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Scarface. Growing Up Gotti. The Godfather. West Side Story. A Bronx Tale. Fuggetaboutit...
The list of movies, books, television shows, and musicals inspired by the Italian mafia grows every single year, and it's a genre that never seems to get old. Heck, it's one of the most timeless fiction genres to touch upon the American crime world.
If you think about it, it's easy to see why mobsters remain a popular genre in so many books. Mobsters are elegant gangsters. Gang life is filled with danger, intrigue, and drama. Gunfights are the norm, and so are beautiful gun molls.
While parts of The Godfather are based on a true story, you're sadly mistaken if you think that life in the mob really is like what Don Corleone experienced. Many myths about the mafia are true, but life in the mafia is way scarier, way wilder, and way lonelier than you'd ever expect.
I decided to take a look at how real-life mobsters (and their families) live their lives. What I found was shocking on a wide range of different levels, and it'd make anyone think twice about being a "made man."
If you are born into the family, being surrounded by hitmen is the norm.
In Frank DiMatteo's book, The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia, he explains what life was like as a child who grew up in a mob family. His father and godfather were both enforcers in the Gallo branch of the Colombo family mafia.
What this means is that his family, and most of his close friends, were mafiosos with body counts under their belt. Imagine having your cheeks pinched by "the Iceman" right before he goes out to whack another poor schlub.
One can only imagine that it's pretty creepy to realize how many of your relatives killed other people. It's also worth noting that DiMatteo said that the effects of the life were clearly visible in a lot of the people in his family.
For example, when asked about his life around Crazy Joey Gallo, he had this to say about the infamous mobster:
"He got out when I was like 16, 17, so I saw Joey for one year. I think '71 to '72. Joey was Joey. Joey was a scary guy. His eyes gleamed. He smiled. He wasn't the guy to joke with. But on the other side, if you're with him, there's nothing to fear.
But Joey sowed his oats when he came home... He was a nutty guy. Functional, but legitimately nuts."
If you're a child or spouse, you will probably not see your male relatives too often.
Everyone knows that life in the mafia means that your first obligation is to la familia. They also typically don't recruit women, but some families will start to bring their kids into the "family business" by the time they're as young as 13 or 14.
That being said, most kids who have come out of mafia families openly admitted that they felt like they never got to really see their fathers. Many who ended up choosing a life outside the mob were resentful.
Mafia-related family members are not the type to shower their families with attention. Rather, mafia parents (and partners) will often shower their loved ones with expensive gifts.
Did you marry into the mob? You better love your husband because divorce is extremely taboo.
In the mafia, there are very few things that are as taboo as divorcing. Even if you are the victim of domestic violence, you cannot really leave a mafioso by divorce without serious problems following you.
Well, let's just rearrange that a moment. Divorce in the mafia is perfectly fine. It's just that women cannot choose to leave men in mobster families without serious repercussions.
The danger comes from hurting a mobster's pride. One girl who lived life as a mafia princess noted that her mother dealt with serious issues after the papers were filed.
The girl, who went by Angela in her Cracked interview, noted that the mafia continued to terrorize her mother—even going so far as to send people to follow them home. At one point, the brakes were even cut in her mother's car.
Parents in the family also will shield children as long as possible.
When you're a child, life in the mafia means that parents will try to lie about their involvement for as long as possible. For Angela, this meant that her parents barred her from watching the news or even accessing the internet until she was well into her teens.
Obviously, not all parents in the mafia will go to these lengths. But, they will avoid the topic as long as possible since it's part of the Omerta vow they take.
You never know who you're dealing with, and in most cases, you won't know why you're doing things.
A lot of mob behavior is done on a "need to know" basis—and rightfully so! Life in the mafia operates by secrecy, simply because everyone's out to get you when you're in it. You won't be able to tell if it's the FBI, a rival family, or an angry associate.
Most people who have family members in the mafia will see people following them. They will get threatened, and at times, it's possible that they will be attacked.
The worst part about life in the mob is that you never know who's following you. It could be anyone, which is why knowing as little as possible tends to be the best option.
If you're female, you're usually powerless.
Women are not seen as soldiers in the mafia, and for the most part, women's lives in the mob are relegated to being wives and mothers. It's a very patriarchal system, for the most part.
Mafia daughters can't inherit the family business, no matter how talented they may be. They are typically married off to other mafiosos, in many cases, acting as bartering chips for unsteady alliances in the underworld. They have no say in their own lives in most cases.
That being said, American mob wives don't have it as bad as the ones in Italy. Word has it that the women born into mafias in the "old country" are so tightly held under lock and key, they often commit suicide as their only way to escape.
Family life always comes in second to the mob.
Life in the mafia requires you to follow the rules of the mob. The number one rule?
"Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty—even if your wife’s about to give birth."
Distant fathers, neglected mothers, and kids who end up clamoring for attention are what mob families are made of. It's pretty lonely, but in a weird way, surviving the mob activity bonds you together.
Victoria Gotti, who was daughter of John Gotti, was very well-aware of the lifestyle her father led. And, it made her conflicted about her family, as she states below:
"I loved the man… but I loathed the life, his lifestyle. How can anybody worship that life? How could anybody think that there was any glory in that life? I would lie awake nights and cry, ‘Is my dad gonna come home? Is he gonna go to jail again?' " —Victoria Gotti
You soon learn that the rules are broken all the time.
One thing that became glaringly obvious in my research was how often rules in the mafia are broken. The rules that are broken now were often punishable by death.
People snitch all the time, which means that you will very likely be betrayed by your own friends and family. Things like not hitting on other mobster's wives, or even respecting women? Regularly broken on a frequent basis.
Stress-related sickness is the norm in mob families.
Never being able to feel safe, not knowing whether you will ever be able to live on your own, not knowing who's telling you the truth... life is hard in the mob!
Unsurprisingly, many mafiosos and their families tend to have serious stress problems. Many suffer from OCD, depression, anxiety, stomach issues related to stress, and—you guessed it—PTSD.
No matter what your rank is, life in the mafia means your home will need extra security.
The mafia is no joke, and even the lowest soldato will have moments where their lives are on the line. Unsurprisingly, most people who actually live with the mafia as part of their lives live in extremely high security homes.
Cameras, guarded rooms, reinforced windows, and specialized soundproof walls are all quite common. I suppose it's a small price to pay for the security of not getting killed.