Updated: Feb 9, 2022
‘If I Were in Charge of the World’ by Judith Viorst is a poem that I often share with my students. It makes me laugh. It makes me wonder. Who, ever, has been in charge of my life? Is it a figure I feared? A leader I admired? A person I respected?
In my early years, my mom and dad were in charge of me. My actions resulted in rewards and punishments more as an element of my parents’ moods than the actual positive or negative severity of my doings. It is a scenario that I learned to navigate (selfishly so) to my advantage.
My dad always worked. Monday through Saturday, he came home before night time. We sat together at the dinner table to eat but rarely had anything to say. Too tired, too hungry, and too worried. On Sundays, he never rested. He was always fixing things around the house, windows, doors, and whatever he could put his hands on. He was a doer. Always in action.
Our father-son relationship was mostly based on traditional boss-servant dynamics rather than moral-spiritual guidance. On Sundays, when we worked on home projects, my responsibilities were reduced to menial tasks: carrying the tool box, sweeping the floor, and putting the ladder away. It rarely focused on, “…This is how you mix cement,” and, “… When you push the brick down, do it with a steady hand.” Yet, by the afternoon, when I asked for venticinque lire, twentyfive lire, to go to the movies, the cash was always available for me.
Life for my father was work and work was life. As many monks would say, “Ora et labora!” In my father’s case (who rarely stepped into a church), it became, “Labora atque labora!” Perhaps, without knowing, he planted the seed for my love for reading for a lifetime. Every Saturday night, I looked forward to his usual evening arrival (he traveled to work by bicycle). Every Saturday night, he would bring the latest issue of the Il Monello, an illustrated magazine, a compendium of cartoons, anecdotes, and random facts. I absolutely loved its contents. It was the most ultimate pleasure seeking moment of my life.
My mom was omnipresent. Even when she wasn’t around, I could hear her saying, “Pasqualino! Pasqualino!” A moral beacon wherever I went, “ I am here… I am following you… Beware … Don’t do anything stupid!” My mom set the boundaries for what was acceptable or unacceptable, for what was good or bad, for what was right or wrong. She was the judge, the giustiziere, the lawbringer, the punishment dispenser.
Our mother-son dynamics was, in many ways, a contradiction in itself. I felt her moral compass lingering over me, her emotional voice overwhelming me, and her physical presence suffocating. Yet, my mom stretched the time, the space, and the light that I needed to relinquish my childhood ways and become a respected adolescent.
It was my mom who showed me how to be persistent and self- reliant. In prima media, the first year of middle school, when I failed to show up for an exam on a Saturday morning (Bus # 22, the transportation that took students to town never showed up and there were no other means for me to get to town), it was mom who came to the rescue. She was told, "No, your son cannot retake the exam." There was no alternative: I had to repeat the scholastic year. My mom did everything possible to plead my case. She had a persuasive comare, godmother, speak eye to eye to the superintendent of the Comitato Scolastico di Messina.
No! It wasn’t going to be. I had to repeat the year. She knew how to solve problems. My mom talked to the village priest. The priest, Padre Settinieri, tutored me privately and, in June of 1962, I shined with flying colors in all my exams. Just like that! Two years of scholastic work completed in one. I was the talk of the town. The smart one. People looked at me with admiration. From shame to glory, ‘Dalle stalle alle stelle!”
My mom was in charge of me and my first true boss. She showed me that with discipline, persistence, and pride, fortune could be at your feet and within reach. I learned that you’ll often fall, fail, and give up on yourself. What makes the difference is the courage to get up, try again, and believe in yourself.
Interweaving their unconditional tough love, my mom and dad were and always will be my true bosses. My mom and dad will always be the omnipresent intangible force that set the beacon for my life journey.