STEPFATHERS ALSO COUNT ON FATHER’S DAY – Op-Ed – M. Frank

(This article, by yours truly, appears in the editorial page for Florida Today, this date)

This is about remembering special fathers on Father’s Day. Stepfathers, that is.

Bernard Stein was one of those. Actually, he was known to most people as Bernie the Bookie. I was 16 when he came into my life. Then a widower, he had known my mother from the mobster scene in Queens, New York, during the war years. She was a twice a widow.

My blood father died in 1941 when I was a toddler. My mom was a well-known showgirl who remarried a New York mobster named Willie. We moved to Florida in 1945 where Willie died four years later of natural causes. My embedded images are of his smoke-filled casino room in a Miami Beach hotel, with gangsters, hookers, New York lingo and laughter everywhere. Later came dinner time and the flow of booze at the apartment.

Seven years later in 1956 my mother married Bernie. Few people in my 79 years had such a deep impact on my future. Bernie the Bookie was one of those. He deserves a heartfelt remembrance.

After the Great War ended, Miami Beach was ripe for an invasion of organized crime. Gambling rooms (illegal) opened everywhere, prostitution flourished, and gang lords found safe haven in the warmth of Winter Wonderland because common corruption infested the landscape. Bernie never knew another lifestyle. He grew up in lower Manhattan and hung around with such notables as Meyer Lansky and Bennie Siegel (Bugsy to you and me).

Bernie took to me like I was his own. Long chats in the bedroom between phones calls taking bets on horses and ball games. He finagled a part-time job for me with a Miami Beach mafioso named Frankie Dio, servicing cigarette machines along Collins Avenue. I also played strolling violin at one of Frankie’s upscale restaurants. Great food. Gorgeous women.

Every so often, high-level cops wearing suits visited our house for their weekly pay-off. I never thought about it, other than business as usual. Every time the cops left, Bernie glanced at me chuckling, “Hey. It’s pay day.”

In 1960 I married a pregnant girl expecting the baby by fall. I desperately needed a full-time job. Bagging groceries, selling ladies shoes and playing violin was no way to support a family. One day, Bernie lay back on his pillow and smirked, chewing on a wood-tipped cigar. “What’s up Bernie?” I asked, curiously.

“I got a job for you, Kid.” (I was “Kid.” I don’t think he knew my name.)

“Job? What job?”

“You’re gonna be a cop,” he said, grinning, nodding, puffing the cigar.

Stunned. I asked, “What? Me a cop? No way.”

Bernie disregarded my rebuff. “I got a detective coming here tomorrow at 9 a.m. to bring you to headquarters. Be ready. You’re gonna take the test.”

“Bernie, they’ll never accept me.”

“Yeah, they will.”

“How do you know that?”

He waffled his head. “I got connections.”

A tough plain-clothed sleuth named Dave showed up the next morning. The rest is history. Thirty years later, I retired as a police captain with 16 years in homicide and more in administration, not to mention 14 published books after retirement. Never was I asked or ordered to do anything illegal or corrupt. Bernie made sure of that before he died in 1966.

Once, I asked him to take a few bets on sporting games. He turned dead serious and pulled the cigar from his lips, peering at me. 

“You listen to me, Kid. I do what I do ‘cause I don’t know nuttin’ else. You? You keep your nose clean, and never again think about goin’ dirty. That understood?”

At 21, I was a kid spinning in circles, about to be a father with no future in sight. My stepfather may have been “connected” to organized crime but he made sure my path was clear. Because of his vision, his love and his power I have all that I have today. Stepfathers count too.

Thanks, Bernie. And Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

Step fathers also count on Father’s Day

20 Responses to STEPFATHERS ALSO COUNT ON FATHER’S DAY – Op-Ed – M. Frank

  1. Frank M. June 16, 2018 at 8:51 am #

    Great article, you tell it well. Sounds like Bernie was a great teacher, mentor and provider. I’m sure that he was very proud of what you were able to accomplish. Congrats Marshall.

  2. Richard Plager June 16, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    Great book; read Chapter 24.

  3. Christopher Jones June 16, 2018 at 10:15 am #

    Brings back wonderful memories of my step father, Robert Sabin, who also moved us to Florida (in 1965). He passed away far too early in 1990, and I miss him to this day. I look back on him as my dad…he was far more a father to me than my biological father.
    Now, I am a step father, and have four grandkids…and don’t refer to them as my step grandkids, because that won’t fly.
    Sounds like yours Marshall was a really neat guy. Happy Fathers day to all.

  4. Pat O'Brien June 16, 2018 at 11:40 am #

    Thank you for your column on your stepfather. You were fortunate to have him in your corner and it’s great that you pay tribute to him in print.

  5. Linda Faulhaber June 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

    Great story with great anecdotes. With the life you’ve lived, it’s no wonder you’re so full of memorable stories — and interesting fodder for books! 🙂

  6. Old Jack Milavic June 16, 2018 at 3:12 pm #

    Squidgy,

    I always love this story of your Pop Bernie. I am also a step father and love my sons and daughter and of course grandson. No I will not participate in questionable practices anymore because of age and laziness.

  7. Kathy June 16, 2018 at 4:26 pm #

    Read the article in FL Today. Bravo. Very well done.

  8. Les June 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm #

    Beautiful tribute, Marshall.

  9. Bill Solen June 16, 2018 at 10:03 pm #

    Marshall I can relate to what you are saying. My biological father bailed out when I was 1.5 years young. He chose Echo Springs Bourbon in place of his children, my sister being 18 months my senior. My mom was a single parent until I was 8 years old when she married a man who became my stepfather.

