The Mafia on Vacation (Part 2): Crime, Cruises, and Knowing Daddy Anew

 My father was restless.  He liked to go places.  Whether it was World Series tickets or PGA passes, Daddy was forever after the means of admission.  Any event deemed big, any venue that glittered—Daddy wanted to go there, be a part of it–experience the sparkle, encounter the spin. 

As such, my parents traveled—a lot—jet-setting here, Love-Boating there.

In fact, Daddy adored cruising—the drama of ship board dining, the theater of midnight buffets and ice sculpture display.

So, while many American “Pan Am” fans are reminiscing about the golden era of air travel, I’m experiencing a travel nostalgia of my own, looking back at a time when my parents took Caribbean cruises, when Mommy had big, helmet-shaped hair and Daddy wore wide ties, had deep pockets.

During the early part of the 1970s, my parents traveled aboard the S.S. Emerald Seas and later took us kids on the same ship.  I wasn’t aware of my parents looking so glamorous at the time, but, clearly, they seemed to sparkle, Mommy, sunburned in white, Daddy, handsome and tanned.

In this picture taken, I believe, aboard the same ship, my parents relax in casual comfort.

Here, all dressed up, they greet the captain.

I mentioned in a previous post, that my parents tended to travel with the same people.  Here they are pictured with “Dale the Whale,” Dale’s girlfriend Dorothy, and another couple I don’t recognize.

Below the same group enjoys dinner.

In 1975 my parents cruised aboard the S.S. Doric  with Dale and Dorothy–a couple they traveled with so frequently that sometimes even us kids were included.   I remember once my parents instructing my brother, who was about four at the time, not to refer to Dale as “Dale the Whale” and, by all means, not to mention the word “fat.” Tyce, apparently so focused on not using the forbidden words,  forgot, leaned over, and, obeying the letter but not the spirit of my parents’ request, asked, “So Dale, how much do you weigh now?”  So much for kids attempting adult conversation and making a whale of a mistake in the process.

In the photos below, also taken aboard the Doric, Daddy participates in a costume party.  He planned ahead, even bringing along the makeup that allowed my mom to paint a face on his chest.

Daddy, clearly, liked to have a good time.  In this costume he folded his arms up over his head inside a painted pillowcase that created a hat.  If you look closely, you can see tiny holes that allowed him to see.

As evidenced in the photo below, Daddy was willing to do just about anything, including dancing in a tutu, if it meant a good laugh.

The following year, 1976, my parents cruised aboard the Carla C. with Emilio, and his wife Joanne. 

Later in his life, Uncle Emil was my father’s closet friend, and he and Joanne, the couple my parents traveled with most frequently.  If I manage to  interview any of the remaining”I” brothers, it’s likely to be Emilio who will meet with me.  (Emil is the older brother of Bobby “I”–currently the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family.)

However, what struck me most in my perusal of these particular photos, was not so much their imaging members of organized crime, but more the travel documents I found in the photo boxes themselves, ones that help me understand my father a bit better.

Regular readers of my blog will know that Sara and I lived last year in Haiti–one of the islands my parents visited during their 1975 cruise aboard  the Doric.

My mother has long told the story of my father’s refusal to go ashore in Haiti, as the deplorable poverty he saw there sickened him.  However, when I read a description of the Haiti tour offered to those traveling aboard the Doric, I understood my father’s refusal more clearly. 

More specifically, the “Program of Shore Excursions” describes the opportunity to visit Petion-villle, the Port-au-Prince suburb where Sara and I lived.  Its characterization of the town as one “boasting beautiful villas and luxurious hotels” might have offended anyone who witnessed the horrible poverty apparent in the port itself.  Anyone saddened by that poverty, anyone with even half a heart, would have found it unsavory to visit the stomping ground of the Haitian elite, when it stood in such stark contrast to the poverty everywhere else in the country.  Though I don’t know for sure what Daddy was feeling, I’d like to think he recognized the hypocrisy inherent in spending even 9 US dollars to visit the rich when their wealth stood in such stark contrast to the struggle of the poor, whom the elite were willing to keep hungry and desperate and sick.

So, although Daddy was restless, though he wanted to live large and spend big, I also believe he had a huge heart, one that despised arrogance and hypocrisy and greed.  I believe Daddy cared about those who suffered needlessly.  I believe he didn’t want to show off his own wealth in a place where poverty was dire, where people were hungry and dying.

