August 18, 2013
In Memoriam: Sebastian Joseph Fichera, 1920-2013
By: Joseph S. Fichera
My father, Sebastian Joseph Fichera died today on his 93rd birthday on August 18, 2013
He was the only son of Joseph Paul and Ignazia Fichera who came to America from Sicily 103 years ago. Sebastian continued the promise of the American dream that brought his parents here. That promise allowed his father, my grandfather, a barber, to create a family, become a community leader and, upon his death, leave his children with a better life and even more opportunity than his generation and the generation before.
“Honor your father and your mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. It is a lifelong commandment, to be shown in deeds not just words… and it is to be done before and after their death. An obituary does not fulfill the commandment. Yet, let me share some thoughts with you about someone you have never met.
Sebastian Joseph Fichera was a gentleman in all senses of the word. He was also a gentle man, kind, never a harsh word though still a demanding person especially about education and devotion to family. He got a business degree from an extension of Niagra University in Rochester, NY in 1940.
He fulfilled his duty to family in a quiet, dignified and diligent way. His profession for 30 years was a bookkeeper. Math, precision, and organization were his specialties. A pen would always be in his shirt pocket–which could make him an early nerd. The devices that his son uses every day put him out of work. He retired in 1984 no pension, only savings and Social Security.
Sebastian was loyal to family, firm and country. He served in WWII, came back, married his sweetheart (whom he met at a basketball game when my mother was heckling my father’s cousin in the row in front of him), started a family and worked to support them.
He loved his wife, Santa Natalie, unconditionally for 65 years. They raised a daughter and a son. Each went on and earned degrees from Yale and the son an undergraduate degree from Princeton.
After his workday, he was an extraordinary fan of sports (particularly baseball) and an accomplished sports writer and commentator (before the crazies took over talk radio). That moment in the movie “Field of Dreams,” when the father asks the son to play catch, taps the emotion in me, as many others, of the bind between father and son and sports that begins with playing catch.
His belief in God and the Catholic faith were also absolute. The Vatican II council opened the possibility for laymen to participate in the Mass and he did so not reluctantly but with a sense of honor. Yet, he did not wear his faith on his sleeve. He simply lived it and gave everyone an example of a religious, caring man.
His courage, tenacity and endurance were not bravura but the way that most Americans simply do, day in and day out. He eschewed material possessions that his son tried to give him… except the large TV and new car to retire the 15-year old Ford Torino.
And he had the most essential evolutionary human trait of all! This trait is so critical to human survival that without it, mere cognition, reasoning and feeling would not work very well. He had a great wit and sense of humor – from the subtle to the profound. He would find moments to enjoy life – whatever life brought on – and make you laugh with his wit and charm. I remember once as a child watching my dad shave, he finished and turned to my mother and said “It is a shame that I wasn’t born rich instead of just handsome.”
When diagnosed with colon cancer, Sebastian made no complaints. He underwent surgery and survived. When 10 years ago, a terrible fall down a staircase led him to the hospital with such trauma that the doctors thought he would not recover, he did. Though it required him to live in a skilled nursing home for the rest of his life, he continued to endure and show his wit within a harsh system.
His support of his son was absolute, though the son sometimes didn’t seem to make sense as the son grew up from being an alter boy to activist in the 1960’s. When the son wanted to transfer from a Catholic high school to an inner-city school to show support for some cause, he could have stopped it but didn’t. He didn’t understand it but he had faith in the son. What a great gift to give!
His bottom line was to just have his children make him proud in whatever endeavor they chose. Never dishonor the family. Take care of your mother. Among the many things he taught, three sayings were to keep us humble: “I complained I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” “There but for the grace of God go I.” And “When much is given you, much is expected from you.”
Life’s a circle…each day a circle; each month; each year. We enter frail and dependent on those who love us and we leave the same way. We know this. We try not to think about it.
My father completed that circle today with perfect timing on his 93rd birthday. Now, each year on this day, August 18, I will remember his beginning and his end. Throughout his life, he taught those who met him lessons about kindness, hard work, honor, humility and humor. I will miss him and, as his legacy, I hope to honor him through the life he gave me.
In loving memory by his son,
Joseph Sebastian Fichera
My mother, Santa Natalie Fichera, died soon after in December 2014. Please see: Santa Natalie Fichera