My father migrated to Canada in his early 20s from Italy. He left the life he knew, his parents and siblings to marry my mother and try to build a life. He didn’t speak a single word of English, had a little money that he saved up working as a tailor in Italy, and had a heavy heart as he left his family behind to journey into the unknown.
Once in Canada, he continued his trade for a while and tailored suits. But eventually he moved on to work in a factory that made different food products. It was there that he swore his children would never drink juice.
Later on in life, he went on to work for the Toronto school board. He made those terrazzo tiles you see in many elementary schools. It wasn’t easy work. He was on his knees a lot, and always hunched over. I can remember all the evenings he’d be in so much pain on the couch. But every morning, he still got up and went to work.
My father did what a lot of Italians did, he followed something…hope. He wasn’t following a dream. He had no idea where he was going or what to expect when he got there. The only thing he knew was that where he was going he could find work. He could attempt to make some kind of a life. He had hope. And that’s all he needed.
He worked so hard. He saved all he could. He sacrificed a lot of things, did without the luxuries he would have enjoyed just so he could provide for his family. And he has. He’s raised my brother and me into two successful adults. Sure, he was hard on us a lot growing up, but as adults we can look back and see the fear that drove him to be so strict. To push us to be our best. To accept nothing but our best efforts. As children, we couldn’t have understood how hard he worked to give us all we had and how important it was to him that we take advantage of all the things he was deprived of: education, opportunity, a chance at a good life. But now, we can look back and see how lucky we are that he took a risk, and followed hope.
I remember when he used to tell me how rich we were every Christmas at the dinner table. I used to look around at our narrow kitchen, small living room and then towards the driveway with the single vehicle he and my mother shared. What the heck was he talking about? He used to tell me that I’d understand when I grew up and had my own family.
He was right. I understand. We are rich. Ridiculously rich. Out of this world rich. I know what he means now. And I’m so glad that he is the kind of man who knows what it means to be rich, and made sure his children knew the difference.
On Father’s Day, I’m reminded of how much my father has done for his family. His life was hard. But if I were to ask him what he’d do differently, I know he wouldn’t change a single thing. He accomplished exactly what he came to Canada to do. He followed a little light of hope and built a simple life.
I love him.
I’m still his little girl.
I always will be.