Paul and Lucy Spadoni periodically live in Tuscany to explore Paul’s Italian roots, practice their Italian and enjoy “la dolce vita.”
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Thursday, June 29, 2017
Dad knows everything . . . or nothing
uncle Rudy liked to quote some folk wisdom—today’s Internet users
would call it a meme—that he had heard repeated about how people
view their fathers at various ages. One day he told it to my cousin
Annette, and she not only wrote it down but had it set into
calligraphy and framed.
My uncles Rudy and Claude at Mount Rainier.
didn’t know where Rudy first heard it. Maybe his dad—our
grandfather—told him, though it is also very likely he heard it
later in life. The message is ageless; it probably could have been
coined by any of Adam and Eve’s children. Mark Twain said something
much like it, though he personalized it and made it more concise. He
could have heard the concept in Italy, as he traveled there four
times in four different decades. Twain worded it thusly: “When
I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to
have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at
how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Annette's framed version
meme as Annette captured it from Rudy reads like this, with my
Pensano i Figli (What the sons and daughters think)
3 anni: Papá
sa tutto (at age 3: Dad knows everything)
8 anni: Papá
sa quasi tutto (Dad knows almost everything)
12 anni: Ci sono molte cose che Papá
non sa (There are many things that Dad doesn’t know)
15 anni: Papá
non sa niente (Dad doesn’t know anything)
20 anni: Domanderó consiglio a Papá
(I’ll ask Dad’s advice)
40 anni: Se avvesí ancora Papá
(If only Dad were still here)
I find that this Italian folk wisdom is being painted onto ceramics,
printed on scrolls and made into placques for sale in tourist shops.
It is rarely written the same way, as people adapt it to their own
levels of maturity and cognition through their childhood, adolescence
and then adulthood. Twain realized his dad’s wisdom at age 21; some
people take longer.
A version found in a tourist shop
some versions, the 15-year-old still hasn’t realized that Dad
doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t come to that realization
until age 20, and then at age 30 he is only able to acknowledge that
‟Mio padre qualche volta ha ragione” (sometimes my dad is right).
And then at 40, he says, ‟Ahh, se avvesí dato retta a mio padre”
(if only I had listened to my dad).
have to say, my own dad was exceptionally wise, so my own age of
ignorance about him was short—though that didn’t stop me from
doing stupid stuff as a teenager, things that I knew dad wouldn’t
approve of. I never actually thought he was off base, but I wanted to
do the stupid things anyway, so I just chose to ignore his wisdom.
That’s a typical adolescent trait, and I think that deep inside,
most adolescents who rage in frustration that their parents don’t
know anything are aware that Dad and Mom have been around the block a
Sign seen in Frank Capra movie "It's a Wonderful Life."
raised four children of my own through their teen years, I’ve seen
enough rolled eyes and exasperated expressions to be well able to
relate to this cleverly worded folk wisdom. In the Italy of my
grandparents, the father had nearly absolute authority, so it is
somewhat ironic that this meme should have originated there. The
Italian Dad was in charge, but it doesn’t mean his wisdom wasn’t
called into question. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see many
different expressions of this phenomenon expressed in many different
languages, perhaps even starting in whatever language the children of Adam and Eve spoke.