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Alfred J. Garrotto

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· There's More: A Novella of Life and Afterlife

· The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

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· Down a Narrow Alley

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· Circles of Stone

· A Love Forbidden

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· Battling Writer's Guilt

· The Saint With the Dragon Tattoo

· My Cello Year

· In a Child's Eyes

· We Both Had Dads Named Joseph

· Highjacked by a Great Novel

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· House of Faith

· A Little Night Music

· Keep It Simple . . . The Way Jesus Did

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Elements of a Successful Family
By Alfred J. Garrotto
Last edited: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

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Recent articles by
Alfred J. Garrotto

• Catholicism in a Nutshell
• We Are, Sometimes, Corked Bottles
• Battling Writer's Guilt
• The Saint With the Dragon Tattoo
• My Cello Year
• In a Child's Eyes
• We Both Had Dads Named Joseph
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Without a willingness to compromise and a foundation of mutual trust, a family is severely wounded if not broken.

After growing up in a large extended Italian family, and having a family of my own, I can tell you honestly today, I'm clueless! I'm still trying to figure out the dynamics of what we call "a family." It seems like such a simple little community but, my God, how complex! I feel like the psychologist who, before he was married, wrote a book with the title, "Ten Commandments for Successful Marriage and Parenting." Then he got married and had small children of his own. And when it came time to put out the second edition of his book, he changed the title just a little bit to "Seven Recommendations for Successful Marriage and Parenting." And, by the time he got to the point where he needed to put out a third edition of the book, his kids were teenagers. He tweaked the title again to "Three Suggestions for Successful Marriage and Parenting."

