87: Living My Father’s Dream

87: Living My Father’s Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Living My Father’s Dream

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.

~Victor Hugo

I loved my father. Shortly before I was to be married, my father looked at me from across the breakfast table and said in his great Italian accent, “I know a lady who was thirty-five before she got married. And her father didn’t mind that she was still living at home.”

“But, Dad, I’m twenty-nine,” I replied, thinking it was kind of nice that my father cared enough to say that. But I knew where he was going with this. He made the same speech to my sisters before they got married. My father hated to see his children leave the nest, especially his daughters. Thinking back on this father-daughter chat over hot espresso and fresh biscotti often reminds me of the decision my father made to leave his own nest at seventeen and travel across a huge ocean to a faraway land called America. He had dreams for himself, and for the family he wanted. It is in those dreams that I now find myself.

My father’s formal education was limited, but he was one of the most brilliant people I have ever known. When he arrived in his new country, he embraced it by frequenting places where he could absorb the rhythm of the land and its culture. He attended night school, learning to speak, read, and write the English language. He wanted to be able to share his children’s American heritage, the children he would one day have.

More than anything, he wanted his children to have the education he never had the opportunity to get. He dreamed that his children would one day graduate from college. And America was the country that could help them fulfill that dream. “If you have your education,” he would say, “you have the world.”

My father worked hard as a bricklayer to put us through school. Some nights he would come home from work with his hands cracked and bleeding from the cold weather and wet cement. He would rub petroleum jelly on his skin, and my sister and I would help him put gloves on before he went to bed. By morning, his hands would be healed enough to go back to work.

But living my father’s dream wasn’t always easy for me. I had quit in my senior year of college. “When the time is right,” my father would say, “you will finish. And,” he continued, “I’ve saved the money for your education.”

My father died before I graduated from college thirty years later. After my last class for my Bachelor of Arts degree, I came out of the classroom on a warm spring night and looked up at the stars. “I did it, Dad!” I cried. “I graduated from college!” I was fifty-one years old. I had finally accomplished what he had dreamed for me. I could feel my father with me at that moment. I knew he was proud.

I went on to attain my teaching credential in elementary education and a Master of Arts in English and education. I was in my final quarter of graduate school, however, when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was almost fifty-five, and I would have given anything to have my father there with me — to have his arms around me, giving me words of encouragement.

For the next seven weeks, I finished my studies while undergoing radiation therapy. I graduated with my master’s degree and a clean bill of health. “I did it, Dad!” I cried again, my tears rejoicing.

As I entered my classroom of thirty-five fifth-graders, I could feel my father’s presence. He believed teachers were to be revered; they held the key to knowledge and freedom. And somewhere along the way I must have passed on my love of learning to my children. My daughter is a teacher and my son, a psychologist. My father would be so pleased to know that his American dream lives on.

“If you have your education,” I used to say to my children, “you have the world.”

Thirty-five years ago, I typed my father’s autobiography for him. He loved to write. Some mornings I would find him sitting in the chair by the living room window with a yellow pad on his lap and a pen in his hand. I would watch his rough hands glide over the page in soft, rhythmic strokes. Seeing him sitting there in the light of a new day awakened the writer in me.

After my father suffered a massive stroke, he could not speak for the last ten years of his life. But he would grab my hand and squeeze it tightly, and I knew exactly what he was saying. It was all there in his handshake.

“I love you, too, Dad,” I would answer back, gripping his hand even tighter.

And now, when I sit in the chair by my living room window with a pen in my hand, I think of my father and how I am doing what he loved to do. “Thanks, Dad,” I whisper into the light of the morning. Thank you for coming to a land called America where dreams do come true. I am living your dream. And in living your dream, I am living mine.

~Lola Di Giulio De Maci

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