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Sal Santoro: Lessons learned from Italian immigrant father have guided state legislator on life’s journey

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Father’s Day is the day for all dads, and for me it means so much in so many ways.

My dad came to America when he was just 15 years old, alone and on a boat from Italy. In 1927, that journey took almost a month. When he arrived to Ellis Island in New York, he was processed along with the thousands of other wide-eyed, scared immigrants. Once he completed that tiring, hectic process, his brother picked him up and the two returned to an apartment in New York City. Dad was hungry, tired, and scared, but he knew coming to America was the right thing to do.

My dad always taught me not to be scared, and to always do what was right, no matter the cost. That first day, my dad’s brother went off to work and left him in the apartment with instructions to eat some food, and not to answer the door. My dad was so hungry he ate an entire loaf of bread and all the lunch meat! It was at that point, that he said he knew would like America.

My dad stayed in New York for a few weeks before he journeyed right here to Cincinnati, Ohio, where another brother lived, who was just 16 years old. It was then that the two young men, not able to read, write, or speak English, set out to find jobs. They both went to work in a tailor shop and earned just enough money to survive, after sending the majority home to Italy for their parents. My dad said that his parents always expected him to come to America, and to do better – and that’s just what he set out to do.

After some time, both brothers learned to read and write, and speak fluent English. And finally, they were able to become American citizens – one of the happiest days in my dad’s life. In due time, my dad learned American customs, and one day met my mom. Just a few short years later, World War II started, and he enlisted in the Army. This was a particularly difficult decision, considering that he would be fighting against a brother who remained at home in Italy. Nonetheless, my dad felt a strong sense of duty to his responsibility as an American citizen, and he went to war.

Because he knew he would be fighting in the war, and faced the possibility of being killed in the line of duty, he was hesitant to marry my mother for the fear of leaving her a widow at such a young age. My dad was injured in training and sent to work in the Army tailor shop not long after enlisting, which afforded him the opportunity to return home after the war ended and marry my mom.

It was then that dad and mom began their American dream. My dad went to work every single day and worked overtime so they could buy their first house, which my mom kept in tip top shape. A few years later, mom had their first child, and then another, and then I was born as the third.

My dad kept working to give us the best he could, and sometimes a Pepsi-Cola on Saturday night or dinner in a restaurant if we were good. My parent sent me and my siblings to private school, and they struggled every day to make ends meet. No matter what, we always ate dinner together, went to church together as a family, and visited our relatives weekly.

Dad never complained, he just wanted the best for his family. My father always said that a family was the most important thing anyone could have, and I couldn’t agree more. I never quite knew how much he cared about being a dad until I became one. My dad made sure his children went on to be the best they could be, to volunteer, and to help those in need. Those are just some of things my dad taught me, and part of the reason why I continually work to be a good dad – just like he was.

My dad lived to be 98 years old, and was the best dad a kid could ask for. Thanks Dad, I was lucky to have you. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Representative Santoro represents House District 60, which consists of part of Boone County. He serves as Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, on the Appropriations & Revenue Committee, the Transportation Committee, and on the Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations Committee. Rep. Santoro was elected in 2007.

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