My One Regret & 9 Lessons Learned From A Sicilian Immigrant
(My Dad and me in front of our restaurant sometime in the 70’s)
I saw my dad for the last time July 4th.
He died on Nov. 7th, 2017.
Head over to the Fitnesspreneur’s Life Podcast for the full episode I recorded in tribute to my Dad.
On the 4th, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, friends all gathered at my sister’s house for one final big family reunion like we used to have as kids on the 4th. knowing full well, this would be for many of us, the final time we see him.
Growing up my Dad and 2 of his 3 brothers, owned La Strada Restaurant together, and for 35 years of our lives, those men would only take 4 holidays off; Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and July 4th.
It was one of our favorite holidays because we would all be together and eat, cause trouble, eat more, play games, ride bikes, cause more trouble, eat, and be a loud Italian family. My wife still to this day is trying to get used to how loud we are.
For years, my father was deteriorating with dementia and Alzheimer’s to the point of it having whittled his brain and body to a shell of its former self and it would often take some time for him to remember me.
Luckily, the years of trouble I caused created deep grooves in his brain that not even dementia could totally wipe me out from his memory.
Seeing him on the 4th was tough, he wasn’t the man I remember growing up with. The last time he was at his best, was at my wedding in 2015. We are so grateful he was able to be there, and that he was able to remember the time, and live to see me find the woman of my dreams.
I remember looking at his hands this July 4th, and they were no longer the strong, calloused hand that used to pound pizza dough for 35 years. They weren’t the ones that planted gardens and groves or made homemade wine at our childhood house in Long Island, NY. And they were no longer the ones that provided our family with the opportunity to live in this country.
My one regret is that I didn’t tell my dad I loved him enough over our lives. Sicilian men are not like that. Well, that’s the stereotype; and our family lived that stereotype.
It’s not to say the men and fathers in our family didn’t love their sons, it was just the open expression of that love was not the norm. They came from a different time, a different era of life. But, we knew they loved us, it was never a questions, it was a constant. I gave him every reason to want to toss me to the curb, but he always was there.
Our dads worked 12-16 hour days to have a business that could support our moms being home to raise us, so we could be taken care of by family, not by others. My dad and his brothers worked all day to afford our schools, cars, health insurance, food, clothes and all the things that a lot of families struggle with.
My wife had to pay for all that herself growing up. My dad paid for most of that for me. He showed his love by providing for the family, so we could be in school, and have the opportunities he and his family didn’t have when they had to leave Sicily for America.
In my youth, I didn’t honor this as much as I should have. But, later on, I made sure he knew that he did good work.
It’s always been awkward for me to say I love you to him or my mom. I still have a bit of that old school Sicilian in me. But, we left nothing unsaid that July 4th. We said our goodbyes, we said I love you, and we honored a well lived life that taught us so much.
I was reflecting on plane rides and in between conferences all the top lessons my dad taught me growing up that I still live and utilize as life’s rules and principles that dictate the choices and decisions I make. I’ve used these principles to live what I hope will be remembered as a good life. I hope they can help serve you in your pursuit of a well lived life.
1. Always Work With An Immigrants Work Ethic.
My dad taught us that work is a privilege. They came here with $5 in their pockets and not once viewed work as a chore. They were proud to work. Proud to sell. Proud to build. Proud that they had an opportunity to do good work and give to people. They ever had this modern day entitlement about work. It was part of how they could leave a mark for a better life for their family. It was their responsibility.
2. Do Your Best Work No Matter What It Is.
I remember being a kid washing glasses at our restaurant and looking for any way to rush the job, so I could get outside and play in the back alley. Then my dad grabbing me, with the not so clean glasses I had just washed and he asked me, “would you want to drink out of this glass if you were paying for it?”
I said, “No.”
He then asked, “so why would you work this way here in our restaurant? The restaurant that pays for my food, school, toys and everything.”
My dad had a way of asking questions that made me feel guilty without having to yell at me. He then shared this key lesson, when he said, “ I don’t care if you are a garbage man, do it well, someone owns that business and they deserve that for paying you.”
I learned that day to do things well. I later learned in life how you do anything is how you do everything. Life can be simple.
