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  • Case Study: The Stubborn Italian Man
    Italian men are all sorts of wonderful, but they have one flaw that might drive you crazy
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    I've sung the praises of Italian men before. And many of you have written to me to do the same over the years. But nobody's perfect. Even Italian men - a group I collectively refer to as God's gift to women - have their flaws. Lately, I've been noticing one major one. Many of them, especially those from the south, are stubborn as the mules they once rode in the Italian hills. Why, why, why? What I want to know is why.

    My grandfather Rocco, who is nearly 78 and grew up in Ischia, smoked cigarettes from the time he was seven years old. He eats whatever he wants, including lots of good, healthy stuff, but only if he has cooked it himself or it comes from the Red Lobster (the only restaurant in the United States, where he will actually dine). And he has been known to brag about never drinking water - ever! Whenever I - or anyone else for that matter - would try to get him to quit smoking or drink more water, he would say, "You're not going to change me now." Thinking he'd be young forever, he never wanted to think about the consequences.

    Last week, after four surgeries and months of trying to save his limb, the doctors had to amputate Rocco's right foot and part of his lower leg. The problem was poor circulation due to plaque that had built up on his legs from smoking. My grandfather is in rehab now learning how to get around before being fitted for a prosthesis. He promised me that he's never going to smoke again, and now he's drinking water (and not just to swallow his prescription pills). Today, as I - along with my mother - planted flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and peppers in Rocco's garden (so they'll be there when he returns home from the hospital), I wondered how things would have turned out differently if he just listened to me sooner. If he turns his stubbornness into motivation to do his physical therapy, get stronger, and start walking, he'll be back in the garden in no time. But maybe we could have avoided this all together.

    Rocco's son-in-law Pasquale - my father and a fellow Ischitano - is no better. He does not smoke, and he always drinks lots of water. But he is still a testardo as they say in Italy. No matter what his doctor says about watching his diet - to alleviate high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the onset of diabetes, which is part of his family history - he refuses to give up some of the beloved foods from his childhood, including prosciutto, cheese, shellfish, and eggs with yolks. He too eats lots of vegetables, legumes, and fruits (especially during this time of year when his own garden is in full bloom). But he likes to eat and especially on Sundays, he wants antipasto on the plate. He also hates the idea of taking medicine and won't take it unless we remind and force him. It's quite a job!

    There's still hope for Pasquale, however. Sometimes, lately, he curbs his diet on his own. As long as I don't praise him or question what he's eating, he sticks to the rules and cuts out the fatty items. The minute I try to put in my two cents, he eats something unhealthy to spite me. Being stubborn myself (it's a disease many Italian women face, too), we often feud about his diet. I want him around forever, or as long as possible. I don't want to be shortchanged even a day simply because he wanted to eat salami. But I'm slowly learning that biting my tongue and ignoring him during battle might actually help me win the war. This strategy seems to work with many Italian men.

    My boyfriend Antonio, who is almost 36 and lives in Ischia, is part of a younger generation, so he's a little more willing to listen to doctors and knows the dangers of smoking, so he never bothered picking up the habit. But he still has the I-always-need-to-be-right gene. He won't admit it, but it's part of who he is. Sometimes that kind of attitude is a blessing. It helps a person hold his own in arguments and strive to always do the right thing. But sometimes - like when he's arguing with me (someone else who never wants to be wrong) - it's a curse. He's not the only Italian man to have this trait. And he won't be the last. Even my little male cousins don't ever want to obey what they seem to think are orders. Just yesterday, my aunt was telling her 9-year-old grandson - another Antonio - to sit next to her on the couch, and he wouldn't. Later in the evening, he did go and sit next to her, but only when it was on his terms.

    Nobody wants to be told how to live or what to do. But some of us don't mind a little guidance - even Italian men; they just don't know it. Once God or science or a good woman intervenes, many of them give in and watch their diet, quit smoking, fix up the house, wash the dishes, or admit they're wrong. It might take longer than your average man (in the case of Grandpa Rocco, it took over 70 years). But it happens eventually. You just have to be patient and silent. Sometimes, their stubborn streak is what pulls them through the storm. It's part of their charm. It can even become a strength for an Italian man. And if you're anything like me, you love them anyway.

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