Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Values of Adversity

Photographed before their marriage, my grandfather is on the far left in
the back row and my grandmother is second from right, back row.
I met my dad for lunch a few weeks ago at the Macaroni Grille, a perfect place for an Italian father and daughter to enjoy a meal. He said he didn’t often get to have lunch with his daughter during the week, so he dressed up for the occasion in long pants instead of his usual retirement-wear of Bermuda shorts. I brought some old family photos to ask him about.

My dad comes from a hardworking Italian family in Pittsburgh. His relatives were passionate people, devoted to their families. My dad’s mother died when he was just four years old, leaving his dad to raise him and his two sisters, aged two and nine. My grandfather never remarried, but my grandmother’s three sisters helped him when they could. My grandfather didn’t like his wife’s sisters all that much. He thought they were too talkative, highly emotional and into everybody’s business. They thought he was taciturn and non-communicative. My grandfather said that my grandmother was nothing like her sisters and that’s why he married her.

My grandmother Victoria (center), with sisters Mary (second from left),
and Maggie (far left) and friends. (Her sister Annie is not in this photo.)
My dad’s childhood deeply missed a mother’s influence and guidance. He went to work in a butcher shop when he was 13, to contribute cash and free meat to the family income. Despite leading his class in math and chemistry, after high school he joined the US Air Force reserves and took a job in commercial welding and plumbing, a choice he later regretted. The only career advice he got from his dad who was a commercial and residential painter, was that if my dad ever picked up a paintbrush my grandfather threatened to break his hands.

My dad and my grandfather
in the 1950s.
During lunch my dad told me that my grandfather had painted the interior of their turn-of-the-century Catholic church building in the 1950s, painting the interior columns to look like they were made of marble. He painted heavenly scenery and an image of God on the ceiling dome. Photos of the church building today show a deserted building, ransacked by vandals with the work my grandfather had done painted over and now peeling. I hadn’t remembered my dad mentioning this tidbit of his story before and just looking at the pictures of the once-elegant church made me feel proud of my grandfather. He was a difficult man to talk to and I was always a little afraid of his gruff exterior.

My dad and I sometimes clash with our similar Italian temperaments. Conversations are sometimes difficult because our communications are heavy on emotion and light on logic. But his unflagging dedication to his family has never wavered throughout the years. Growing up, his concerns about safety seemed smothering to me. He insisted on driving me to countless Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games every summer, instead of letting me take the public bus with my friends, which seemed so much more adventurous to me. He would listen to the game on the radio, leave home in the seventh inning, drive 30 minutes to the stadium and wait in the parking lot for me to emerge when the game was over. Even in an era before cell phones, we never experienced a hitch in this transportation plan since he was always on time, waiting for me.

I don’t think it’s possible for him to say no to his daughters. If we need him, he’s available to help. When my sister and I shared a condo, we called him at 2:00 in the morning to remove a frog that was hopping up our kitchen wall. He drove the 30 minutes down to our condo to evict the frog, while we cowered behind our bedroom doors. Even now, he services my car, changes the filter on my air conditioning unit and never lets me pay for any meal when I’m with him. That’s how he shows he cares. And I am the happy recipient.

My dad and me.
Many girls might have dads whose incomes allow them to buy a daughter a first car, pay for a down payment on a house or travel the world. These are all things my dad says he wishes he could have given me. Although those gifts would have been great, he has given me something far more valuable. Priceless and eternal. My dad’s life has been marked by hardship, hard work and adversity. But that life allowed him to live out what it means to have integrity, commitment to his family and a strong Christian character. And that is a father this daughter is proud to call her dad. 

To see photos of the church my grandfather painted, click here.

10 comments:

  1. What a wonderful article - so very touching! You can feel the pride and love you have for your dad and he for you. I love the pictures - you resemble some of his family...the picture of him and his dad is great - quite a good looking young man! My favorite picture, tho is of you and your dad...look at that fantatstic smile on his face...and how happy you look to have him holding you! That relationship continues - you're very fortunate! Just love the article!

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  2. Thanks, Sharon! I am very lucky to have him for a dad!

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  3. What a wonderful tribute to your father. He must be very special.

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    1. I realize I don't let him know that often enough!

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing. What a wonderful legacy of love between father and daughter, and a great reminder to be grateful for what our fathers give us.
    Christy

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  5. Beautifully written and insightful. What a wonderful way to honor your dad and your family. Only as adults can we truly begin to understand the politics of families.."heavy on emotions and light on logic". Annette

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    1. Annette,
      Glad to have you stop by! Hope you visit often and thank you so much for your very kind words! ;)

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  6. I loved this blog entry! What a wonderful dad you have, not surprising since he has a wonderful daughter too! :)

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    1. That is awfully nice of you! :) But I agree with you on the first part -- I DO have a great dad!

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