Two years ago, I wrote a parenting book, Barefoot in the City, and I dedicated the book to Antonio Castellano.
Antonio works for McKinsey & Company. He worked crazy hours in Jakarta. But in the fast-paced world of international business, Antonio never stopped being the boy from Sicily who loves football and who stays close to his boyhood friends. He holds on to the values of the old world and his connection to what that is real and meaningful. This I admire and love deeply, because it is so easy to lose our way when a fast and glamorous existence beckons. Lost, we develop a new set of values, a new reality, to justify our less-than-honourable actions and selfish choices in pursuit of temporary highs and fools’ gold.
My eldest son Nicolas is 29, and plays in the same fast and glamorous world as Antonio. I have told Nicolas several times in the past, get close to Antonio, talk to him, learn from him. Never forget where you come from and the values that your parents brought you up with. Be like Antonio. After all, both men are not that dissimilar: both are the eldest of five children, both are sons of mothers who are religious and who are doctors, both have fathers who are ten years older than their mothers, who are wonderful, strong fathers. Both are successful, despite their idyllic childhoods.
Antonio endeavours to spend several weeks a year in Sicily at Christmastime with his family, despite his hectic work schedule and ample opportunities to be somewhere else glamorous. But for Antonio, it has always family and home.
“Wine?” I tease.
“Yes,” Across the miles, I can so easily imagine his megawatt-bright smile as he walks home late at night through the streets of Sicily, talking on his phone to me. “Pasta and family too. It was a good night.”
I feel a deep longing in my heart. “Don’t forget to bring back for me vin santo. And cantucci. And that little fried pastries from the corner of your apartment block.”
He doesn’t forget. His bag spills with goodies for me, even though he travels with carry-on luggage only. I dive on the goodies, cooing gleefully like a little girl, completely ignoring the little Hermes box.
“I have been thinking about my parents,” he says. “What keeps a long marriage going.”
Me: ‘Read to me.”
He: “Ambrogio’s book?”
Me: “No, your essays. The stuff you wrote. And then Ambrogio’s book later.”
Ambrogio, his boyhood friend, who wrote the beautiful story about wartime love in Monte Rosa. Antonio remains in close contact with his boyhood friends. Four hours after arriving in Milan, I faced six of those guys, and he was sitting there, happiest as I have ever seen him, as they teased him mercilessly about his (lack of) footballing skills. This is his world, this is the real world. This is what that really matters.
That deep connection and transmission of old values are maintained throughout the year whilst he was in Jakarta by the effort of his Uncle Sal. Uncle Sal is a schoolteacher back in Sicily. He would send recipes, along with his teachings. As we ate the food, so too we imbibed the good values from home. Through Antonio, I started to feel proud to be quarter Italian.
So my question is, do we invest enough in teaching our children core good values? And do we do enough to keep the education going for our older children? Do we hold them close enough in adulthood so that they don’t lose their way? Have we ourselves lost our way?
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
~ Matthew 16:26
And it was precisely for this reason that I wrote my parenting book, a book about raising kids to be happy, strong AND decent human beings. Someone that his parents can be proud of, someone who leaves a legacy of light in a darkening world. As with the book, I dedicate this blog to another woman’s son, the boy from Sicily who grew up to be the man who read to me, cooked for me, and sat with me in the Catholic church in Jakarta, the sweetest moments ever. Lei, Castellano.
My message for the day: hold your children close, hold each other close. Spend more time in your hometown, connect those old values once more. And if you have time, read the fable of Icarus.