Catello Di Capua
My father-in-law passed away suddenly today.  He'd been ill with bronchitis and general weakness but a heart attack came and took him.  Coming two months after my own father passed away, it feels like a lot of role model energy has been exiting my life, and I take it as a call to step up on my own and be even better as a man.

Rather than writing only about chivalry, I want to focus on a life lesson from these two very different men.  You see, each one of them had an upbringing that could have become an excuse to be less than their best, yet each of them made themselves into accomplished and generous men.  It shows that becoming a man of character isn't about one's circumstances but in the choices a man makes for himself.

Catello Di Capua was born near Napoli in Italy and had an impoverished beginning.  A young boy as World War II was taking place, the economic situation in southern Italy was rough, and he was already working full time by the age of 11.  Some of his early jobs included lugging heavy sacks of coal to people's basements, and even later in life he was working in printing plants that were costing him his hearing.
His mother had passed away when he was very young, and the situation at home wasn't the easiest for a boy to navigate. With that upbringing, it would be easy and understandable to curse the gods, throw up one's hands in despair and succumb to a struggling life.  But he chose a different path.  He wanted to make something of himself and ended up emigrating to Switzerland, to be able to offer his future wife a better future.  Even though they spoke no Swiss German, they settled in Bern and made it work.  This all came at a time when Italians were considered lower class, filth and unwelcome by many of the Swiss people, so nothing came easy.
Tina and Catello
Despite all that, Catello created a strong and prosperous family life, and made sure that he acted in ways he could be proud.  He raised three daughters and always provided a roof over their heads even if jobs had to be switched.  Once he was able to afford a car, he always kept it spotless, the same way he kept the house.  Yes, he was pristine about caring for the appearance of whatever he could -- it was a running amusing story that he kept a comb above a cabinet in the living room to make sure all the fringes on the rug were straight.  And that comb got frequent use; I even used it myself a few times when I would visit.

His three girls all got fine educations and his own marriage was a great one.  When I saw him and my mother-in-law together last month, I marveled at how they still enjoyed each other's company.  There were still smiles and affection openly shown after 54 years, even after all the physical problems he'd been having these last two years.  I wouldn't call him particularly chivalrous in terms of gestures.  His upbringing had been the traditional Southern Italian kind.  The husband's role is to provide and be served; the wife's is to serve him.  In a loving marriage, the roles are done out of love and not obligation; to the end, I witnessed how Tina loved taking care of him, cooking with him and looking to make sure things were right.  On his part there wasn't the overt chivalry of holding out chairs for her, standing when she rose, opening her car door and so on.  That doesn't take away from how he completely stepped into the role of good husband in their own traditions.

That all happened of his own will.  His upbringing was tough and callous.  He'd moved away from his family so didn't have close role models.  The odds were stacked against him succeeding in Switzerland.  Yet he found a way to become the kind of man that succeeded well beyond what you might have expected from a little Neapolitan kid who'd been forced into a hard life before he was a teenager.  That shows the power of a man making a strong, conscious and positive choice. 
My own father had different circumstances, although in many ways they were similar.  He was a teenager in Poland when world War II broke out.  His father was taken away from the family and never seen by them again, slaughtered in the Russian massacre of thousands of Polish men and soldiers at Katyn.  During the war, my father somehow got himself to England where he trained as a pilot with the Royal Air Force.  Again, a man in a country that wasn't his, where the language was foreign and opportunities scarce. 
Steve and Maria Rasiej
After the war, he got his degree, met and married my mother and then left England to embark for America, with no promise of any job or of a successful future.  He hit the pavement to get a job as an engineer.  Making ends meet was difficult and he even served as the building superintendent where they lived to help them make it.  Slowly and steadily he built a highly successful career working for the same firm for almost 40 years, while raising a family of five children in a beautiful house that he maintained like it was a jewel.  He also made himself into a man of gallantry, in terms of how he treated women.  He offered chivalry such as helping them on with their coats, kissing their hands to say goodbye and so on.  He found a way to do this despite having lost his own father as a role model way too young.

