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The Story of Two Italian Penguins in Love for Over 60 Years

Most species of penguins are monogamous. They will mate with the same penguin, season after season. It is a beautiful, loving relationship, one that I have the fortune to see embodied in my family. My parents have been married for over half a century. Of course, I don’t want to compare my parents to penguins, but sometimes in my family, we laugh about it. My father would instead wish to resemble the dynamic of two sparrows, chirping at each other and rubbing their beaks. He doesn’t deal too well with cold weather and certainly would not go near Antarctica.

It was April 7, 1958. My father did not wear a tuxedo. He chose a more classic suit, Clark Gable-style, with gelled hair and a look that would make any woman believe he had just walked off the set of a movie production. But, let’s be frank: the real movie star was my mom, the better looking and younger version of Grace Kelly, with a smile that would make any man wonder if she was an angel.

If you ask my dad what compelled him to pursue my mom with such dedication – they were engaged for seven years – he will say that it was my mom’s unquestionable beauty, which makes complete sense, as men are more visual than anything else. They look at a woman from the outside and later succumb to the sweetness of their character. Men are like bees. They fly through the vast country fields and, one day, decide to land on an eye-catching flower to get some nectar. They get hooked! It’s either her nectar or their freedom, and rightly so, my dad opted for my mom’s nectar, the best he could have ever found.

My mom would answer the same question a little differently. It was my dad’s humor and starry eyes that attracted her. She laughs at his jokes but also at his cute remarks. Indeed, my dad is a hopeless romantic. Not too long after they met, my dad had to join the army for eighteen months, during which time he wrote a letter almost every day to my mom. For nearly two years, my dad would divide his time between entertaining his friends during the day with jokes and skits; then at night, he would sit next to the feeble light of a candle to write “I love you” at the bottom of the letters he sent to my mom.

Many years have passed since then, and so much has happened during my parent’s marriage. They had five children – I am the fourth – and today they have eleven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. By the way, it was my mom who had to close up shop and stop at five, because my dad could’ve kept going to who knows how many! He likes to do things in big numbers and style, what can I say?

My dad often points out that the actual length of his relationship with my mom should include the seven years of their engagement, making the final number even more astonishing. 70 years? Wow! When my mom hears that number, she jokingly replies that it’s time to get a divorce. She is known for saying, “Your father always wants to be right,” and my dad is famously quoted saying, “When your mom grumbles, it’s a good sign, because it means she is in full force and energetic. That’s when she cooks the best!” They like to play off each other. I’ve never seen them fight in front of their children. Their wrestling match was in the bedroom.

I asked my parents what the secret of their marriage was and how they managed to stay together for so many years. To the many curious people who ask the same question, they will invariably respond that it’s all about patience, with a capital P, because Patience is the holy saint and protector of marriage. To be patient in a marriage means to have the necessary positive attitude to respond to any situation firmly but calmly, with compassion and lots of love. It’s a special kind of love that anybody in a long-term relationship must nurture, day after day. For women, it means giving up the desire to always have the last word; for men, it means to have the awareness that when they get the last word, it should be: “Yes, honey, you’re right!” There is no compromising on this vital rule about keeping the love growing and improving until “death do us part.”

Every year, Viktoria and I visit my family. Last year it was a special occasion, as we celebrated my parents’ 60th anniversary. It was a touching ceremony held at my eldest sister, Gianna’s home. My parents renewed their vows in front of the entire family. Then the food was served, all thoroughly homemade, with the contribution of Viktoria and I, as we had to cut and mix vegetables under the strict supervision of my sister, the head chef. It’s unbelievable how much goes into preparing food from scratch. The night ended with my dad pulling my mom into his arms, and with the same passion of the first time, kissing her under the romantic moon of a late spring night. “All you need is love,” sang the Beatles, and rightly so.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad, today and for the many years to come, passionately together!

Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.

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