I already had. My father was the mark for the first score I ever made. Dad
possessed the one trait necessary in the perfect pigeon, blind trust, and I
plucked him for $3,400. I was only fifteen at the time.
I was born and spent my first sixteen years in New York's Bronxville. I was the
third of four children and my dad's namesake. If I wanted to lay down a baby
con, I could say I was the product of a broken home, for Mom and Dad separated
when I was twelve. But I'd only be bum-rapping my parents.
The person most hurt by the separation and subsequent divorce was Dad. He was
really hung up on Mom. My mother, Paulette Abagnale, is a French-Algerian beauty
whom Dad met and married during his World War II army service in Oran. Mom was
only fifteen at the time, and Dad was twenty-eight, and while the difference in
ages didn't seem to matter at the time, I've always felt it had an influence on
the breakup of their marriage.
Dad opened his own business in New York City after his discharge from the army,
a stationery store at Fortieth and Madison Avenue called Gramercy's. He was very
successful. We lived in a big, luxurious home and if we weren't fabulously
wealthy, we were certainly affluent. My brothers, my sister and I never wanted
for anything during our early years.
A kid is often the last to know when there's serious trouble between his
parents. I know that's true in my case and I don't think my siblings were any
more aware than I. We thought Mom was content to be a housewife and mother and
she was, up to a point. But Dad was more than just a successful businessman. He
was also very active in politics, one of the Republican wheels in the Bronx
precincts. He was a member and past president of the New York Athletic Club, and
he spent a lot of his time at the club with both business and political cronies.
Dad was also an avid salt-water fisherman. He was always flying off to Puerto
Rico, Kingston, Belize or some other Caribbean spa on deep-sea fishing
expeditions. He never took Mom along, and he should have. My mother was a
women's libber before Gloria Steinem learned her Maidenform was flammable. And
one day Dad came back from a marlin-chasing jaunt to find his home creel empty.
Mom had packed up and moved herself, us three boys and Sis into a large
apartment. We kids were somewhat mystified, but Mom quietly explained that she
and Dad were no longer compatible and had elected to live apart.
Well, she had elected to live apart, anyway. Dad was shocked, surprised and hurt
at Mom's action. He pleaded with her to come back home, promising he'd be a
better husband and father and that he'd curtail his deep-sea outings. He even
offered to forgo politics.
Mom listened, but she made no promises. And it soon became apparent to me, if
not Dad, that she had no intention of reconciling. She enrolled in a Bronx
dental college and started training to be a dental technician.
Dad didn't give up. He was over at our apartment at every opportunity, pleading,
cajoling, entreating and flattering her. Sometimes he'd lose his temper.
"Damn it, woman--can't you see I love you!" he'd roar.
The situation did have its effect on us boys, of course. Me in particular. I
loved my dad. I was the closest to him, and he commenced to use me in his
campaign to win back Mom. "Talk to her, son," he'd ask of me.
"Tell her I love her. Tell her we'd be happier if we all lived together.
Tell her you'd be happier if she came home, that all you kids would be
He'd give me gifts to deliver to Mom, and coach me in speeches designed to break
down my mother's resistance.
As a juvenile John Alden to my father's Myles Standish and my mother's Priscilla
Mullins, I was a flop. My mother couldn't be conned. And Dad probably hurt his
own case because Mom resented his using me as a pawn in their game of marital
chess. She divorced Dad when I was fourteen.
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