Mr. Falsetta

Today, I remember a gentleman who exerted a formative and transformative influence on me over several decades.  His name was Fausto “Frank” Falsetta.

I first met Mr. Falsetta in 1982 when his son, also named Fausto, and I became friends as freshmen at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey.  Mr. and Mrs. Falsetta always encouraged Fausto to bring his friends to the house, and due to their gracious hospitality, I was at the Falsetta house after school nearly every day for some years.

Mrs. Falsetta’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fazio, also lived at the house, and within some months, I met Elvira and Maria, Fausto’s sisters, when they came home from college for the holidays and instantly became like sisters to me.  The Falsettas often included me in family gatherings, and I felt truly welcome.  Adolescence was a challenge for me, so I valued their hospitality dearly.  As my own personal and family complications threatened to overcome me, I took comfort in the acceptance and belonging I felt at the Falsetta home.

And Mr. Falsetta became a kind of second father to me.  Often after dinner, he would engage me in discussion in the living room, asking after my family and my studies.  He could tell I was a sensitive type, and he often added perspective to my troubled vision.  I always felt better for having talked to him.

And one terrible day, when the darkness closed in, and as I secretly scolded myself for buckling under a burden so much lighter than what I supposed others to bear, I could see nothing ahead but despair.  I spoke only a fraction of my mind to Fausto in Italian class one morning when he asked whether I was all right.  He had never seen me in such a state, and if anyone had someone to turn to in moments of concern, Fausto had two wonderful parents.

After dinner that night, Mr. Falsetta invited me into the living room, where he placed chestnuts on the hot ledge of the woodburning stove.  He talked to me of the doubts everyone has about the future, the pressures of others’ expectations, the concerns we all have for our loved ones, and the lost feeling we can feel when we have lost our way.  He cast no judgments as he listened, and he exuded a reassuring confidence that made me believe things might not be so hopeless after all.

Then he said something that others had tried to tell me before.  Perhaps my younger friends seemed to consider it obvious and related it with a tone of impatience.  And maybe more mature confidants in their concern clumsily made their points with a nervous urgency.  My own inner voice, of course, was muted by a diminished sense of self and will.

But Mr. Falsetta insisted that I look at him and pay close attention.  My path was uncertain and my way was dark, he said, due in part to decisions made by others, however understandable and constructive.  And the mounting troubles of a particular loved one lay far beyond my control and entirely outside my realm of responsibility.  He asserted that I had reached the age at which I had to take control and discern my own path.  Without chastising me for self-neglect, he urged me toward self-determination.  He validated my fears, but he also dispelled my desperate and hopeless outlook.  He affirmed my emerging self-agency, and he told me he believed in me.

While I am a sentimental man, I dislike overstatement and excessive pathos.  I can only express it plainly: I see that moment by the fire as a critical turning point in my life.  And I do not like to think what would have become of me if not for that discussion.

Mr. Falsetta was a remarkable businessman, an artistic painter, a loving family man, a passionate soccer coach, a gracious host, a magnificent cook, a wise counselor, and a fine human being.  Until his passing two months ago, I saw him and Mrs. Falsetta at least as much as I saw Fausto, often visiting them for meals–and even hosting them at my own home.  He and Mrs. Falsetta have been as much my friends as Fausto, and this started four decades ago.  I am truly blessed for this.

I left school early today in order to attend a memorial luncheon for Mr. Falsetta.  We often marvel on such occasions at how many people will come together in order to remember a departed friend and loved one.  I was moved to recognize so many members of Mr. Falsetta’s extended family, many of whom I had not seen in decades.  I felt honored that so many would remember me.  I fully shared in everyone’s desire to pay their respects and celebrate this man’s life.

As I drove home after the luncheon, I began to understand what I admired most about Mr. Falsetta.  He not only provided amply for his family and opened his home to relatives and friends.  He illustrated precisely what we should live for and how to ennoble our pursuits and our paths.

I am grateful for Mr. Falsetta’s presence in my life.  I will fondly carry with me the precious influence he imparted.  I wish his family comfort and peace.

11 thoughts on “Mr. Falsetta

  1. What a blessing this man and his family have been to you. Great tribute! May he Rest-In-Peace.

  2. Beautiful, Paul. This is a resounding validation of the power of words and how they can change a life in an instant, and hopefully for the better as in your case beautifully told here. You never know…

  3. I adore reading this. I belonged to a family other than my own in much the same way you belonged to them. It is a special place to be. Thank you for sharing this.

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