As many know, I am of Italian descent. My grandparents came from Italy, and we grew up in an Italian-American household, with many Italian specialties on our table, and many Italian holiday-influenced celebrations, but our family, like many families in my classmates, were proud to be American, just as much as to be Italian.
Many of my friends, also of Italian descent, fathers served this country in one of the armed forces, and were proud to have done so. Memorial Day and the 4th of July were celebrated patriotically and proudly, like all holidays/holidays in our Italian and American heritages, so we weren’t just Italians living in America, we were raised as true Italian- Americans.
Due to our ancestral heritage, our parents, although mine were born in this country, not in Italy, have always taught and influenced us just as their parents did. Growing up under their roofs, under their rules and expectations, we sometimes scratched our heads wondering what they thought as parents. We never really questioned our fathers openly, we were more likely to challenge our mothers by thinking about what we should do, and why we should do things, the way they said we should and would do.
It wasn’t until a friend, a fellow Italian-American, and I were recently sitting around talking about our home life growing up, laughing loudly, because it seemed like we, and many other children of original Italian, we grew up or went to school with, could have swapped houses growing up and our lives would be almost exactly the same. Our memories lead us to the conclusion that our parents, especially our mothers, raised us the way they did, because that was the way their parents taught them, and they were supposed to do things the way their parents had said it without asking questions, discussing or negotiating, and being kind and respectful to others.
One of the biggest parenting strategies our mothers used was guilt. I haven’t met many Italian Americans of my generation, who don’t have guilt scars, whose mothers didn’t use guilt to make them do things or behave the way they did. said. Ask any of them. If you didn’t behave as they expected, you would be cursed with a guilt that enveloped you, with no expiration date. Where did they learn to use guilt as a parenting strategy? It probably happened to them.
Another strategy used by mothers to make their point was fear. Not necessarily physical fear, although we were spanked in childhood if our misbehavior warranted it, but nothing that we considered abuse. Mothers got creative in using fear as a dormant seed that they could plant in your subconscious and reawaken it when they wanted to set you right. How many would agree that the fear of what might happen to you was worse than if it actually happened? Our Mothers were the unofficial creators of the animated television program from 1972 to 1974 which included characters voiced by Tom Bosley and Jack Burns. How many remember “Wait until your father comes home?” » I guess producers Hanna and Barbara (of Italian descent?) were inspired by hearing that phrase from most moms these days. There was also the warning that God was still watching. Being Catholic, our Baltimore Catechism was about fearing the Lord, so that worked just as well as the threat of Dad finding out we misbehaved. It was another seed planted in our minds that always made us look over our shoulders or up to the sky. One more “to fear,” sometimes played as an ace in the hole, was the periodic mention of Father Baker.
Other things our mothers did that made us wonder why they did what they did included feeding everyone who came to our house. Coffee breaks for working-from-home entrepreneurs took place at our kitchen table with fresh coffee and baked goods. Once the dryer repairman complimented the aroma of something cooking for dinner, and poof, an extra table was set up and we had a dinner guest. My friend told me that her mother chose where she wanted her alarm clock based on the number of steps at the funeral home, because a lot of her friends were older and she didn’t want them have to take too many steps when paying their respects.
What were they thinking? Why did they do certain things that they did? My buddy’s explanation, and it’s a good one, is that it’s what they learned from their parents, to raise their children with religion, discipline, and feel bad if one disappointed others, or s is less behaved than expected, and always thinking and sharing with, others, no matter how much, or little, you had.
And guess what? It worked. We survived guilt, fear, discipline and most of our generation brought a lot of what we learned from our parents to our families, and we share with them what’s in that story so that they know what we learned and why we taught it.
We laugh at many things our mothers said and did, but the fact that we remember them clearly and vividly must mean that they influenced us and helped lay the foundations of a very good life for us.