65: The Godfather and His Daughter

65: The Godfather and His Daughter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

The Godfather and His Daughter

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.

~Author Unknown

My father and I were both good at pretending to be people we were not. I spent the first nineteen years of my life pretending I wasn’t gay, and he spent even longer pretending he wasn’t sane. Truth, you see, was a relative concept in our family.

Between the two of us, he was the better actor. After my father died in 2005, psychiatrists marveled at his ability to not break character or waver from his story for so long, saying he could have won Oscars for such a performance.

But my father, Vincent Gigante, was no actor; he was a crime boss.

Known in that world by his nickname, “Chin,” he was the head of the Genovese crime family and believed to be the capo di tutti capi of all five New York crime families.

Our respective worlds of invention were for our own survival. Growing up in an Italian-Catholic family in the Seventies, to be gay was a worse sin, a bigger crime, than being a murderer. You were hell-bent for sure. I was different than my sisters and friends from a young age and it wasn’t going to change. All I could do was hope and pray that God wouldn’t punish me for how he made me.

My father spent more than two decades feigning mental illness to stay out of jail. In the West Village neighborhood where he mostly lived, he put on daily street performances. Dressed in pajamas and a worn-out robe, he’d meander the one block from his apartment to “the Café” — a small room with windows painted black, where he’d meet a bunch of men to play cards. Sometimes he’d stop and talk to a parking meter on the way. The New York tabloids dubbed him “The Oddfather.”

Once in a while, I’d see glimpses of the father he could have been. He’d put on Elvis and dance around the living room in his boxer shorts. He’d kiss his mother on the cheek and stuff her apron pocket with one-hundred-dollar bills. He’d kneel at his bedside, eyes shut, and pray the rosary.

By age nineteen I couldn’t sustain my lie any more. I’d dated boys and worn a frilly prom dress, but living a double life was making me physically and emotionally ill—for real. I was plagued with mysterious pains and anxieties, so I decided it was time to come out to my parents. I hoped and prayed they would accept and love me as I was.

“Mom, Dad . . . I have something important I need to tell you,” I said to them one night when Dad was staying over at the family house in Jersey. My throat started closing up, but I pressed on. “I like women, I’m gay.”

My father was silent — deadly, scarily so. I expected yelling, but this was worse.

“It’s a phase,” he said, in a cool and controlled voice that made me shiver. “I don’t want you to see any of your girlfriends anymore.”

In that moment, I realized he wanted nothing to do with the truth; he wasn’t willing to accept the real me. And so, I continued pretending for a while longer. Until three years later, when federal agents broke down my father’s apartment door with a battering ram and arrested him, charging him with racketeering and murder, among other crimes. He was put on house arrest to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial, and he revved up his act as feds watched him 24-7 from across the street in parked sedans.

Seven years later, in 1997, my father was sentenced to twelve years in prison. But even then, on the inside, he stuck to his elaborate ruse in case it would get him out. While he continued his lie, I embarked on a search for truth. I went into therapy to unravel the confusing layers of my childhood and get clarity on our father-daughter relationship. I studied the art of Reiki and other healing techniques to find health for myself, and help others. In the process, I discovered I had an ability to sense spiritual energies around me.

With my new understanding of the power of energy, words, and intent, I wondered if I could mend something between the two of us, even as he sat in a dreary jailhouse 500 miles away.

I wrote him a long letter, and here’s a small portion:

Dear Dad,

I am writing today to tell you who your daughter really is . . .

Before I begin —first and foremost, I forgive you. I forgive you for all the things you couldn’t do; for the father you couldn’t be; and for anything that was said, done, not said or done. I also forgive myself for all the anger, rage, and resentment—and for anything I said or did that hurt you in any way . . .

I told you previously that I am a healer. I am committed to helping people find their way.

I see miracles every day, small and large, in my life and in the lives of my clients . . .

Dad, I know that when you read this, you will understand what I am saying because it will resonate with your soul. I will continue to pray for you and send you good energy. Thank you for being my father and for helping me learn my lessons in this life.

In gratitude and love always,

Rita.

I mailed the letter, and hoped and prayed one last time that my father might accept and love me as I was.

Two weeks later, he called my mother looking for me.

“His voice was shaking,” my mother told me, shocked. “He said, ‘Tell Rita that I love her very much . . . tell her I understand.’ ”

My heart raced; I was ecstatic. I could feel something monumental happening within my father.

Not long after that, he was up for parole after serving six years and he desperately wanted to come home. But there was a new problem.

In an effort to keep Dad in jail, federal authorities wanted to charge the family with obstruction of justice, saying we helped him lie all those years. He didn’t need to hear any more.

My father made an admission shortly thereafter, shocking both the family and the public.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: April 13th, 2003.

An enduring urban mystery was solved last week when Vincent (The Chin) Gigante, the Mafia leader who spent decades slobbering, muttering and wandering Manhattan in his bedclothes, admitted in a Brooklyn federal court that he had deceived the teams of psychiatrists who had evaluated his mental competency . . .

My father died in jail two years later. But in that time, he was a freer man than he’d been in decades. He loved me without judgment and he told the truth—those, to me, were miracles both small and large.

When I married the love of my life, Bobbie, in 2013, I know my father was at the wedding in spirit — walking us both down the aisle. After the ceremony, we put on an Elvis tune for him—“Jailhouse Rock”—ha! As Bobbie and I danced, we both could feel my father take our hands and spin us around on the dance floor. It wasn’t the traditional father-daughter dance, but then again — we weren’t your everyday kind of family.

But prior to this, and shortly following his passing, my father appeared to me in my treatment room. He came with an unlikely offer of love, healing and redemption, communicating to me that he wanted to make a pact with me to assist in my healing work from the other side. To say the least, I was overjoyed and embraced this wholeheartedly.

~Rita Gigante with Natasha Stoynoff

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