Most readers who know about my father’s mafia loyalties might be surprised to learn that my mother was, and still is, extremely religious—religious in an evangelical, speaking-in-tongues kind of way. Sometimes her speech is peppered with “praise the Lord” and “thank you Jesus”—the language of fundamentalist, right-wing Christianity in America. You get the picture, I suppose.
However, my point in sharing this is not so much to write about my mother—and certainly not to blame either parent—but to explain a bit about how crazy-making it was, as a child, to have parents with such radically opposing points of view—value systems so diametrically opposite one another that I wasn’t able, as a little girl, to contain the duality comfortably in my brain. It was, quite frankly, bizarre and difficult to reconcile.
As much as one might like to blame the mafia-related trauma I experienced as a child for my later developing a chronic mental illness—having the FBI repeatedly knock down the door of our house, having my father indicted by a number of grand juries—that in and of itself was nothing compared to the crazy-making impact of my parents’ bizarrely, hardly compatible world views.
Yes, I know the medical community says mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder are genetic in origin and involve a chemical imbalance in the brain—that the illness is a medical as opposed to an emotional disorder. However, most medical professionals also concede that there are, very often, environmental events that precipitate it—that the illness results from a “perfect” storm, so to speak—a perfect storm of genetic and environmental factors.
Most would agree that the genetic predisposition for chronic mental illness is “activated” by something that happens, as opposed to something that simply is.
So—I would propose that, for me, those major activating events involved this disparity between my parents—one that created a cognitive dissonance destined to do me in, in psychiatric terms.
The obvious question remains—why did my mother remain with my father once she learned, upon marrying him, of his mafia connections? Though this issue is one I can’t explore in-depth here in this post, let me very briefly suggest several reasons. First, my parents married in 1961—a time when divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. Second, early in their marriage my mom was not yet the born-again Christian she became several years later. Third, my mother was always madly in love with my dad—or so she says.
Fourth, and this is the kicker, once born-again, my mother adhered to a form of Christianity that demanded she, as a woman, submit to her husband—whether he was a Christian or not. Thus, though she knew what he did was illegal, she believed she should not, as his wife, confront that issue in their marriage, but rather quietly submit and pray for him.
Yes, I know this sounds bizarre—bizarre in its own right—an issue I’ll return to later. However, it’s a part of my story every bit as important as my father’s connection to organized crime—and one that can only be understood in the context of the other.
I don’t want to go into enormously more detail quite yet—as I imagine this raises a good many questions in readers’ minds. So, I’d like to proceed, as least in part, in the coming days, by addressing them and would appreciate your sharing the specific questions all of this brings up for you.
What interests you most about this parental duality and the dissonance, as opposed to harmony, that resulted from it? What do you wonder? What questions might you like to ask?
Thanks to all of you for being part of this on-going, memoir-making dialog—an approach to autobiographical writing that only blogging makes possible.