John Joseph Gotti was raised by an abusive, absent father in a household of 11 children. He once said of his old man, "He never did nothin'. He never earned nothin'. And we never had nothin'." A high school dropout determined to make something of himself, Gotti entered a life of crime and rose to the head of the Gambino family. In her new memoir, "This Family of Mine," John's daughter Victoria Gotti reveals how her father's life in the mob left his wife and five kids -- Angel, Victoria, John, Frank and Peter -- suffering years of torment, anxiety and regret. Victoria tells the family's intimate secrets -- the lies her father told her, the bloody battles between her parents over his disreputable lifestyle, the sleazy visits to him in prison. At the age of 7, she writes, she discovered the truth about her father's life in the Mafia. He died in prison at the age of 61 in 2002 -- after giving her his blessing to write their story. Here, in the first of four installments from this explosive new book, she tells of learning the painful truth about her life.
IT WAS the end of summer, and my little brother John and I were dressed in matching red, white and blue shorts that Mom had made for us earlier in the week. We piled into the back seat of Dad's dark-brown Cadillac for a trip to the Aquarium. Along the way, he had to make a stop at a social club on Knickerbocker Avenue.
We waited in the car, and, when Dad came out a few minutes later, we complained that we had to use the bathroom.
Reluctantly, Dad took us inside the dimly lit bar. There were a few men in the back playing a game of cards, and when they saw me and my brother, they immediately began smiling and scooping up 10s and 20s, and handing them over to us.
Dad was livid. No kid of his would ever be allowed to accept money, not even from a few made guys and wannabes who were just trying to show off in front of my dad.
"Say hello and be polite," he quietly instructed us. "But give them back their money."
Then he turned and cordially thanked the older men, adding, "It's not necessary."
That's when the trouble began. There was a young platinum blonde behind the bar, a cocktail waitress. She was wearing hot-pink shorts, a small white T-shirt, pantyhose and stiletto heels.
My brother took it all in without saying a word -- until we got home that evening, when Mom asked about the Aquarium, and whether we had fun.
John was more interested in telling her about the "lady named Bunny who kept flirting with Daddy." And predictably, a major fight ensued.
I remember them screaming at each other, Mom telling Dad to "get out." My siblings and I cowered in the back bedroom for nearly an hour, sensing things were about to get uglier.
The next thing I knew, Mom had heaved a large fork from the kitchen to where Dad was standing 10 feet away.
Incredibly, the fork ripped into Dad's right shoulder. We were all stunned. There was blood everywhere. I remember the look of complete shock on my father's face.
Quickly, he removed the fork. Then he ripped off his shirt, revealing an impressive gash.
"Daddy's hurt!" my sister Angel screamed. "Oh, God, Mommy killed Daddy!"
My mother stood frozen at the kitchen sink, not knowing what to do. The drama escalated when Dad's best friend, Angelo Ruggiero -- Uncle Angelo -- arrived. The entire flat was like a battlefield, complete with wounded combatants and terrified onlookers.
Uncle Angelo saw Dad holding my new dress over the cut on his shoulder -- blood-soaked and still dripping down his back -- and he, too, started screaming.
"What the hell did you do to him?" he shouted at my mother. "Why? Why? Why?"
Uncle Angelo gave my mother a final dirty look and rushed my father out of the apartment and to the hospital.
It was light out by the time Dad finally came home. Bandages were easily visible through his white T-shirt, and we later learned that a dozen stitches were required to close the wound. Dad gave us each a little pat on the head, smiled, and then retreated to his bedroom to sleep.
There were too many episodes and blowups between Mom and Dad to count.
Most of them arose from my mother's dissatisfaction with the late hours my father kept or the places he frequented or the people he was with. (These three things were all linked, of course.)
As an adult, I can now say that I understand what my mother must have felt. At the time, however, I was more sympathetic to Dad; most of us were. We could not understand why Mom was always yelling, or why she seemed to instigate the fighting.
To our young and naive eyes, Dad seemed to be the victim, and Mom the abuser. How were we to know that her anger was justified?
IWAS 7 years old when I real ized that my father was not like other dads. We were still living in Brooklyn, and unfortunately, our financial situation hadn't changed much.
Dad repeatedly tried in vain to find a legitimate business opportunity; not so much because he had any ethical problem with being in the Mafia, but simply because he wanted to please his wife and provide his children with a sense of security.
He tried to hide from his children the fact that he didn't have a conventional job. There were various fabrications, the most common being his role as the powerful head of a local construction company.
