I want to tell you all a story: the story of Domenico Antonio Pietro Francese. Born in 1927 of a marriage between a bold adventurer and a shy peasant girl (my grandparents Nicola Francese and Fortunata Pagano), he was raised in an Italian immigrant community in Poughkeepsie, NY. Domenico was a boy “made of tomatoes, olive oil, pork fat, and pasta,” as he is fond of saying--a hard-working carpenter’s son, with a quick mind and a sensitive nature. As a child he lived under a dark cloud of hard times and Old World superstitions. As a young man he struggled to prove his abilities and satisfy his intellect. His dream was to become a professional musician, but practical considerations got in the way. Nonetheless he played his trombone in bands throughout the Hudson Valley and in the local philharmonic for many years. In time, Domenico made his parents proud by attending college and becoming a skilled professional in the printing industry. At the office he was known as “The Professor” because of his probing mind and thoughtful ways; in fact he was the only one of his peers to have studied past high school.
One day, he was told of a beautiful, intelligent woman who was also college-educated. She worked at the same publishing company, but in the factory—a gifted Mexican immigrant with no hope of career advancement. Dominic became her Prince Charming; as she told us later, their honeymoon together in Washington, DC was a Cinderella’s dream. They joyfully became both parents and teachers of five children. Despite the financial difficulties of raising a large family, Dad provided more than enough to feed our dreams—dance and music lessons, and instruments of all types, including violins, pianos and electric keyboards, trumpets, flutes, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, percussion instruments, saxophone, French horn, clarinet, lots of sound equipment for my brothers’ rock band—and throw in some harmonicas. Then came college for all of us, graduate studies for three, and, oh yes, the weddings. As a widower Dad eventually came to live with us, and for many years now he has blessed our home with humor, wisdom, love and service.
I don’t suppose, Dad, that you have ever thought of your life as a miracle. But consider this:
- From simple beginnings, your life has blossomed and borne fruit like Aaron’s staff. Your life has been an offering multiplied, like the loaves and fishes. Most importantly, your good works have caused many to rejoice and to give thanks to God.
- You prepared your children for success at great personal sacrifice, and now our whole extended family is abundantly blessed.
- You gave up your dream of a musical career for your family, and yet through your children, grandchildren and others you have mentored, you have given the world more music than you ever could have alone.
- The good works of your life have been far-reaching; you have often been generous to the poor, you have been a father to the fatherless and a counselor to many troubled youth.
- You never stood in the way of your daughter’s call to missions, even though it cost you a great deal in worry and the sadness of separation.
For all of these reasons and more, I see your life as one touched by the grace of God—truly a miracle. And I thank you, Dad--once again--for everything. Happy birthday!