An Immigrant Father’s Life Lessons for Living a Good Life

Each year, Americans spend close to $1 billion on over 30,000 different self-help books, seeking guidance to life’s challenges or simply finding inspiration to live the “good life.” But who are the wisest people, the real experts on life? As Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and Karl Pillemer (30 Lessons for Living) have discovered, the best persons to ask about persevering through hard times, living a life with fulfillment and without regret, and learning to love authentically are the people who have already done it themselves — what Millenials refer to as “oldies.” Invariably, those who have lived longer have also learned longer — with age comes experience and the wisdom gained from reflecting on that experience.

A wonderful example of this is Leo Buscaglia’s heartwarming tribute to his father, Rocco, in the book titled Papa, My Father: A Celebration of Dads (1989). The book is a reflection of his immigrant father, who arrived in America with a suitcase and a shopping bag, and in Buscaglia’s words “showed me that life is an exciting adventure and challenged me to take full advantage of all it has to offer. He hooked me on learning and taught me my responsibility for leaving the world a better place for my having been in it.” For those not familiar with him, Leo Buscaglia (1924–1998) was known affectionately as “Dr. Love” at the University of Southern California in the Department of Special Education. A student who committed suicide had a huge impact on Buscaglia. He deeply pondered the meaning of life and people’s sense of disconnectedness. That period of contemplation inspired his legendary class, Love 1A, which despite not having any credits, was immensely popular with the students. That course, and the discussions and experiences that took place there, became the wellspring for 14 books — many of them bestsellers — and topics for his popular lectures that were featured on PBS during the 1980s. In the last interview before he died, Buscaglia was asked how he wanted to be remembered; he replied, “I’d like to be remembered for being a good, kind, loving, gentle man who attempted to live wisely, and who cared a lot.”

By generously sharing Rocco’s rules to live by (summarized below), which “were uncomplicated and accessible to anyone wanting to live a good life,” Buscaglia reminds us of the profound love and enduring wisdom of a father: the quintessential — but often overlooked — self-help guru.

Papa’s Life Lessons

Dance, sing and laugh a lot.

All things are related.

Don’t waste time trying to reason with pain, suffering, life and death.

An animated person animates the world.

Find a quiet place for yourself.

Don’t ever betray yourself.

Birth and death are part of a cycle. Neither begins or ends with you.

Stay close to your God.

It’s crucial to love.

Idealism is a strength, not a weakness.

People are good if you give them a chance to be.

Discrimination, for any reason, is wrong.

Self-respect is essential for life.

Except in the eyes of God, people are not created equal, so we are all responsible for those who can’t help themselves.

Cruelty is a sign of weakness.

Commitment and caring are the basic ingredients of love.

Love is indestructible and therefore the most powerful human force.

Change is inevitable.

People who think they know it all can be dangerous.


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President of Alexander Atkins Design, a leader in philanthropic graphic design for nonprofits & schools; author of Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf.

President of Alexander Atkins Design, a leader in philanthropic graphic design for nonprofits & schools; author of Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf.