We all live with some kind of legacy that has molded our minds and directed our actions. Sometimes this legacy is one of honesty and respect for other people’s lives, sometimes it’s just a series of material things and very little else. Most of us, though, are lucky and can look back to our early years with a smile and find, among the many recollections, many fond memories of our parents, relatives, friends and neighborhood. Not everyone has that luck, though. There are people who have only horrible memories and fight all their life to forget the past and to avoid the trap of insanity. There are also people that have mostly good memories of their early years because life had masked the reality of the world around them. Albert DeMeo is one of them. In his For the Sins of My Father, he examines his life and shows us how his father was capable to be a loving parent, husband and son while running a series of illegal enterprises. What really surfaces is the conflict between the love for the father, and the attempt to rationalize his actions, and the realization that his father was not the man he thought he knew.
It is the story of a Mob child who thought “no one could have asked for a better father” than his because “he spent more time with me [him] than any of the other fathers in the neighborhood spent with their children”. He soon discovers, though, that not everything is what seems. He starts wondering about the strange conversations between his father and the numerous “uncles” that pervade his life. His father never avoids the questions and tells it to him as it is. Albert then tries to make sense of the newly discovered facts: “Uncle Vinny a thief? But he seemed so nice, and I could tell my father liked him. If my father liked him, he must be all right.”
The doubts grow with the years, but the justifications are ready made, as expected from a very young boy: “Did this envelope have money in it? A small knot grew in the pit of my stomach. I ignored it. If my father was doing it, it must be all right.” and “In spite of the things I heard and saw on my outings with him, the line between legal and illegal was blurry…” Little by little, however, the pressure builds up and the knowledge becomes involvement. He learns about guns at the age of six, owns one by nine years old and starts collecting his father’s loan payments by the tender age of fourteen. He is a criminal without the full realization of being one. He has been so absorbed in attempting to justify his father’s life and actions, and to be like him, just as most children do, that he has erased in his mind the line between right and wrong. His conscience works nevertheless and he develops an ulcer and the inability to sleep through a whole night.
The story progresses steadily and mercilessly through his adolescence, reaching the apparent apex at the kid’s seventeenth birthday, when his father gets murdered. The reality becomes at this time of his life more fantastic than fiction. The book covers many topics regarding the life of the infamous Roy DeMeo and his “Murder Machine”, but most of all shows us that “Bad guys are not bad guys twenty-four hours a day” and that even bad guys have their own apparent set of rules: “My father taught me to have respect for old people” and to “always treat a woman with respect, for she is somebody’s daughter, mother, or sister.”
A world of pretense, a “glass bubble” that eventually shatters and leaves everyone traumatized and outraged at the deception. The survivors will have to reconstruct their lives, trying to overcome the mental confusion that a revelation such as the one from this book carries.
I thought that the author said it all when he states that “Whatever else he had done, whoever else he had been, he had been my father, and I loved him more than my own life. And he had loved me. Whatever the world thought of either one of us, I had to hold on to that truth. I also had to grasp a new truth. I was not my father. I never had been.”