Sunday, June 20, 2010

My father

My father, Anthony Ciaramitaro III was born August 20th, 1947 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was born to Loyse and Anthony Ciaramitaro, a blue collar family. He was born in a time of reserved family structure and economic recovery after World War II. Men were returning home from the war, and women were intent on making a home and raising a family. Karl Marx’s communist principles were being fought against, and democracy was a proud and noble thing for all Americans. Unfortunately, this great American story would not follow the cultural norm for that day and time. It defied all logic and reason, and the birth of Anthony Ciaramitaro would change the world and people’s stereotypes for a lifetime.

After returning from the second wave of the D-day invasion, Anthony Ciaramitaro II married Loyse Smith in the fall of 1945. Anthony was not a wealthy man, but his family owned a grocery store, and he was proud he was able to take care of his wife. He was the son of dedicated Catholic Italian immigrants who came to this country in 1920. They came to pursue the American dream. In fact, owning their own business was one of the greatest accomplishments of their lives. Loyse wanted only to be a house wife and make Anthony proud by giving him a son. In that day and time women were not encouraged to work outside of the home, but Loyse did help out in the family grocery store from time to time. Loyse was raised a southern Baptist, yet she converted to Catholicism to be married in Anthony’s church. Perhaps this was not enough to forge a relationship with her in-laws, for they never quite got along. Still, Loyse was intent on being an agreeable wife and tried to be as polite to Anthony’s mother as possible.

Getting pregnant with their first child should have been a happy event for the young couple; instead the tears of happiness were mixed with sorrow as Anthony was diagnosed with a brain tumor within the same month. Medical treatment was not as sophisticated as it is today, and he died on the operating table in May of 1947. Loyse was terribly frightened and devastated, yet she had a piece of Anthony growing inside of her, so she struggled on. Anthony’s parents offered their daughter-in-law no help after the death of their son, but her mother moved in and they decided to raise the baby together after it came. August 1947 Anthony Ciaramitaro III was born with shock and awe. He came crying into the world 5 weeks premature and with what society called “physical handicaps”. Anthony’s arms were shorter than “normal” and he had only two fingers on each hand. His “birth defects” were very similar that of children born to mothers taking Thalidomide, but Loyse had not taken that medicine during pregnancy.

A child being born should be a joyous and wonderful occasion, and in many ways it was to Loyse. Little Anthony was born early, but he was healthy and reminded her very much of her late husband. Still Loyse’s mother-in-law was very insistent that Anthony have immediate surgery to try and correct his hands and arms. However, Loyse knew nothing could be done to change them and would have never risked her baby to even try. This young mother had already lost a husband on the operating table and was determined her son would not suffer the same fate. In the 1940’s children like these were often institutionalized, as they were not only though to be deficient in physical aspects but quite possibly mental faculties as well. In spite of this uncertainty, Loyse took her son home and set about raising him into a man.
Anthony was raised in a home with his mother and maternal grandmother. He was doted on and spoiled immensely. As much as she tried to shelter him, Loyse knew that when he was 6 he would need an education. In the 1950’s children who were victims of
polio were sent to Shriners schools where they were educated and protected from the stress and cruelties of society. Anthony was sent to school with these children. As we still see today, children are not as accepting of what is different, and it was thought to be in the best interest of these children to be separated instead of mainstreamed. Not to be outdone, Anthony excelled in academics and won many state awards for his grades and test scores. In the sixth grade Anthony came home and told his mother that he no longer wanted to go to the Shriners school; he was ready to be like everyone else. Today if a parent wants their child mainstreamed they work with the school and if it’s in the child’s best interests it happens. In 1958, a pediatrician had to write a letter and petition the school board to make this occur. However, Anthony’s pediatrician would not do this because he didn’t feel that this little boy could handle the stress. As always, everyone around him underestimated Anthony. He fought to win his doctor over, and out of sheer frustration the pediatrician gave in and wrote the letter. Anthony was moving ahead, and not much would stop him from there on out.

Anthony Ciaramitaro III was the first in his family to graduate from college. He attended on a full paid scholar ship and still brags today about the 31 he received on his ACT. He graduated Memphis State with a Bachelors of Engineering in Electrical Engineering and Bachelors in Business. He was the first one in his household to own a car and have a career. In many ways, he lived the American dream that his paternal grandparents came here in search of.

I met my father when I was two years old. My bio parents were going through a divorce, and Tony (his nickname) met my mother and they became friends. He still tells me today
that he fell in love with me first and then my mother later. What greater compliment could any daughter wish to hear? While my father was not very demonstrative with his affections, my brother, sister, and I always knew how much he cared for us.
In many aspects, my father’s life was very different from many families that he grew up along side. He was raised by a mother and grandmother, and never knew a father. His mother chose never to remarry or even date. She gave all of her attention to her son, yet he chose to eventually leave the nest and make a life for himself. This man who was not taught about fatherhood became a phenomenal dad. He had no rule book or experience to go by, just determination and love.

While my life has not been picture perfect, I feel that being raised by my father has armed me with the tools necessary to defy prejudices and stereotypes. My daughter was born when I was seventeen. I too had a full scholarship to college, though having my daughter made going to college directly out of high school not possible. My father never showed disappointment in my actions; instead he asked me what I was going to do to make my life better. Being his daughter, I knew that society could never limit what I was capable of. They would never categorize me, for if they did I would defy everything they thought. I went to nursing school, and for several years I did private duty nursing for developmentally delayed and differently abled children. I became my patient’s advocate when they could not speak for themselves. I fought for their rights and better care, like my father taught me to.

The last object of this paper is to tell to what extent I feel that I am a product of my family’s history. The only thing I can say is that I am my father’s daughter. I was raised
and loved by my hero. Anthony Ciaramitaro was not a saint; he was just a man. However, he taught me to live life without limitations and to exceed expectations. He lived an ordinary life extraordinarily. When I recount my family history, I am able to tell my children the story of a man who was born in a time when fear and ignorance was prevalent. Through my father, my daughters are able to see how far our society has come. They see more children in their schools with various impairments, and know that it was not always so easy to accomplish this. My father has taught them how much our culture has evolved in its way of thinking.