I was lucky enough to marry into a wonderful family, which came with the most amazing set of grandparents. Now, my husband and I live in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, with my in-laws and grand in-laws (that’s a thing right?) living in the house next door to us.
One of my favorite parts of getting together with my new family, is hearing the incredible stories from my husband’s grandfather, Giovanni Michele Puma. Grandparents always have the best stories, and have even better advice. Giovanni is 90 years old, still drives, writes stories, and can power walk faster than most 40 year olds. I always tell him that his childhood and early adult life would make a fascinating book, and while I still push him to consider writing a memoir, I will at least grace you with a tiny piece of his story in this article.
He, and all 5 of his siblings, were born on their kitchen table, to a 4’ 10” italian woman. As an adult, he hung his nephew out of a second story window by his leg for copping an attitude. On his first date (with his now wife), they went out dancing and witnessed a man being stabbed and thrown down the stairs, landing right in front of them. Hours later, after continuing the dancing date, he drank so much that he puked on his date’s sweater.
They have been married for 65 years. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, which paid for his art school he attended after serving. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a man I want to take advice from.
Although he is more of the quiet, observant type, when Giovanni has something to say… everyone listens. He is one of the wisest, most interesting people I have ever met, so I was happy to be able to talk with him about some of his perspectives and tips for the rest of us.
Q: What tips do you have for men in their 50s and 60s?
A: These could be the best and most productive years of your life, earning a living doing something you enjoy, having a good marriage, children, and hopefully becoming financially secure. But it’s also the time when you may become too comfortable. Don’t. It’s the time to seriously begin thinking of the future because believe me, it will be here before you know it and I assure you that one day you’ll be saying to yourself, where did the time go? So my advice is don’t just live in the present, but also be sure to plan for the future.
Q: What lessons did your father teach you that you passed onto your family?
A: My father died when I was sixteen so I never got the opportunity to really know him as an adult, because he always seemed to be out working. This was during the Great Depression and jobs were scarce, so he was lucky to have one. But I always enjoyed the times when he was home, we were family then, Mother, Father and six children. I really loved the man and sometimes I still think of him. So my greatest accomplishment is that I believe I became the Father my Father would have been proud of.
Q: What decisions or choices would you have changed or done differently if you could go back in time?
A: There’s not much that I can think of truthfully, that may make me sound a bit complacent but really I can’t at this point. At my age, you are just grateful to have made it this far and attribute all of your choices and decisions to getting to this point. But, I guess if I could have changed anything, I would have liked to have had more children.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your generation that you think makes it great?
A: Persistence and Fortitude, that’s what got my generation through the Great Depression and World War 2, no doubt about it. If it had happened to these current generations (millennials and Gen Z), I dread what would have happened, that’s why they call my generation the Greatest Generation.
Q: What do you notice about the younger generations that surprises you? Worries you? Fascinates you?
A: I call them the “Me Generation”, or the spoiled Generation. Their interests seem to lie more in self gratification more than anything else and that worries me, because they’re going to have to pay the piper some day. After my generation, Baby boomers continued to put family first, and worked hard to pave the way for their children. Now those children are entitled, and don’t always think about the future. What fascinates me the most in spite of that is that these next generations are the most educated generations ever, and yet they seem to be squandering all this technology available to them.
Q: What lessons did your parents teach you that you passed on to your family?
A: Well coming from a big family, we needed a lot of restraint when it came to getting along at family dinners and get-togethers, but my parents always stressed the importance of family, and that we were a family bound in love and we were always ready to help one another no matter what. So I came to believe that family is the most important element in our lives, and without it we have nothing.
Q: What do you attribute your long life (almost 91 years) to?
A: I can’t take credit for that. I think first and foremost it’s a matter of good genes, and fortunately I am lucky to have good ones. I definitely cannot attribute it to leading a completely Monkish lifestyle, because it was far from that. I had my share of bad habits and made my share of bad decisions, but one of the most important factors that I got right was having married a good woman. She has always loved me and has always looked out for my well being, making it a wonderful life. So I guess being happy may have something to do with it. You might also say that as I grew older and began practicing a more sedate lifestyle could have extended it a bit longer.
After hearing about the challenges of his childhood and the craziness of his first 50 years, it definitely made me appreciate him even more. Despite his hardships, he built a career for himself, remained a loyal and loving spouse, raised an incredible family, and is everything I aspire to be at 90 years old.
Every previous generation feels like they are better than the current generation (myself included), but the work ethic, strong values, and no bullshit attitude of Giovanni’s generation could really serve us well right about now. And for men in their 50s and 60s going through manopause, Giovanni should be an inspiration that at 90 years old, there is still so much joy and so many things to accomplish in your next 30-50 years!