By Jim Soviero
My father, Salvatore (Sam) Soviero, was a loving, devoted husband, father and son. A robust, upbeat man, born in 1914 to Italian immigrants Vincenzo and Louise Soviero, Dad’s life by today’s standards was a tough one. Beginning at a very young age, he caddied, worked construction, ground the grapes for wine and wound up boxing to “put money on the table.”
Given his extraordinary success as an adult, Dad rightly figured it would be smart to raise his son in pretty much the same way he was raised. Dramatic global changes notwithstanding, Salvatore would follow two basic principles: he’d set a good example and enforce firm limits.
Sam lived an exemplary life. He was a man of great integrity who worked tirelessly to support his family.
One of his most poignant lessons on “doing the right thing” came while he and I were going through some of his old fight posters. Sammy was a very good light heavyweight who had trained at Stillman’s Gym with top fighters of the day. Pointing to one opponent, Dad said, “That guy cost me a shot at a big fight.” When I mentioned not recalling him losing to “that guy,” my father looked down, before quietly saying, “I didn’t.”
At his beloved bride Dorothy’s insistence, and during the height of the Depression, Sal became a welder. After my older sister was born, he’d make extra money by working nights and clamming during the day. When we grew out of our tiny two-bedroom bungalow in Huntington Station, he and his brother Joe began dismantling one of Grandpa’s old houses. Over the course of several years, that brick and timber was used to build our family a beautiful, spacious Cape Cod in Halesite.
Given that kind of legacy, when Dad interrupted what looked to be this 14-year-old’s summer fun at the beach with the news I’d begin caddying at the Crescent Club — and putting my earnings on the table — it seemed natural, even flattering.
But while trying to follow Dad’s best life lessons was important, following his rules proved to be equally important. One of the most difficult but critical decisions for parents is to judge when it’s necessary to cause their children short-term pain, in exchange for what Mom and Dad hope will be long-term benefits. My father had uncanny commonsense instincts that led him to set perfectly timed restraints on yours truly.
I, like virtually every 16-year-old boy, couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Dad, like most parents of a 16-year-old, knew the inherent risks. He responded proactively. My first moving violation meant Salvatore took my license for six months. An accident that was my fault cost me the car for a year.
Some disciplined teenage driving meant I’d lose neither the car nor my life. Around the same time, over roughly a two-year period, four classmates died in horrific auto accidents, devastating the lives of their families and friends.
Whether leading by example or setting firm limits, having Salvatore Soviero for my father was one of the greatest blessings any son could ever have asked for.
Thanks for everything, Dad.
Jim Soviero resides in East Setauket and is a former teacher in the Half Hollow Hills Central School District who renovated and built houses part-time just like his father.