I learned from my Mafia father that good and evil are complicated matters.
Admittedly, this is not a lesson he taught overtly, but one I came to over time—trying to digest and accept the ambiguity of loving someone who does wrong in legal terms but demonstrates considerable goodness otherwise.
But simultaneously and confusingly for a child, he was kind, generous, witty—the sort of guy one wants for a friend—great fun at parties—charming.
You get the picture.
I knew nobody who disliked my daddy, no one who spoke ill of him. Likewise, I never knew him to bad-mouth anyone, to get angry, curse, or even complain.
I think what’s easy to forget is that those who commit crimes, do so in a context, often in the context of otherwise good lives. Those who commit crimes do so also in the context of family. They have wives and children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Sometimes otherwise kind people commit crimes, cross the line. Good people do wrong, make mistakes.
Clearly, my father’s “crime” became a way of life—so much so that as a child I knew no other context—no other reality.
Sometimes I fantasized that things were otherwise, once I was old enough to understand that mine was not a normal family. I remember being in the sixth grade and a friend asking what my dad did for a living. I dreaded that question. But there, at that table for two—a Monday* morning in Mr. Schlosser’s science class, I know I must have offered some explanation. But oddly that part of this particular memory is gone. I have no idea what I said.
Clearly, by the age of eleven, I knew an honest answer was impossible, without simultaneously betraying my father—or, at least, my own efforts to retain some semblance of normalcy, when it was obvious we were nowhere near that. My parents took us out of school to travel. We were well dressed—better dressed than most of my public school classmates. We returned from spring break sun-tanned. We took cruises. Daddy picked us up at school in fancy Cadillacs. He wore cashmere and silk.
Perhaps, this is why I still have issues with honesty—feel the need for such intense transparency.
I’m terrified of being found out, so I over correct in the direction of extreme forthrightness. I can’t tolerate hiding behind a half truth.
This may be why I’m so honest about my bipolar disorder, feel the need to clear the air and set things straight.
Now, as an adult, I know I’ll never be normal—whatever that is. I’ve given up on that. What I haven’t abandoned is the need to be seen for who I really am.
Maybe that’s why I’m writing this memoir—needing to take a blindingly honest look at the past—to clearly account for what happened, to draw conclusions regarding why, how, when.
Like people, the past itself is never all one way or another, never all bad, all good. Time distorts. We forget, remember incorrectly. There is no perfectly honest recollection. And though I accept this fact in terms of people—that they are never all good or all bad—I still struggle accepting this about myself—that I might not remember fully, honestly, completely—that I, like my father, might be wrong.
(* Note: I’m not certain it was a Monday.)