Yes, these men would seem so different in their approaches to some things, their languages and attitudes, yet they demonstrate something important for any man to realize:

What you become is completely your own choice.  Anything that may seem to hold you back doesn't stop you from overcoming it.  These two men are my proof that every man has it within himself to hone his own life, his own behavior and his own relationships for the better.

I am grateful to both of them, and the lessons they taught me, whether directly or by example. 

I will always miss you both.
 
 
K. Steve Rasiej 1926-2015
My father passed away this past Sunday.  That may seem like an odd way to start a blog post about chivalry but I hope you'll stay with me.

This was a man who was born in Poland, trained for the Royal Air Force in England during World War II after his homeland had been invaded and devastated, had married in London and then immigrated to the United States where he built a successful career as a professional electrical engineer, fathered three boys and two girls and lived a life of class and style.

When he was with women you could see there was an enjoyment of the grace and style that exuded class.  Once of the specific things I recall to this day is that at the end of dinner parties in our home, as he was saying goodbye to the guests, each woman got her hand kissed.  That moment always stood out as something special, and it was one of the things that set him apart.

The women always seemed to respond with the same kind of grace, and it gave each party a beautiful and memorable finishing touch of elegance.

That class and elegance were something you could see mattered to him.  It extended to the ballroom dancing he would do when attending a formal Polish ball, dressed to the nines.  The way he danced with my mother on the dance floor was always a loving pairing.  Yet it also extended to when he would dance with other women at the dances, including the young woman I escorted to some of these formal balls, his future daughter-in-law, my wife Luisa.


All those little touches made him stand out.  He was a model of classy behavior and could always be counted upon to make sure things were done as properly as can be.  I am grateful to have been able to see his focus on how to interact in public, something I am sure had to do with a European upbringing as well as coming to the U.S. in need of being able to succeed.

Chivalry isn't a stand-alone action, something separate from what defines a man, It's a choice and an extension of how he chooses to live his life.  How he chooses to treat others.  And as such how he chooses
to feel about himself.  It adds class and elegance to one's comportment and leaves a mark that's memorable.

Thanks, Tatu
ś, for instilling in me even a fraction of the strong character with which you lived.




 
 
When it comes to chivalry, the gestures themselves are not really that complicated nor difficult.  They are small rituals that don't generally involve a lot of strength, a lot of time.  Yet in the day-to-day rush we often find ourselves it can get easy to overlook one. I do it myself more frequently than I'd like and I remain focused on becoming more consistent.  So what's the key?
It's important to remember that the things on which you focus expand. That goes for areas such as wealth and abundance, good health and so on.   And it relates to the attitude and perception you bring to your choices of behavior.

An awareness of the circumstances around you and sensing opportunities for chivalry will likewise deepen how much impact it has for you.  Giving it a notch more attention will likely lead to a bit more frequency with ease, develop better habits and result in more times that someone notices what we're doing by offering it.
The public notice is important because you aren't just doing chivalry for yourself.  It also has a ripple effect onto those around you.  Young men of today are faced with role models that don't always send the best messages.  Imagine how helpful it could be for positive behavior to get seen more broadly to counter some of that negative the kids are facing.

Furthermore, by increasing your awareness to notice opportunities you can be supportive and helpful in chivalrous ways will also strengthen your awareness of opportunities to be of service in ways beyond chivalry.  That takes the practice of chivalry from a nice gesture into a state-of-being that can add to any gentleman's self esteem and the way he is perceived by others.

So make a pledge to take a quick pause every so often when you're on your way to or from work or heading out on a date and bring your awareness up.  Watch how easy it gets.
 
 
Sometimes things hit you between the eyes.  That happened for me recently when I attended an event at the Stamford Yacht Club.  The observation happened as I was going to the restroom!

At first it was just something I noticed.  But then I realized how
this one thing could have big repercussions.

What I saw on the door struck me.  The sign read 'Gentlemen.'  That's not the word you typically see on a restroom door nowadays.  Usually there's just the plain word "men."  Or in other cases the iconic avatar of an amorphous male figure so that words aren't even needed.  No, the word here was  'gentlemen.'