If Dad forgave me, Mom didn't. She was really upset over the incident and blamed my father for my delinquencies. My mother still had legal custody of me and she decided to remove me from Dad's influences. Worse still, on the advice of one of the fathers who worked with Catholic Charities, with which my mother has always been affiliated, she popped me into a C.C. private school for problem boys in Port Chester, New York.
As a reformatory, the school wasn't much. It was more of a posh camp than a remedial institution. I lived in a neat cottage with six other boys, and except for the fact that I was restricted to campus and constantly supervised, I was subjected to no hardships.
The brothers who ran the school were a benevolent lot. They lived in much the same manner as their wards. We all ate in a common dining hall, and the food was good and plentiful. There was a movie theater, a television room, a recreation hall, a swimming pool and a gymnasium. I never did catalogue all the recreational and sports facilities that were available. We attended classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, but otherwise our time was our own to do with as we liked. The brothers didn't harangue us about our misdeeds or bore us with pontifical lectures, and you really had to mess up to be punished, which usually meant being confined to your cottage for a couple of days. I never encountered anything like the school until I landed in a U.S. prison. I have often wondered since if the federal penal system isn't secretly operated by Catholic Charities.
The monastic lifestyle galled me, however. I endured it, but I looked on my stint in the school as punishment and undeserved punishment at that. After all, Dad had forgiven me and he had been the sole victim of my crimes. So what was I doing in the place? I'd ask myself. What I disliked most about the school, however, was its lack of girls. It was strictly an all-male atmosphere. Even the sight of a nun would have thrilled me.
I would have been even more depressed had I known what was happening to Dad during my stay. He never went into details, but while I was in the school he ran into some severe financial difficulties and lost his business.
He was really wiped out. He was forced to sell the house and his two big Cadillacs and everything else he had of material value. In the space of a few months, Dad went from living like a millionaire to living like a postal clerk.
That's what he was when he came to get me after I'd spent a year in the school. A postal clerk. Mom had relented and had agreed to my living with Dad again. I was shocked at the reversal of his fortunes, and more than a little guilt-ridden. But Dad would not allow me to blame myself. The $3,400 I'd ripped him off for was not a factor in his business downfall, he assured me. "Don't even think of it, kid. That was a drop in the bucket," he said cheerfully.
He did not seem to be bothered by his sudden drop in status and finances, but it bothered me. Not for myself, but for Dad. He'd been so high, a real wheeler-dealer, and now he was working for wages. I tried to pump him for the causes. "What about your friends, Dad?" I asked. "I remember you were always pulling them out of tight spots. Didn't any of them offer to help you?"
Dad just smiled wryly. "You'll learn, Frank, that when you're up there're hundreds of people who'll claim you as a friend. When you're down, you're lucky if one of them will buy you a cup of coffee. If I had it to do over again, I'd select my friends more carefully. I do have a couple of good friends. They're not wealthy, but one of them got me my job in the post office."
He refused to dwell on his misfortunes or to discuss them at length, but it bugged me, especially when I was with him in his car. It wasn't as good as my Ford, which he'd sold for me and placed the money in an account in my name. His car was a battered old Chevy. "Doesn't it bother you at all to drive this old car, Dad?" I asked him one day.
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
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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