I had always assumed my father refused to visit Haiti as a way to hide from poverty, out of cowardice, perhaps.  However, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe Daddy did care.  Maybe he cared deeply.

And maybe this is partly what writing a memoir will do for me—allow me to reevaluate judgemental attitudes I’ve held against my father in the past, allow me to reconsider and reflect, to see my father with new eyes, to know he might be proud that I had lived in Haiti.  That I had gotten off the ship and fought for the poor, wanted to make a difference, not so much to live large as he had, but to give what was hard to give and live in a place that pained me as it had him.  Maybe mine is a different way of living large–living large, as in living deep.

Perhaps, Daddy would be proud of me, as I now am proud of him, proud to be his daughter, proud to love his larger-than-life fight–proud to know him anew.

(To read the first post in this series, click here.)

(Note:  If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I’m writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family.  To read a post called “Kids Make the Best Bookies,” click here.)

42 thoughts on “The Mafia on Vacation (Part 2): Crime, Cruises, and Knowing Daddy Anew

  1. I’m sure your father’s motives were good. His profession didn’t mean that he didn’t care. I love this post! Your parents would have been the height of glamour at the time. Your Dad looks a bit like Dean Martin in some of the photos. Your mother’s hair is amazing and I can remember my mother coming home from the hairdresser with helmet hair. My little brother took fright and ran away crying and hid under the bed. My mother went to the hairdresser with lovely long hair she used to wear pinned up, so it was a major shock for all concerned.
    I’m sure your father would be proud of you and the way you live your life.


    • Oh, Deb, thank you so much for this sweet comment. How sad that your brother hid under the bed–funny now–but poor kid. That was some extreme hair, wasn’t it? Wish my father were around still so I could share that you think he looked like Dean Martin. I guess, he kind of did.


  2. First, would just like to say how much I LOVE your mother’s wardrobe, particularly the long purple and pink gown and the pink boa/shawl. Amazing! She looked so glamorous!!

    Second, again I’m struck with how our lives had odd little points of intersection without any real connection. My aunt Selma, from the Pittsburgh area, went on a cruise that stopped in Haiti and believe it or not, I’m pretty sure it was 1975! She did not go on the excursion either, but had taken a big bag of used clothing and as she described it to me, had tossed the bag to the “poor souls” in the port and said that even from the ship the passengers could see how devastating the poverty was. As a middle aged white woman of modest but comfortable means from rural Pennsylvania, she was horrified by that experience and when I married my husband, a Haitian, 20 years later, she was still recounting stories of that brief encounter with Haiti and was very deeply affected by having seen the suffering. I am quite positive your are correct about your dad not having wanted to show his wealth in the midst of that suffering, and that seeing it from the side of the boat was more than enough to know that there was nothing anyone could do in a 1-day stop while on a cruise.


    • Wow, Dana, thank you for this comment. It is strange how our lives have paralleled one another, isn’t it? Your perspective on all of this is so helpful. And I had no idea you had married a Haitian–how wonderful! I knew your NGO worked in Haiti, but I had no idea you were literally married to a place I hold so dear! Great story. Thanks so, so much, my friend!


  3. That contrast, of the description and the view from the boat, that you so wonderfully set up speaks to something we experience to this day. I’m glad this has complicated your perspective on your dad and brought you a new sense of connection.

    Your brother may as well have said, Mr. Whale, would you like a 7th helping of sausage. That is absolutely hilarious and mortifying.


    • I know–the story about my brother and Dale is hysterical. We still laugh about it, but poor Dale! And, yes, I think I’m coming to have my thoughts about my Dad complicated more and more every day–and in a good way. Thanks for noticing that! Hope you had a good weekend, Rose. Hope school is going well!


      • I loved seeing the photos, your parents look happy and relaxed and full of life….such a good looking couple! (thank you for sharing!)
        I was surprised by the way you progressed from the cruises to an aspect of your father that you wanted to come to terms with….and I think you did it beautifully. The way you connected it to your own experience of Haiti, the description of the ‘tour’….all of it gave so much context to the gist of your blog post…..a daughters pride in her father. It shines through as you delve into the past and I can see how your mind works. Loving the re-evaluation Kathy!


      • Thanks, Munira. I struggled with this post–not quite sure whether it worked–so I’m pleased it communicated well for you. It has been enormous fun going through all of these photos–and beginning to see my dad in a new light.


