10 Life Lessons From My Italian Father


1) “You want to wake up every day and love what you do. Actually, never mind the want; it’s what you need to do.”

My dad is the epitome of what it means to be a hard, dedicated worker. He’ll go multiple days without sleeping, stay on-site until midnight after being up since 4:30 in the morning just to make sure the job is done right, and somehow still wake up early enough to make you waffles and omelets on a Saturday morning. That being said, my dad hates his job. He hates the unpredictable hours, the fraternity-mimicking politics, the hollow monotony of a career he never really wanted. And one thing he’s always reminded me of is the importance of an enjoyable career. Leave room for options and never let up, even if the odds are stacked against you. If my dad can work consecutive sixteen-hour days at a job he hates, what’s my excuse?

2) “You may not always agree with someone, but you should always respect them.”

Coming from an Italian family, there is bound to be the occasional (and by occasional, I mean every other day) vein-popping, steam-coming-out-of-your-ears, dramatic-for-no-reason, “the-windows-are-open-and-the-neighbors-can-hear-us” type of argument that drives two equally stubborn people to opposite ends of the conversational spectrum. It’s natural, it’s normal, and it’s second-nature in my family. But no matter the conflict, my dad has always stressed that a mutual respect must exist in order for the issue to be resolved. Low blows and name-calling are easy ways to shift the mood from a friendly disagreement to an all-out war, and it’s unnecessary. Defend your beliefs and opinions, but never stoop down to another level just to get a reaction.

3) “It’s never ‘goodbye,’ it’s ‘see you later.’”

We have this weird taboo in my family where we never say goodbye. My dad said it never sat well with him; that saying goodbye meant you wouldn’t be seeing the person for a long time, or again even. Maybe it’s extreme and overly sentimental, but I’m kind of in love with the idea of never having to say goodbye to someone I love.

4) “Forget about what all those other people think. Can you look at yourself in the mirror every day and still be proud? That’s all that matters.”

I’m a firm believer in the “Self-Respect before Public Opinion” theory that my Dad coined during our first “adult conversation.” It goes something like this. Let’s say you love comic books. I’m talking ‘queen of superheroes’ who spends half her rent check on a collector’s item type of love. Let’s also say it’s the nerdiest, most uncool hobby you could ever have. Are you going to put an end to that hobby because some nosy outsiders don’t understand or agree? Do you plan on tossing those vintage t-shirts because the thought of wearing them to a bar on a Thursday night and getting eye-rolls thrown your way is too much for you to handle? In the words of my father, “Forget about them.” And that goes for anything that falls outside of “the norm.” If what you love, or who you love, makes you a happier, better version of yourself, then what else matters?

5)“Say what you feel, right when you feel it.”

Nothing hurts more than wondering, “what if?” On a small scale, the consequences are trivial (i.e., “What if I went to my spin class instead of housing an entire medium Papa John’s veggie pizza last week?). But on a large scale, so many important factors come into play. What if you stay in a loveless relationship because you’re too scared to find someone else? What if you fall into a mundane routine because money trumps your creative passions? What if you don’t speak up and everything you’ve ever wanted suddenly becomes unattainable? In the words of my father, “Never be afraid.” The minute you allow your fears to consume your dreams is the minute you stop growing and evolving into the happiest version of yourself.

6) “Be grateful for what you have.”

If I had a quarter for every time I heard this phrase fly out of my father’s mouth, I would have free laundry for at least a year. Growing up, we lived on an average income. We ate home-cooked meals almost every night, we planned weekend getaways instead of 10-day excursions, and we learned how to rock the hell out of our hand-me-downs. And through all the Birthdays, Christmases, and days in between when my sisters and I asked my parents why other children always seemed to have more, they never failed to remind us this lesson. There will always be someone out there with a better salary, a more glamorous career, a newer apartment, a more polished wardrobe – it’s the way of the world. But you must always be thankful for and humbled by everything that you are lucky enough to have. Even the hand-me-downs.

7) “Always leave a good tip.”

One of my father’s biggest pet peeves is a bad tipper. Sure, walking through the house with rain-soaked shoes or cracking your knuckles during The Walking Dead really grinds his gears, but barely covering the tax on your $100 dining experience is a concept he’ll never comprehend or accept. His loathing of bad tippers is merely an extension of how he believes the world should work. Elbow grease and overtime hours should never be unacknowledged or unrewarded, regardless of social status or gender. Blue collar or white collar, male or female, school janitor or stockbroker, everyone is entitled to the same level of respect.

8) “Turn every mistake into a lesson.”

There’s nothing wrong with messing up. We’re human – it happens. Make mistakes (even the ones your family and friends incessantly warn you against), but remember to take a lesson away from each one. Everyone’s telling you not to date that jerk, not to move to that city, not to take that temp job, but at the end of the day, it’s your life and you’re entitled to screw it up a little bit. Just learn how to fix it, too (Store that advice in a safe place for future use; it will most definitely come in handy when you’re not stubborn enough to ignore it).

9) “Never forget where you come from.”

I swear, every time I think about this my mind instantly gravitates toward that scene in The Lion King when Simba finally remembers who he is. Like, I’m reading it in my head, in Mufasa’s voice. While you may consider this a major digression on my part, it must be said that my dad’s all-time, favorite Disney movie is The Lion King, maybe even because of this particular lesson. As I’ve transitioned from high school prom to college dorm to NYC apartment, I feel as though the connection to my roots has somehow become stronger over time. Maybe it’s because my parents expect a phone call at least once every day. Or when the breakups and breakdowns came – as they always will – I was reminded how much I was loved. Whatever the case, whether you move across the country for a once-in-a-lifetime job, or marry into a new family with new traditions, never ever lose sight of the person you are and, to quote Miranda Lambert, “the house that built you.”

10) “Be with someone who appreciates you as much as I do.”

Without fail, my dad is the only person on this planet who can instantly make me weep. It’s like my tear ducts work double time whenever he gets even the slightest bit sentimental. So when we have those rare father-daughter conversations that involve looking into the future and wondering how life will turn out, it’s only natural that the subject of marriage comes up. My dad is past the point of trying to convince me that no one is ever going to be good enough; but he does have stipulations when it comes to the people I date, the most vital of which requires ‘said male’ to know and value my worth. Diamonds and vacations and five-star restaurants are all well and good, but if he doesn’t take the time to know me, I mean really dig deep and peel away the layers, is he really the person you want to end up with? Do I want to spend my life with the kind of person who, after venting to them about an atrocious day in the office, dangles money symbols in front of my face instead of a jumbo pack of Twizzlers, because they never bothered to remember my go-to binge snack? It’s the impromptu love notes you find in you car on the way to work, the goofy voicemail they leave when their meeting runs late and dinner is (finally) on its way, the single rose left on your pillow because they thought you could use a pick-me-up. Always choose the sentimental gestures over the grand ones and find someone who says ‘I love you’ without opening his mouth. TC Mark

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