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The Italian Sanitation Man

Jay told me an incredible love story today.

I met him at a mentor training for Aquinas Learning and we got onto the topic of the importance of fathers.

“I’m the youngest of fifteen kids. I have fourteen older brothers and sisters, plus three half-brothers.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did your Dad pass away?” I interrupted.

“No, my Dad left my Mom…”

“Wait, he left her after fifteen kids?”

“Yeah, well, it was a good thing in the end. I mean, if I went back I wouldn’t want it to happen again, but God worked it out for the best because my stepfather was an incredible man.”

“How many kids were still at home when your Dad left?”

“Nine. There were nine of us. And the place was like a frat house. Older brothers who didn’t live there anymore were bringing their girlfriends home for the night and stuff, and my Mother couldn’t stop them. They just ran right over her.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “So what happened to your Mom?”

“Well, it was like this. My Mother started having kids when she was sixteen. By the time she was forty, the year I was born, she had fifteen. She couldn’t read, she didn’t speak English, she’d never been to a day of school in her life.

“We lived in a Spanish neighborhood in Brooklyn, and in the late Sixties, early Seventies, they didn’t have the big machines to sweep the streets. It was a guy with a broom and a trash can that went through the neighborhoods and swept up and dumped the stuff in the can. Well, my Stepfather was a sanitation man, a street sweeper, big and strong and masculine. He was Italian, but he was working in the Spanish neighborhood even though in those days, Italians and Spanish didn’t mix.

“Well, my Stepfather, he was a devout Catholic, and my mother was a devout Catholic. Everyday, he’d see her in the neighborhood and would stop and talk to her. Tell her how pretty she was. Now remember, she was forty, forty-five, had nine kids, and was on welfare. And they didn’t even speak the same language. He talked to her in the little bit of Spanish he knew because Italian is so close to it.

“Ask yourself, ‘what was his motivation?’ A strong, very handsome guy as light as you with light eyes like yours, fifty years old, never been married, got his own place and a good job, why would he marry an illiterate woman who didn’t speak his language, and was on welfare with nine little kids? And she couldn’t even cook Italian! He had to teach her to cook Italian, and then she’d make Italian for him and Spanish for the kids. But why? Why would he do all that?

“I’ll tell you why. It was love. Pure love. And I tell women that story because it can’t get any worse than how my Mother had it. And look what kind of a man God brought to her!”

Then Jay said something so profound I want to put it in capitals:

“GOD WILL SEND YOU SOMEONE GREAT. YOU JUST GOT TO WAIT AND PRAY. LOOK WHAT HE DID FOR MY MOM!”

He began ticking off numbers on his fingers. “The older kids who grew up with my biological Dad never finished even high school, but the kids my Stepfather raised, of all of us, three of us have college degrees, and I have a masters in Theology!

“He was firm in a way my Mother wasn’t. First thing he did was kick out the older kids who didn’t live there anymore. ‘You don’t live here – out!’ “YOU don’t live here – out.” He told the kids at home to pick up their stuff and made sure they did. He made us study. He was a great man.”

I stood there, thinking about what this story means.

So this fifty-year-old man falls in love with a woman who seems like the last person in the world eligible for him, and yet… didn’t God know what was best? Didn’t he give her just what she and her children (and the stepfather) needed?

How just like God to provide for us abundantly, even at our least captivating!

And how many lives has this Italian sanitation man from New York influenced with his risky love?

All fifteen children (the bigger kids threatened to kill him if he kept coming around their mother, but he came anyway), and their children, certainly. And me. And you. But consider Jay. He is a high-ranking police officer, responsible for hundreds of young men over his several-decade-long career. The nature of his job is very much like that of a father for so many young men from broken homes. All of them influenced by the parenting Jay learned from his Stepfather.

The potential impact of a single human life lived well is astronomical, and I wonder if your reading of this story is in some way part of Jay’s Stepfather’s reward. He’s like the woman with the alabaster jar of hundred-thousand dollar perfume. His acts of goodness will be told wherever this story is read.

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