  4. Such an interesting story.
    Be careful, though, of transferring your own sensibilities and values to your dad. There’s more research to be done to verify what you believe, or want to believe, of him.


  5. I love this phrase: “jet-setting here, Love-Boating there.” It fits the time period so well. Your parents do look so glamorous.

    How interesting that your father went to Haiti and that part of the tour included the area where you and Sara lived.

    I think it is difficult to truly get to know one’s parents. I’ve been seeing my father in a different light lately, especially since my mother’s death two years ago. There are things I used to attribute to him, but now wonder if my mother was the source as his attitudes have either changed or they were not his in the first place.


    • So glad you enjoyed that phrase. It was fun to remember how the show “Love Boat” romanticized cruising–sort of the way Pan Am does with early air travel today.

      I find it fascinating that you have noticed things about your father changing now that your mother is gone. It’s interesting how parents can maintain a seemingly united front when, in fact, it might not be that way at all.

      Thanks for reading, Robin.


  6. The description of Haiti as an exotic wonderland would be pretty hard to stomach knowing the poverty and struggle there, I’m sure. I think it’s really neat that so many years ago your dad noticed about Haiti what you and Sara went there to help remedy.


  7. Love the hairstyles on the women! And it’s pretty evident what a fun-loving guy your dad was. I’m thinking his story – maybe told from your perspective through narration – would make a great movie. Maybe you should consider a memoir AND a screenplay!


    • Interesting that you mention the screenplay, as Sara and I have talked about this and what we think would make an interesting opening scene, etc. At the same time, the memoir is proving daunting enough. Can’t even imagine attempting a screenplay, as well, at this point. But, perhaps, someday. Thanks for reading, Mark.


  8. What was up with the painted belly men in the ’70’s? I remember seeing people on TV pretending to whistle through their belly buttons with faces painted on their chests….I know: odd thing to take away from this post. It does however show your parents as happy people. Regardless of the bad things that went on, your dad had a zest for life and it seems that he squeezed everything out of it that he could.


  9. I’m happy to hear that your research has afforded you a different (or more complex) perspective of your father. How interesting that his cruise ship stopped at Haiti!

    I LOVE the photos that you’ve posted here– everyone looks so glamorous, and I just had to shake my head in embarrassment with that story about your brother and Dale the Whale! 🙂 My youngest sister did something similar with one of our family friends. Awkwardness and mortification ensued.


  10. Wow – it’s hard to believe we live in the same world now. Those glam pictures seem to be of a different dimension almost. The end of your post brought tears to my eyes – it’s nice to see a dad through new eyes – I am very glad I have had this opportunity while my dad is still alive.


  11. It certainly seems to be a glamorous and romantic life that your parents led! Love the photos.

    This memoir is giving you a unique chance to get to know your parents and see them through adult eyes. I don’t think that’s something many of us do.


    • This is another thing I didn’t realize as a kid–at all–that they led a very different life than most parents of that era. This never, ever occurred to me. How is that possible? I guess children only have their own lives as reference points.


  12. Re-evaluating, seeing things in a new light–that is a good reason to blog this through. To see things more fully with all their shades of revelation. My parents went on a cruise, too, about 1969. They brought back dolls and presents from Jamaica. They had trouble looking poverty in the eye, too. Since even many of the poorest of us Americans are wealthier than most of the world, I guess I would say I have trouble looking poverty in the eye, too. Although I try to engage it… Thinking now about restlessness and how we restless humans try to fill up our lives and we never seem to be able to do it.


    • I think it’s hard for most people to really look at the suffering of others–at least for those of us who have a degree of empathy in our souls. But I think it’s not easy to admit your own discomfort. Congratulations on that honesty. I appreciate it.


  13. My grandparents enjoyed cruising also. To them it was the height of luxury and a splurge- being able to have the food and drink and entertainment at their disposal. They normally didn’t live that kind of lifestyle. In fact, after they retired, they took trips on the Carla C and the Emerald Seas, too.
    Boy, I love seeing these old photos. The clothes and hair are fun to look at all these years later.


    • How fun that your grandparents cruised on the same ships. Small world, isn’t it? And, goodness, I couldn’t agree with you more about the old photos–hair and clothes–fascinating to look back. Take care, Jackie————-


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