5 Surreal Realities Growing Up As The Daughter Of A Mob Boss
In Mafia movies, family is everything. That's usually "family" in terms of hardened criminals and not precocious little kids. But actually growing up biting ankles beneath a red-checkered tablecloth during spaghetti restaurant shootouts is a whole different story. We spoke to the daughter (and granddaughter) of some notorious organized crime figures. "Angela" -- not her real name, for obvious reasons -- told us that being Meadow Soprano was exactly as dramatic as it sounds.
They Hide It From You For As Long As Possible
Angela doesn't remember 9/11. Which is weird, since bumper stickers on pickup trucks made us all collectively promise to never forget. See, Angela's parents were together enough to know that organized crime is no scene for kids. That meant a total media blackout, lest she have some awkward questions about how Daddy got inside the TV, and why those nice men with shiny badges wanted to talk to him.
"We didn't get the newspaper. They made sure not to turn the news on TV," she says. "As a kid, I knew the news existed ... but I kind of thought that it was just a way to pass the time, honestly -- that it wasn't something a majority of the people . I thought it was just to fill empty air time."
To be fair, that's not entirely wrong.
Of course, they couldn't keep that up forever. At age seven or eight, a family friend told her that her father was on the news. That's when she first heard about things like "RICO" (a law that hands out additional penalties for acts taken to further a criminal organization), "racketeering," "tax evasion," and "prostitution." On the upside, she was dynamite at the oddly criminal-themed spelling bee that year, and still too young to really understand what it all meant. "After we knew, allowed us to look up whatever we wanted, would go into detail about where the newspapers got it wrong or weren't clear enough," she says. "She tried to explain what 'RICO' meant, and what exactly was going on with the money. But even today, I'm not completely clear on it."
Any mafia law broad enough to apply to the Catholic church, professional baseball, and our next president is gonna be complex.
When she was old enough to overhear the more lively family discussions, she ended up knowing a lot more than she'd like to, if only in "witness testimony" terms. The more colorful stories include the time her grandfather was nearly assassinated, or when he dangled a dude out a window, Suge-Knight-style. And those are the things he admits to. He's been accused of much worse, though Angela doesn't know how much she believes. "It didn't seem his style; he always seemed more like a fear-tactic / incentive / 'rough 'em up at worst' kind of guy." But, she concedes, "That being said, he was a tough man, and there's a lot I don't know about him."
We understand. Fully half of our Grandpa's stories aren't entirely true. Though his are usually about the size of fish, not felonies.
Family Conflicts Take On A Whole New Level
Angela's mom decided to get out of that environment, which sounds like a fine decision. The problem, as Angela says, was that "she wasn't supposed to do that." In mob culture, "the woman never divorces the man." It hit her dad right in the pride, and he indicated in no uncertain terms that the consequences would be dire. The threat went beyond cutting off child support (though obviously he also did that, too). "Mostly it's scare tactics," Angela says, "but her brakes were cut not long after."
Note that she says "were cut," not "my father cut them" -- that's the problem. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but there was no way to prove who cut the brakes, even though a mechanic confirmed it was no accident, the timing was more than a little suspicious, and also it was obviously the goddamn mafia.
"Sorry, ma'am, but the warranty doesn't cover acts of God and/or godfathers."
You Will Be Followed
Ever get the feeling that someone is following you? You're usually wrong. Angela is not. "In elementary, my siblings and I were followed home from school periodically," she says. "We were not aware of it, but the stalker would send taunting texts to my mom."
The family also regularly received death threats, which she was blissfully unaware of until she was older. "A lot of these death threats came from people saying that God told them to kill our family and that we needed to die," she says -- all matter-of-factly, like it's a normal part of childhood and not the most terrifying goddamn thing we've ever heard.
You'd think God would occasionally tell someone to send a strongly worded letter instead of jumping directly to murder.
The divorce complicated things even further. Before then, it was always the authorities following them around. Afterward, they could never be sure if it was the FBI, some goon her father hired, or an enemy of their family. This caused some tense moments, to say the least. "There was an instance where my mom was driving home one night and about had a heart attack. A red laser point held steady on her from an unknown source. Was it the FBI? An enemy? Some kid with a damn laser pointer? We'll never know, but she booked it."
No kidding. We're just hearing this secondhand, and we're still hiding under our desks right now.
We're going to assume it was a failed attempt to bait a cat so we can sleep tonight.
Work/Life Balance Is Tricky When Your Work Is Illegal
It wasn't all terrible, all the time. "For the record, my father was an amazing dad when he acted like one," Angela says. "He really loved making us laugh, and you saw him early on trying to learn new skills, like cooking, to better care for us."
Plus, that "I'm gonna make you a lobster you can't refuse" line was funny every time.
Angela's childhood memories are filled with gifts and laughter, but the older she gets, the more she doubts them. "I started seeing kind of the disconnect," Angela says. "That the reason he bought all those things was that he never really cared to bond with us, and he didn't know what we wanted."
Of course, it can't be easy to balance fatherhood with a demanding, wildly illegal career. It's not as if he could come home and regale the dinner table with tales from the office. There was a lot about his life that he couldn't share with them, for everyone's protection.
"Anything interesting happen at work today?" was off the table for dinnertime talk.
"As we got older and figured out more and got confrontational ... he doesn't like confrontation, and he started pushing us more and more away the smarter we got," Angela says. It got to the point where he didn't even tell them when he was going to prison. "My mom had to," Angela says. "She was like, 'By the way, just so you guys know, he's leaving in about two weeks.'"
"So Father's Day may be a little ... poorly attended this year."
Angela was a teenager at the time, so fortunately, there was no need for white lies about how Daddy was going to go live on a farm where he could run free and play with the other daddies for a while. Later, whenever he was indicted or sentenced -- which happened quite a few times during Angela's teenage years -- they all had to find out from the news. She understands why he didn't tell them. "That kind of openness would leave room for our questions, and he never liked answering those," she says. We all know what happens to snitches.
You're Never Truly Out
The movies had one thing right: Angela was expected to help carry on the family tradition. "As a woman, I wouldn't be able to own the business," she says. But her dad thought she'd make a great lawyer for the family, and for a while, she considered it. Despite coming to terms with her family's lifestyle, Angela couldn't see herself contributing to it. It's one thing to love your dad in spite of the criminal charges. It's quite another to help him get away with it.
There are better ways to bond with a parent than over a "Not guilty" verdict.
Even so, Angela can never forget what her real last name is. It can be painful, like when her grandfather died, and she wasn't allowed to go to his funeral because her mother was worried about the reporters getting a photo of the kids. It can be scary, like the stalkers who still show up occasionally.
"If I ever tell someone about my family, it's because they're close enough to me that they might be followed too," she says. "It snowed last year during the night, and we awoke the next day to find a man's footprints circling the house, starting from my sister's window." The family joked about it, but "my boyfriend didn't find this funny."
We're a little hazy on the punchline, too.
"The distinguishment between actual threats and those you create in your own head is a little more daunting when many of those threats have been proven prior," Angela says. "Think the difference between someone following you down an empty alley with their hands in their coat pocket versus someone chasing you down the street swinging a machete. One's a definite red flag, but the other one is hiding his flag in his pocket."
And now, if you'll excuse us, we have to see if GrubHub delivers to beneath a desk.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things 'Breaking Bad' Left Out About Having A Drug Lord Dad and 8 Terrifying Life Lessons From A Former Terrorist.
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