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 happier."
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.
Excerpted from Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding Copyright© 2000 by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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