In fact, every day when he left for "work," at the oddly late hour of 10 or 11 a.m., he would tell us about some new project he was developing: a skyscraper one month, a three-story beach house or a suite of offices the next month.
I remember how he used to bounce me on his knee and answer all of my silly questions about the construction trade.
I don't remember Dad leaving for jail in 1969, and later I came to believe that he left in the middle of the night because he didn't want to face us. Mom opted to tell us that Dad was going away on business, to "a new job, building the biggest building ever."
It did little to calm my fears. Even when Dad said that his "boss left him no choice," I was still upset with him.
I can vividly recall our monthly visits to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. The imposing structure of the prison, the guard towers, the sanitary conditions -- these are things you don't ever forget. Nor do you forget what it's like to see your father trapped behind bars, like an animal.
There was a rhythm to the visits. After the prison's careful screening and scrutiny of us, my mother would lead us through a series of steel doors until we reached the visiting room.
It was always packed and bustling with activity. There was always a lot of crying, with inmates holding their wives and children, rocking back and forth.
Even though I was just a child, I could still pick out the knock-around guys from the ordinary thugs. The guys who were "connected" were well-groomed, with slicked-back hair, white deck sneakers and had trademark tattoos.
THOUGH he was paroled in 1972, my father's life on the outside didn't last long. When he'd returned to the streets, back to Gambino capo Carmine Fatico's Bergin Hunt and Fish social club, he was to be given a promotion.
Fatico had recently been indicted on loan-sharking charges, and it was likely he was going to prison. He'd chosen Dad to be the acting captain, or capo, in his absence.
As a result, Dad quickly became familiar with both adversaries and allies along the way. One such adversary was the "don" himself, Carlo Gambino.
A group claiming to be the Westies, an Irish gang originating out of Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, had kidnapped Gambino's nephew. They demanded 100 grand in ransom. Gambino agreed to pay and wanted his nephew back safely. For the moment, he'd arranged for his nephew's wife to pay the ransom. Gambino delivered the full amount, but the kidnappers killed his nephew anyway.
Gambino reached out for Dad, the young man he'd been hearing so much about. Ironically, Dad was not yet even a "made man."
Gambino was very impressed with my father and made it his business to keep the young "buck" close to him.
He wanted the man responsible for killing his nephew brought to him -- alive.
Dad, Uncle Angelo and one of Gambino's soldiers, Ralph Galione, found out the man responsible for killing the don's nephew was James McBratney, a member of the Westies gang. Gambino's men found him one night at Snoope's Bar and Grill on Staten Island.
The three men entered the bar pretending to be detectives, claiming they had a warrant for McBratney's arrest -- a believable ruse, as McBratney was always in trouble with the law and had been arrested numerous times. But that night, McBratney resisted. He ignored the men and became belligerent.
What happened next was not part of the plan. Galione pulled out a small pistol and shot McBratney at close range, killing him. The three men fled the scene.
Dad and Ruggiero were soon identified from photos that police officers provided to eyewitnesses. They heard they were being hunted and went on the lam.
It was as if Dad was in prison again. Money was scarce, bills piled up once again, and Mom grew increasingly depressed. As young as I was, I remember the many times that Mom would wake us in the middle of the night, telling us to "dress quickly."
Then we all shoved into my Uncle Pete's car and hours later we'd arrive at some nondescript motel in New Jersey. Dad would be waiting, pacing the floors nervously until we arrived.
We wouldn't stay longer than overnight, so as not to draw unwanted attention to the motel and to Dad. He was on the lam and had to stay "underground" until things cooled off.
This period lasted about a year, until Dad was arrested in a Queens bar. He'd deliberately let himself get caught. Gambino, meanwhile, had been busy arranging top-notch legal counsel. Roy Cohn was hired to get Dad and Angelo the best possible deal, which, by the way, wasn't that hard to do.
In the case of Gambino's nephew being kidnapped, even the cops were outraged and wanted to see justice played out.
In the end, Cohn managed to get my father and Angelo two years in prison. The charge was later dropped from murder to attempted manslaughter. Galione, who actually pulled the trigger, was never seen or heard from again. Most in the life believe he was killed on Don Carlo's orders for botching the carefully planned event.
Both Dad and Ruggiero were sent to Green Haven Prison in upstate New York in 1974. This time, Dad was automatically initiated as "the Warden" of "Mafia row."
But on the streets, where it mattered most, word soon spread that John Gotti had officially earned his "bonus" -- a term used when a man became a wiseguy or goodfella.