Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers and Sons

Great-Grandfather Assuntino Luigi Cevola in Palermo - 1890's

I never knew my Great-Grandfather, Assuntino, but I met him, thirteen years after he died in Palermo, in 1971. I was feeling sick and was in his bed, in the house on Via Roma, 97. It was August and sweltering. I had eaten something, I think it was an omelet, and it didn’t set well with me. I was going in and out of sleep, sweating, the heat and fumes from the busy street, floors below; it was a confluence of moments. And then, in a dream, I think, he appeared. “What are you doing in my bed?” he asked. “I am sick and resting in it,” I answered. “Who are you?” he questioned again. “I am Alfonso.” He looked at me, “You are not my son.” I returned the look. “No, I am your great-grandson.” He gave that sideways stare he was known for and replied, “Va bene, you can stay.” And he disappeared.

I often have conversations with family members who are no longer alive. In fact, some of the best conversations I have had were with family member who have passed away. They are easier, less stressed, less busy. They understand the concept of eternal reconciliation.

Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in America - 1910's

My grandfather, he was such an enigma. He looked to me more Japanese than Italian. But then his father could have just come from Genghis Khan’s campfire. My grandfather really had the charmed life. A woman to look after his every need, cleaning, great cook, raising the kids. And he would go about his business and be home in time for dinner. She would make him breakfast, and lunch. I often wonder how my grandfather thought of my grandmother. I often wonder about women, too, who treat their husbands like little boys, seeing after their every need. I wouldn’t know about that, save for the brief time when I was young and cute and my mom and sisters would look after me.

Father Louis and Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in California - late 1920's

For the last half of my life, I have raised a son and buried a wife. Today my son had to work. We got together Friday night and made a great dinner. Bistecca Fiorentina, baked potatoes, roasted corn and a sumptuous green salad. With bottles of Soave, Sangiovese and Syrah. So we had our moment.

Father Louis Cevola in California - 1932

I loved being a dad when my son was young. I loved doing all the things that I thought a son would want. I pulled it from the pages of my childhood. My dad was a salesman, and always working. We never took a vacation. The few days we took off, we’d end up looking at real estate and going to restaurants where the bacon wouldn’t be cooked well enough and the hash browns weren’t brown enough. I guess he had his demons. But I vowed I’d be there for my son. I remember coaching the soccer team, though to this day I have no idea how soccer really works. When I was in little league baseball, my mom would be there in the stands, and in other times throwing the ball with me. My dad was making deals. My dad, the deal maker. Big deal. He missed out on his son’s life. He missed out on his life. He was so busy running around that before he knew it, kaplooey, he was dead at 69. My grandfather lived seven years past the death of his son. He died when he was 97. Great grandfather Assuntino made it one month shy of 86.

Grandfather Alfonso, author Alfonso, son Rafael and father Louis Cevola in California - late 1970's

So I really never knew any of the fathers in my life. Except for the dream, my great grandfather and I were separated by the ocean and time. My grandfather really didn’t have any contact with me other than basic ones. No advice, no talks, no intellectual connection. My dad, he was a philosopher after the testosterone died down and he mellowed. But until then he was an emotional whirlwind. He was always warning me about women. Too bad he didn’t slow down a little, like his dad, and stick around for me and his grandson.

Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Texas - early 1980's

My son, who knows if he’ll carry the name forward? It doesn’t look like my life will be one that will be populated with adoring (or otherwise) grandchildren. So it goes.

Son Rafael Cevola in his clan kilt - early 2000's

When it is all said and done, what have any of the fathers before me left for the future family members? There are pictures, tons and tons of pictures. And films. My father wrote a book about world history, when he was a young boy. He did leave us that. But what is it that they would have wanted to leave for their future sons? I really cannot say. I don’t know. I look at the pictures and stare at them, and try to ascertain their dreams. But I really don’t know what they were looking for.

Son Rafael Cevola the fire-breather - early 2000's

Maybe they were just looking to get through the day with enough food and money and safety. Basic needs. But I really cannot say. I wish life would have worked out where I had been able to really dig into their minds, and they into mine. But they are gone now. Only me and my son remain standing in the New World.

Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Ireland - 2006

However passionate, however rebellious the heart that rests in a tomb, the flowers that have sprung up over it look peacefully at us with their innocent eyes; they speak to us not only of eternal repose, of that perfect repose of "indifferent" nature ; they speak to us also of eternal reconciliation, and of a life which cannot end.
-Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev ~ Fathers and Sons


brian_in_gib said...

What a beautiful, thoughtful post Alfonso. I'm a son and father, and I mess up too often being both. But I keep on trying because as you rightly say, there comes a point when it's too late.
I'll say this again, I really do love your writing.
greetings from Gib,

Marco Milazzo said...

Great post, amico. Reminds me of Odysseus and his fathering call that brought him back home.

Thomas said...

Having met none of my grandparents and barely knowing my father (I'm the last of twelve kids with a span of years that makes the oldest more than older enough to have been my father) it is without question a gap with which to have to have lived.

You are lucky, Alfonso. You have a few things that you can reach for--pictures, places, etc.--to give you a sense of connection.

Lovely word verification for this comment: parchi (looks Italian!).

tasteofbeirut said...


At least you can write and share your wishes and regrets with your readers; and we can all reflect on the same things.

Pedro Angel Garcia said...

Thank you for sharing a special part of your wonderful family history! I have had similar "dream" experiences with deceased loved ones. Bravo!

Samantha Dugan said...

As always a beautifully written and very moving piece. I so admire your dedication to being a father to your son....a relationship I can only observe but greatly appreciate and find truly beautiful.

Dr. Timothy said...

As the founder and president of the AFA (Asshole Fathers of America), I was touched by this post. Nice work, Alf. Here's to "eternal reconciliation."

Juliette Cevola Becker said...

Happy Father's Day, Alfonso. I hope you received my ecard.

I can tell you something about the way Nonno and Dad felt. Nonno loved Nonna to a fault. Yes, she did baby him but he babied her as well. He did not want her to grate cheese because he said it would ruin her beautiful hands. He did not want her to wash the curtains and hang them on the line, or clean the glasses in the china cabinet or stand on her feet cooking for hours. She did those things because she LOVED to do them. He worked side by side her all of those years. Not doing them was a deprivation for her. That was their running battle. They would laugh and giggle at night in their room, when they shared one. And call out to each other when they didn't. They would have coffee and brandy in the afternoon and dance to Lawrence Welk in the evenings. They loved each other until the day she died. It was a beautiful relationship. Sure, they had their moments, but that's to be expected. They married at 16 and 17 and lived together for 64 years. We should all be so blessed.

Dad was an enigma. He wanted desperately to be an actor. And he would have been a good one not only because of his movie star looks but his passionate heart. But instead of pursuing his dreams, he was the dutiful son. He took over his father's business when he was only 15 and worked hard the rest of his life.

I'm sorry you didn't get to see their depth, and know their dreams. I am only sad that I didn't get to know Assuntino, my great grandfather. I did speak to him once on the phone but his life for me was just the stories told lovingly but Nonno, Nonna, Auntie and Dad.

Love, Julie

Alfonso Cevola said...

Brian - Thanks so much - appreciate your kind comments

Marco - as usual you are a loyal reader. Interesting analogy

Thomas - last of 12 kids - man you will always be the "baby", eh?

Samantha - thanks you dear Sam - I know you know.

Pedro - thanks - It must be our Latin blood.

Julie - thanks sis....glad you were able to connect with them on that level and experience it. Good to see that now two of us spell Nonna and Nonno correctly. Thanks for your memories.

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