3. Take care of your family.
Throughout all my years, the one lesson that we saw lived everyday between my dad and his 3 brothers was the fact that they believed in one thing- at the end of the day family will be the ones by your side. Take care of them even when you might not be getting along. Forgive them, and come back to them
I watched my dad and his brothers, give all they had, as one, for each other. If one went down they all came together. An uncle of mine for a period of years became a gambling addict and lost tens of thousands of dollars in bets, and my Dad and his brothers, would be there, money in hand to make sure his brother’s family was never affected until they could get him the help he needed.
They were loyal to each other almost to a fault. But, I saw in those acts the way we should treat family. I strive everyday to live that
4. Take care of and give to your guests.
35 years of owning a restaurant and the man would always over-deliver. An extra serving here, a few extra garlic knots there, a few moments at a table sitting with guests. My dad was the charismatic one, the talker (it is where I got it after all) who would smooze our restaurant guests, know their names, ask about their kids.
It’s why we had guests who came to our restaurant for all 35 years we had it. He was a man of the people. It’s probably why I often go the extra distance with my coaches and students and jump on calls even when my schedule is crazy. Or why when I present I offer free coaching calls because I was taught to give to our guests. Growing up in a Sicilian household, we gave of our food, fed anyone who walked in, and poured wine to make everyone feel welcome. Taking care of the people close to us and the people who entrust us was a simple choice my dad taught us to make.
5. Love the simple things.
My dad didn’t understand why we would want to go out to a restaurant or why we would want to buy wine. He would always say, “why go out when ur mother and grandmother can cook. And what’s better than our restaurant.”
We had a massive garden, made our own wine, had homemade cooking our whole lives, he took us to Italy to see the family, made sure we loved soccer and the simple things that men who loved a simpler life and worked their whole lives took pleasure in.
I didn’t give this lesson as much weight as I do today. My wife and I live overlooking vineyards away from the hustle and bustle, we cook 6 days a week, except for date night, and we enjoy wine, sunsets, gardens, our work and trips to Italy to see our friends. Those simple things keep love in our hearts, work in our soul, and memories as the treasures of a lifetime.
6. To honor our heritage.
When my dad came to America, there was a lot of discrimination as people feared the immigrants taking their jobs. It’s sad how that conversation still exists today over immigration. And while many immigrants coming over changed their names to blend in, my father refused. He taught us to never forget where we came from. A proud Sicilian, they always took us back to Sicily to spend months in our youth knowing where we came from, to speak the language and so we could know our history. As simple as teaching us to root for both our national teams in soccer, Italy and USA. My dad would say, “never forget where we come from. But the world is meant for all of us.” I wish the world would learn to honor our diversity and heritage of the many people this Earth was meant for.
7. Sacrifice for what you believe in.
My dad didn’t think of things the way I do today, in the sense of mission, message, and fighting for a better vision for this world. He sacrificed his time, energy, and focus to provide his family with a better life. That was his mission. And he fought for it everyday, in the restaurant working with his three brothers, in a country where English wasn’t his first language, but they built something that provided for 3 families, was remembered by every family that ate at La Strada and gave people the simple pleasure of a good meal in a good place with enough leftovers to take home and have another meal tomorrow.
8. Sense of Humor.
My dad had a running joke whenever I brought a girl to the house, or the restaurant, where his first question to her was… “what you can’t you do any better?” It always made them laugh, they felt at home, and then off into the wine cellar for some grappa and wine. Poor girls didn’t know what to do. But, that sense of humor helped everyone who met my dad feel a little better. I believe we could all use more humor in our lives, in our work, and to keep perspective that life should be lived to its fullest.
9. Patience and Tolerance.
He never told me “be patient and be tolerant.” He lived it. How did I know because he should have killed me 100 times. I wasn’t always this well behaved growing up and he had many chances to write me off, but he never did. Through school suspensions, troubles in life and money, he just did what he felt was his responsibility which was to take care of us, give us another shot and set us up for better success. That was how he showed us patience to learn, patience to grow, and the tolerance to accept we all different but life is our work, we are made up of our history, and we sacrifice for the things closest to us.
Thanks for all the lesson Dad. I hope up there you see the work we’re doing, the heritage we are honoring, and the family we are taking care of. Love you.
p.s.- For your listening pleasure, take a listen at Fitnessprenuer’s Life Show to see how you can implement the lessons I learned from a Sicilian Immigrant to bring into your business and life this year.
p.p.s. – You can create anything you want so that we can go out there and illuminate the lives of the people that are looking for us to help serve them.
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