    I was a very difficult child and it seemed that I was destined for a life of hardships. My stepfather had no problem in using a barbers razor strop to tame me down. Blue jeans came off before the battle of the strop. He was a big man, ex-marine, WW2 veteran. When he got his hand around my skinny little arm there was no getting loose until he was satisfied that I had ‘learned a lesson’.

    He made it very clear that I lived in his house. He paid the mortgage, did the maintenance, supplied me with water, food and a roof over my head. Therefore he made the rules regarding everything from my hair cuts to my friends to lights out time at night. If I didn’t like the rules I knew where the front door was. At age 17, the day after high school graduation, I took the ‘front door’ option and headed for Navy boot camp. I was very bitter and never spoke kindly of the man.

    Some 6 years after my military time I joined the Dade Public Safety Dept. By that time I had thought a lot about my step father and the difficulties that he had faced with me. I’m sure there were many times when he thought ‘Lord what did I get myself into’. His dad had been a Miami police captain and a founding father of the Miami Police PBA. I believe that my step father could clearly see that I was on a path of destruction had he not kept a tight hold on me. I believe that he was correct.

    I was a 32 year old police officer when he apologized to me for the razor strop whippings that I received as a young teen. He also had a strict upbringing and “that’s all he knew”. But he told me that he was proud that I out grew my foolishness and was now doing the right thing. I made up my mind that I would find a special way to thank him and that I was going to apologize to him for causing him so many problems in his already difficult life.

    The next year he died of a heart attack. My procrastination prevented me from ever having that special conversation. Something I’ve always regretted. So now he’s been gone a long time and all I can do each year, with tears in my eyes, is to say Thank You Russell and Happy Father’s Day..

  10. Dorene Harrison June 17, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    I could not agree with you more! You are my “Honorary Dad”! Thanks to you (and Miami Homicide) I developed a interest in medicine. I have tried to explain what an impact knowing you had mane in my life…saying Happy Father’s Day does not seem to be enough. I am grateful to be able to say Thank you! Have a special day!

  11. Carole, Jensen Beach June 17, 2018 at 11:20 am #

    Good and very interesting article – my husband was a Martin County deputy years ago. Nice 👍 tribute posthumously to your stepdad. You enjoy a nice Father’s Day

  12. Charlie Greene June 17, 2018 at 11:24 am #

    so much of this column came back to me from reading Violins to Violence. You have lived an epic life Marshall

  13. Tom Pletcher June 17, 2018 at 11:26 am #

    Marshall that was a very nice story, you should be an author! (Hah). I believe I remember reading something similar in your book-Violins to Violence!!

  14. Rosemarye June 17, 2018 at 11:28 am #

    Loved your trubute to your step father. There is more to be said about
    parenting than the biological connection. Our eldest, Wendy, just flew
    in from Houston to spend a long weekend with her Dad for Fathers’ Day.
    We adopted her from Crete as a baby and have had many joyous years
    ever since that day–

    You, indeed, Marshall, should have a wellspent Fathers’ Day for your
    loving contribution to fatherhood

  15. Anon June 17, 2018 at 11:30 am #

    I married into a ready-made family along with having kids of my own. The steps, which I treated the same as the biologicals, ALL told me, at one time or another, “You’re not my father, I don’t have to listen to you.”. To their credit, when they got some years on them, they did all apologize.

  16. Tom June 17, 2018 at 3:08 pm #

    I remember those facts from before and they are still something people need to be aware of. I am a stepfather to a son and daughter…unfortunately they live far away. I was not able to impart anything of value to them since they were In their late 20s when I married their wonderful mother.
    My mother remarried after putting up with me a kid and a young man and finally feeling it possible. She married a wonderful fellow who was a farmer and a railroad retiree. A fine man with sons of his own that were on their own by that time..

    I salute you my friend, and your stepfather who could pass on his knowledge and the right way to live on to you.

  17. Don Matthews June 18, 2018 at 8:03 am #

    Marshall, what a great piece you wrote about Step Dads. You forgot to write about dancing on the boats and the Marine Corps during that same time.

  18. Laverne Siters June 20, 2018 at 8:03 am #

    A timely reminder that all fathers and step-fathers are not always warm and fuzzy, but in the big picture are a Godsend.

  19. John M. June 21, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

    What a great story! I have served as a step-father and was raised by a stepfather between age 5 and when he died too young at 42. My mother and biological father divorced when I was a baby. She remarried a Catholic Irishman named Phil McGuire, the oldest of six, from a little town in South Dakota when I was 5. My mother had to convert FROM typical Iowa Methodist TO Roman Catholic in order to marry him. He adopted me and changed my name from John Kennedy (no relationship to THAT John Kennedy) to John McGuire after his favorite brother, the second of the six.

    Though we were not close, in part because my mother did not foment such a relationship, he did have an extremely significant effect on my life. Because of him, I attended Catholic schools from first grade through Notre Dame (though I have not practiced any religion in 51 years, since graduating – whole different story). I cannot imagine what would have happened to me had my mother stayed with my biological father, whom I first met when I was 35, or married someone else, but I don’t think it would have been good.

  20. Jan Siren June 21, 2018 at 4:48 pm #

    Marshall,

    I think you know this bit about me but it bears repeating. In 1947 my parents frove with me all the way from Pittsburgh to Miami for a vacation (with an unplanned few days in Fort Pierce while our broken-down car was being fixed). I remember the trip as fun, only learning years later that the whole point was, Dad went to interview for a teaching job in Florida (he didn’t get the job so I grew up a Pittsburgher – yay Pirates!).

    Meaning no offense but – if you had to take “the test” today would you pass? 🙂

    Jan