of four took their meagre possessions and loaded them onto the ship. They had two  wooden trunks—both with the name ‘FROLCHENKOV’ stencilled on them by the authorities. Yes, note the spelling; like so many immigrants, they decided on a version slightly less ‘hunnish’ and so dropped the ending ‘v’ in favour of ‘Frolchenko’. The family arrived in Melbourne and were initially interred in another camp—Bonegilla. Women and children in one area, men in another. Hard to imagine in today’s world.

One of the two chests the Frolchenko family arrived with in Australia

Bo quickly adapted to and adopted his new homeland. He learned English, did errands to help out the family finances, tended to the rabbits housed in cages and helped in the vegetable garden. He quickly became the go-to guy when it came to translating documents, dealing with bills and such. Money was scarce but such was the culture and fibre of this tough generation of Ukrainians that I have never heard a word of complaint from Bo or his family about those times. You did what you had to and, in Bo’s words, ‘It was what it was! You made do with what you had and worked hard to make things better.’

‘It is what it is’ would be a re-occurring phrase with Bo. He had the most marvellous way of saying it that simply did not invite or encourage self-pity or whining. From Bo it simply meant: deal with it and overcome somehow. And he was not a man to waste words but instead lived by them; he applied himself to everything he needed to. As a young man growing up in the 1960s, he would learn auto mechanics by reading the manuals and taking things apart—as he did with radios, washing machines and anything that needed fixing. An old-school autodidact (self-taught person) if there ever was one.

He could fix anything that had a tube, wire, or motor. At one point, I believe we were dealing with an old fridge that was making too much noise for good appliance health; I asked him how on earth he could know so much about household appliances. His answer was to become a family credo and one I tell my students:

‘When people talked about repairing things, I listened. When people were repairing things, I watched.’ Think of this when your teacher is going through the long-run Phillips curve conflated with the monetarist LRAS curve.

He worked hard and studied to become an electrical engineer. He married a wonderful woman from Australia, Sue Ellen. They quickly had two daughters and both continued to work hard to provide the girls with a far better education and start in life than they were accorded.

Bo the father would leave early and come home late, and the girls would often wait up for him. He inevitably came in for goodnight kiss, frequently bearing a couple of presents, and often wound up sneaking in a book to read by flashlight under the blanket with his girls—often with the Ukrainian boogeyman ‘babyega’ as part of the story. Extra spice no doubt in keeping this from mom who would have to deal with two very sleepy-headed girls the next morning. Weekends were family times and there was no football match too far away, no land hockey practice too early, and no beach too hard to get to that Bo wouldn’t be taking his girls.

The daughters were not taught but were guided by unspoken expectations and shown how to do by doing. Bo invariably rebuilt his houses, every new move to a more upmarket and affluent part of Sydney, and the girls would be there passing boards and buckets of nails. He got them hammers and allowed them to nail down boards and quietly replaced some of the bent nails. Never was there the time-wasting idiocy of ‘his and her jobs’ but simply things that needed doing—so he took the daughters to the grocery store and taught them how to calculate price-per-kilo and how to pick the best melons.

The daughters were ingrained with independence, perseverance, ambition, and a moral code of conduct that was built around respect and love for family. The girls grew up to become very educated, successful, hard-working women with good jobs. Bo enjoyed boundless love and immense respect from his daughters—not to mention gratitude for making them strong and capable people.

I know this very well—I married one of them, Bell, aka ‘Little Person’. The two wooden trunks are now the property of his two daughters and one is awaiting us and our home.

Little Person and author

Wherever Bell and I went, the parents were always there for us back in Sydney. A lost bank account login, a missing scrap of official paper, documents that needed verification…one call to Bo and things were sorted. No fuss, no drama, just ‘All good guys!’ Bo and Sue would visit us all over the world—Indonesia, China, Rome—and Bell would plan adventurous holidays such as three weeks on the Trans Siberian Railroad. Bo doted on his daughters in his own quiet way, never emotionally ostentatious or loudly boastful; instead, his office walls were covered in pictures and memorabilia such as model airplanes and funky ski hats.

Bo and Bell in Italy

Bo never ceased to be an autodidact! Apart from the fact that he and I were immediately great mates, there was mutual respect. He would often cock his head, look sideways at me over coffee or while we waited for a nibble while fishing and ask a question, ‘Why do gold prices always rise during bad recessions? What happens to share prices?’ I, in turn, invariably asked about his hands-on experience in management where he would travel all over the world to procure lowest-cost parts and components for electrical appliances.When he retired he signed up for law courses at university! The IB mantra of ‘life-long learner’ takes on real meaning here.

‘Hey Matt, no bites. Fancy McDonald’s and a movie instead?!’

When Bell asked me to marry her (yup!) on a kayak trip in Sydney harbour, Bo never broke a stride. He simply came over armed with a big smile, a beer and a handshake. I don’t think I have ever been more proud than seeing him walk the aisle with my wife-to-be—proud of having such a friend and of the daughter he helped to become my wife.

His life was one of study, hard work and intent of purpose. I never heard him say, ‘Oh that can’t be done!’ It was always, ‘Right, so, how do we fix this?!’ And, resoundingly, NEVER COMPLAIN! Throughout his long life of good times and bad, he never once cursed the gods of fortune or whined about bad breaks. He dealt with it. This was to be his personal epitaph, as the cancer which killed him a week ago must have caused him unbearable pain.

Bo as Santa during family Christmas in Sydney

Now my friend is gone. The pain might lessen but will never go away—even though the soul can grow callouses. I can only take a small measure of solace in knowing what he would say:

‘It is what it is!’


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