Today we welcome Tony Napoli to The Book Connection. Tony is the author of My Father, My Don, a real life story of Tony’s life as the son of one of the most powerful and respected organized crime leaders of the modern era.
Thank you for joining us today, Tony. It’s great to have you with us.
Nice to meet with you.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what kinds of things you enjoyed doing as a kid?
I grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY. Where I enjoyed playing in sports like baseball, football and basketball. I also trained as an amateur boxer until I was 20-years-old.
Your father was James “Jimmy Nap” Napoli, yes? Now, did you know growing up that your father was involved in illegal activity?
Yes, my father was James "Jimmy Nap" Napoli also known as the Kingpin of the Numbers Racket from 1950-1990. For over 40 years he ran the biggest illegal gambling business on the east coast. I never knew this until I was about 18 years old. All the local newspaper's had his picture and wrote stories about him and his illegal gambling activities almost everyday for weeks and months, at a time from 1950 to 1990. He used to tell me he was a fight promoter and had a stable of prize fighters. He used to let me spar in the gym with them. That's how I learned how to fight and box the right way. When I was about 10 years old, I remember him telling me he was a cigar salesmen, he used to keep boxes of cigars on the back seat of his car.....See chapter 14 in my book
When did you first realize that maybe your family was not the typical American family?
I first realized that my family was not the typical American family at my 18th birthday party. My father had some of his close friends over to the house to celebrate with him, my mother and me.
I saw the way they were dressed and overheard their conversations relating to the newspaper article they were reading. They all wore pinky rings that glowed multi-colors and suits that didn't wrinkle, with silk socks that covered their calves. No one used curse words to express themselves, that was a no-no in my household. And if we did, we were corrected immediately on the spot, by my father. He would say, "Do you have a limit to your vocabulary?" Completely opposite from the Soprano TV show. We were real people and treated with respect, from the Mob and others.....See chapter 24 in my book.
You were very close to your father, weren’t you? How did his connections to organized crime impact your relationship with him?
My father and I were very close. Even when we disagreed on business and other family matters, we always managed to make up after settling our differences. Sometimes it took us a little longer for the traditional hug and kiss after arguing, but we finally made up. You ask, how did his connections to organized crime impact my relationship with him. Well, in the beginning, I found it to be uncomfortable. Only because I was scared of the people he was bringing home. Then as I grew older, I found it kind of intriguing and suspenseful, not knowing what he had in store for me. I heard about the OATH he made men take called in Italian, "OMERTA" not to reveal any of our secrets or you shall burn in hell. More like your body being tossed in the trunk of a car. After, I got more familiar with his Mob people, I started being more relaxed and wanted to be like them. I think that is what put me closer to my father. By understanding him more and what his men expected of him and he of them. What's more, I started to find out what he expected of me, as a son as well as being part of his crew.....See chapter 25 in my book
After your father’s death in 1992, did you feel differently about him or about your relationship?
About a year and a half after my father's death on December 29, 1992, I started to feel differently about him and my relationship with him. It's when I found Sobriety, which is stronger than any OMERTA, I found a better way in life. If my father was alive today, I don't think I would have ever found Sobriety. He was everything, the mountain, the moon, the stars and he gave me the strength, I needed while he lived. No, I never would have found a stronger strength like Sobriety.
See chapter 30 in my book
Did you spend time in prison as a result of your connections to organized crime?
The only time I spent in prison for my organized crime connections was only a matter of overnight stays, such as: questioning for consorting, gambling and refusal to answer questions relating to my father's activities. Overnight stays are considered a few months, a few weeks or anything less than a year. However, when I did over 3 years for one of my crimes, it was in defense of my immediate family.
See chapter 1 and 29 in my book
What is it that led you on the path to redemption?
My path to redemption started on July 11, 1994 when I woke up in the VA Hospital after 10 days and nights in an alcoholic COMA and saw my wonderful family by my bedside crying and praying for my recovery. I thought now's the time for making amends for all those I have harmed.
Why did you decide to write My Father, My Don?
I actually started writing my story when I was 25 years old, and was stopped by my father, who destroyed all my notes. Then in 2003 when I was 68 years old I continued writing. That's when I hired three different writers to help co-write my book. I paid two of them a fee and kept one to help me complete the book. His picture is on the back cover of my book with mine. In 1961 the title was Pipeline New Jersey. In 2003 I changed it to My Father, My Don. I was told not to write my story by others, but I answered, "How can I not." I had to tell the world how I found Sobriety, after coming out alive from the life I lived in organized crime. To let Veterans, recovering alcoholics and indigent fighters, know that there is help out there from people like me who volunteer and charge no fee. For others who read my book, to make them aware of the programs that are available, and how people like me can change for the better. See chapter 2 in my book.
Was it difficult reliving parts of your past?
While I was writing and answering questions asked of me by my co-writers, I found it very difficult reliving parts of my past, especially the drinking years. The harm I did to others and the consequences paid, sometimes in jail, sometimes making apologies. What good that came out of it was the memories of my wonderful mother, who kept the family together....See third unmarked page in the beginning of my book, it shows a picture and text of Mother.
How did you meet screenwriter and director Charles Messina?
I met screenwriter and director Charles Messina, through a mutual friend who's in the film business. I was very impressed with Charles, but was told by the same mutual friend not to use Charles as the co-writer for my book. I make my own decisions when it comes to spending my money. Charles was an unknown, but look at him today. He is very dedicated to the story, and showed me a lot of compassion, mixed with emotions that you feel in his writing. I wish him only success and all that goes with it.
What did Charles bring to this project that you couldn’t have accomplished on your own?
Charles brought words to this project that I couldn't have accomplished on my own, "the framing of a father/son relationship, that had a bond stronger than any OMERTA, an oath taken by organized crime members. He found in his inner-self, how to put true feelings into words. He showed the reader a new dimension in writing a non-fiction story without creativity, just stay with the facts. And, brought passion when needed, combined with rhythm in his writing."
Where can readers purchase a copy of My Father, My Don?
What is up next for me will be to write a second volume of My Father, My Don, a screenplay with its sequel and a prequel for My Father, My Don.
Do you have anything else to add?
I would like to add that I will continue to help veterans with their service-connected injuries in the appeal process, recovering alcoholics to find a good program to control their addiction and help support indigent fighters find a way to meet their needs. Doing this helps me to stay in Sobriety.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Tony. Good luck with your book!