What should I get my father for Father’s Day? This is the age-old question, and one that is not easily answered. Historically, my father has been the most difficult person in the world to buy a gift for. For years, my siblings and I have tried in vain to find him the perfect gift. He always seemed to be critical and unappreciative of whatever we bought him. We started to settle for just any gift that we thought was nice. Eventually we learned that all he really wanted was time.
I always put a lot of effort into trying to find him a gift he would enjoy. He always reads the newspapers and, after all, he was a schoolteacher is whole life, so I brought him books. In fact, it seemed like such a good idea that all my siblings started buying him books. He seemed to appreciate them at first but eventually, he started to look at them with an expression on his face that said “Oh, another book!“
One year I was struggling with what to get him for Father’s Day. He seemed always to be wearing the same clothes he had been wearing all his life so I figured a new shirt would be nice. I gave him an expensive silk shirt for the summer. When he opened the present, he looked at it for a while with little or no expression on his face. I said, “Touch it Dad, its silk.“ He said, “What am I going to do with a silk shirt?“
I was hurt. I could not understand how he could be so difficult. At first, I thought he was being mean or rude. However, after all these years of knowing him I realized that what he really meant was that he felt it was too nice for him and that he didn’t need such a nice shirt. I tried to understand how he came to be this way.
My father was born in the City of Molinara, Italy on February 14, 1922. Molinara is in the Southern zone of Italy. To be exact it is in the Campania Region in the Province of Benevento. His family were sharecroppers and from his description of his early childhood, they seemed to be centuries behind modern times. His home had no electricity or indoor plumbing. None of the homes in town had either of those luxuries until later on. To this day electricity is only available in town during certain times of the day.
My father’s dad, my Grand Pa George, did not actually own the land that he farmed. My father’s grandfather, Grand Pa Cappozzi oversaw the farm. The landowners permitted the families in town to work the farm. Once a year, they would load up their ox carts with produce, travel through the mountains, and give the landowners their share of the crop.
He immigrated with his mother and brother to the United States when he was seven years old. Grand Pa George had preceded them, coming over years earlier to get a job, find a home, and get his family’s “papers“ in order.
When they came over from the old country, they had two huge steamer chests, that’s it. The entire family moved to a new country with two chests of clothing. There is a family story that my Grandmother was able to somehow disassemble my grandfather’s favorite shotgun and hide the parts amongst the clothing. I know that sounds terrible in these modern times with the worries over terrorism. However, it was an expensive item and even though my grandfather told his wife to leave it behind, she would have none of that. They paid good money for it and it was coming with them.
My father remembers that when they finally made it through Ellis Island they went to Brooklyn to stay with some friends for the night. He kept looking at the ground and the pavement because his parents told him that the streets were paved with gold, and as a child, he believed it.
He lived through the depression and learned what it was like to have nothing. He lived through World War II and learned what it was like to sacrifice. He lived through those trying times, and overcame all of these adversities. He never really saw the need to own flashy or opulent items. He just needed enough to get by and raise is family.
As I learned these facts about his life, I began to realize how he felt about receiving fancy gifts. As an adult, I spent time with my father, asking him about his life. I can now understand how he came to be the way he is. At the same time, we both gave each other the most valuable gift of all. We gave each other our time.