Growing up I struggled to get along with my dad. We just never seemed to agree on much. I always found myself doing the exact opposite of what he always told me to do. I can’t say that I’ve been the exemplary son by any stretch of the imagination. If anything I was considered the black sheep of the family. I rebelled … and how. Growing up I always felt like I never fit in. I saw things differently. I did not want to comply.
My dad was born in a very small town in Italy called Pianopoli, literally a town slapped across the side of a small mountain in the southern region of Italy. To this day it maintains its quaintness and I do occasionally visit from time to time. The landscape has changed even from when I was growing up. What used to be thriving farms in the area have all but been abandoned. The town has grown some but it still remains a small town with little or no industry.
My father was the second in a family of eleven children. That too is pretty amazing since my grandmother was pregnant eighteen times. Growing up he served in the military like most his age as it was mandatory. As a young man he did what most his age would do for employment and go north seeking a better way of life. He eventually returned to Calabria and met my mother when he was in his twenties. They were an attractive couple and have been married now for over fifty years. Back then it was all about family. Your own and that of those closest to you.
Growing up in my dad’s house was not easy. I was different and wanted to live a very free life. Resentments grew. I disagreed with almost everything my dad stood for and the wall between us grew higher and stronger. By the time I was in my early twenties I wanted nothing to do with him. I just didn’t understand his way of thinking. Why he made certain decisions. It felt like he didn’t care about any of us. He wanted what he wanted and that was all there was to it. I vowed I would never be like him.
Sad to say I went for almost seven years without talking to him. I went to visit him with my own family back in 1987 and it was a strained visit. He spent any social time mostly with my daughter and now ex-wife. Always chatting it up with them but he and I never really connected. I do recall him making an attempt the day before we had to leave to return home to Canada. I think he felt like he had to do the dutiful thing and give me advice on how to raise a family. I acknowledged it but wasn’t really listening. That silence went on for a few more years.
I personally went through a period of time where I felt lost. I was missing so much in my life or at least that’s how I felt. I started attending weekend retreats to help me uncover and discover things about myself. I began to change and what I discovered was that I missed having a true relationship with my father. I also realized that growing up he never once uttered the words ‘I love you’ to me or any of us for that matter. I discovered this during a spiritual retreat back when I was thirty three. I finally knew what I wanted from my father. I just wanted to hear him say it. The week following my retreat I finally called him and as always my mother answered the phone and I asked to speak with dad. She was surprised as I’m sure my dad was too. That was a very emotional phone call for me and after about forty five minutes he finally said what I had waited a lifetime to hear – I love you.
That conversation shifted my relationship with my dad. Since then I’ve made every effort to connect with him when I could. My parents have retired back to Italy after having lived in Canada for the better part of my life. About seven years ago, I decided that I would visit at least once a year even if for only a few days. Our time together is much different now. I do not always agree with him and yes there are still some pretty heated debates about trivial things, but that’s all they are – trivial matters. We now openly say I love you and I make it a point to never hang up the phone unless we all say it.
Needless to say when I visit it is difficult to leave them. My dad is almost 82 and my mom is 71. My father thinks more about his life and also how much time he has left on this earth mostly because he has seen his older sister and a couple of his younger brothers pass away. Lately he hasn’t been feeling well and was hospitalized because of some heart issues. That’s what prompted me to sit back and think and write about my dad.
I’ve realized over the years that the gap that existed between he and I was there because of my misunderstandings also. He can be and was very tough and sever at times, but that’s all he knew growing up. Love to him was getting a belt across your butt when you didn’t behave. Love was yelling at you for making a mistake. Love was not letting you go out because he couldn’t be there to protect you all the time. I recall a time when my dad was forty and his dad (my grandfather) scolded and raised a cane towards my dad because he spoke out of line and was considered disrespectful. It was his understanding of love given to him by his father who passed it down from his father I’m sure. It didn’t make it right or wrong, good or bad. It made him my dad and although it took me years to understand, we are alike in many ways and I’m ok with that.
There are so many great things we share now and I can openly laugh and talk about anything even on a personal note, something I was never able to do growing up. I know I can never recapture all those years we lost when we weren’t talking and at the same time I feel blessed because I’ve been given an opportunity to change things so that I can enjoy all the days we have left … with my dad.