The Holy Family is held up as the model for all Christian families: Joseph the perfect husband and father, Mary the perfect wife and mother, Jesus the perfect child. Now does that sound like any family you've ever been associated with before? Not me. But let's take a deeper look. Perhaps there is something that we can draw from the lives of these three special people that will touch our lives and our hearts in some way. First, I have to tell you a story that's really true , even though it sounds hokey. Recently, I was standing on the Van Nuys (CA) Amtrak Station platform, waiting for the bus that would take me to Bakersfield and then back home to Martinez on the train. I was pacing up and down the concrete, and thinking about writing this article. I had a lot of ideas floating around. And then I looked down to the ground, and there a metallic object caught the sun and my attention . It was a medal of St. Joseph the Worker. I thought, "Oh, OK. Joseph the Worker." That got me thinking, "What was his job?" Traditionally we have been told that Joseph was a carpenter, but the real work of this man was his marriage and his family. That was the main thing that he worked on through his life. And it didn't come easy. Joseph, as fully involved father and husband. Now, that would merit for me, the title, Joseph the Worker, no matter what he did for a living. The psychologist I mentioned at the top of this article had narrowed down his book finally to three suggestions. Today I've tried to distill, from the life of the Holy Family, two essential elements. The first is, willingness to compromise. The marriage of Mary and Joseph was not an easy one to put together. We think of them at the crib. Everybody has their hands folded. It looks simple. But that marriage did not come easily. Joseph had a vision of what his life with Mary was going to be like. He loved this woman, planned to have children with her, and live a quiet, obscure life. Before they were able to be married, it suddenly occurred that Mary was having a child from some unknown source. Joseph had to make a very tough decision. If you read the Scripture, he was not very calm about this. By Jewish law, he had every right to break off that engagement. They called it a "divorce," because engagement was considered part of the marriage. But Joseph stepped back and thought, "I love this woman. There is something unorthodox about the way this marriage is starting out, but I am willing to compromise my original dream in order to have a life with Mary and this child that she is bearing," even though it was not his child. Mary, on her part, had an image of what her marriage to Joseph was going to be like. It did not include having a child who was going to be the Messiah. That was not part of her original plan for her life. But when this mystery took place within her, she was willing to give up her idea of what marriage and family was going to be like in order to make it work with Joseph, the man that she loved. That's a pretty complex set of circumstances, a very complicated arrangement. The Holy Family was not a simple family. In compromising and in giving up something that each of them wanted, they got in return something much greater than they ever expected. Let's look at our own families. What they would be without compromise? If one of us has an attitude: "These are my opinions. This is my behavior. There is the line in the sand. I will not cross that line. I don't care who is involved, whether it is wife or children, or father, mother, husband. This is where I stand. You take me as I am, or you don't take me at all." Where can you go from there? What kind of family life is there? You have a family that's deeply wounded, maybe one that is ultimately destroyed. Now, compromise doesn't mean that one person always gives in to the other. That's weakness. Compromise means that we each give something of what we want, and the other person gives something of what he or she wants. And, in putting that together, we come up with something more beautiful and greater than we had before. The second essential element of a successful family is mutual trust. Absolute trust. In Matthew's gospel, Joseph had a dream. Mary did not have the dream. Joseph woke her up in the middle of the night and said, "We've got to get out of town. Our child is in danger. If we don't leave now, we might not have a child." Mary picked up. The gospel tells us they left that very night, and became refugees in Egypt. Mary could have said, if she had not absolute trust that what he said was true , "What are you talking about? I don't want to go to Egypt. I never wanted to live in Egypt. I want to go back where my mom and dad are, in my home village." That's not what happened because they had such a history of trust that whatever Joseph said, Mary knew was going to be true . And whatever Mary said, Joseph could take that and put it in the bank, like money. What about our lives and our families? Do we have that kind of trust? Because, when that kind of trust is missing in a marriage and in a family, we have a wounded family, perhaps a broken family. If a husband says to his wife, "I've got to go out, Honey. I'll be back about 5:30. I have some errands to do. What time is dinner?" She says, "We'll eat dinner soon as you get back." He goes off. Now, she has to believe that he is really going where he says he is going and he is coming back when he says he's coming back. If, at nine o'clock, he isn't around, you have a broken promise, a broken commitment, and the wife begins to wonder, "Where is he? What is he doing? Who is he with? Is he in a bar? Is he with a woman?"--all the things that go through people's minds, simply because there was the lack of trust. And the same goes for the wife. Her husband has to be able to believe every word she says and feel that he can take that to the bank and deposit it because it's as good as hard currency. I would like to urge teenagers to take this message to heart. Parents need to be able to believe every word their teens tell them. If a kid says he or she is going to the basketball game at the high school, the parents must be able to believe without a doubt that their son or daughter is going to the game at the gym. If kids tell their parents they will be back at 11:30 p.m. and they say, "OK. That's fine," but at one o'clock, they are still waiting for their teenager, trust is destroyed. What happens is that the next time the kid says, "I'm going to the game at the gym," those parents are sitting at home wondering, "Now where is (he/she) really going?" Trust has broken down. The teenager's earlier failure to keep a commitment has put a doubt in the parents' mind. They feel that they have to be like the CIA or the FBI. "Maybe we'd better drive over to the gym and see if he or she is really there." That's a terrible way to live. An awful way to live. We need to be able to trust each other in our families. And, if we can't, who can we trust in this world? So you can see then that the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) had some of the same problems we do. It wasn't perfect mother, perfect wife, perfect husband, perfect father, perfect child. They had to go through some of the same struggles we do. There is so much more that could be said about family. If you built a library, you could fill it with books about family. So, there is much more that I could say. But I can't think of a better place to start than with "willingness to compromise" and "mutual trust." - - - - - For permission to reprint this article, contact Mr. Garrotto at  

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Reviewed by Patrick Talty 6/10/2002
I relate very much to the message in this well-written article. I am into my THIRD marriage. I failed in my previous marriages because I lacked the maturity to reflect on the very important guidelines presented so eloquently in your artcle.

Fortunately I had achieved the required maturity and had learned the lessons forged on the anvil of previous experience by the time I entered into a commitment to my third wife.
We have now been married nearly 14 years and have a 5 year old son. We have survived the dangers of age gap (she is 40 years younger than I)and culture gap (I met her during a 12 months teaching assignment in China). We both want the marriage to last and therefore it will. We subscribe to the philosophy articulated in your writing and look forward to many years of continuing happiness with our beautiful son.
Thanks for posting this article.
Patrick Talty.
Reviewed by Ronda Mosley (Reader) 3/14/2002
Extremely well written and informative! Great advice! Like a house, a family needs a good foundation :)

Books by
Alfred J. Garrotto

The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean

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Circles of Stone

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A Love Forbidden

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Down a Narrow Alley

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The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

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There's More: A Novella of Life and Afterlife

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Finding Isabella

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