MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally, today, in a lot of memoirs, it seems safe to assume that the author really knows his or her subject. But sometimes that's not true - case in point Molly Brodak. Her memoir is about her dad, a man she realizes she barely knew. In 1994, when Molly was in middle school, he robbed 11 banks outside of Detroit. He went to prison for a few years, got out and did it again. The FBI dubbed him the Super Mario Brothers Bandit.
Her new book is called "Bandit: A Daughter's Memoir." And Molly Brodak joins us now from member station WABE in Atlanta. Molly, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MOLLY BRODAK: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: And I've just given the top lines of it. In fact, it's kind of one of those - sort of the shocking things about the book is that it doesn't take a long time to unspool the crazy. Do you want to just tell us just a couple of the other headlines, if you don't mind? And I do want to mention this is not a spoiler alert.
BRODAK: Well, yeah, that's part of the idea was that within the first 10 pages or so of the book, I essentially kind of give it away. And I kind of say, well, here are all the facts. You know, my dad robbed 11 banks over the course of one summer when I was 13 years old in secret. And then he served his time. He went to prison. When he got out, he robbed banks again and was caught sort of in the act that time.
And he had a gambling addiction. That was one of the reasons why he decided to rob banks. He also had a sort of a secret life in terms of when he started to first date my mother, he was already married and had a child with another woman. And so there was a lot of secrecy and things that I didn't know about until I was much older. And to me, those facts aren't the most interesting part of the book. Really, to me, the most interesting part is just what it was like to grow up with a father like that and what it felt like to have that as my situation as a child and as a teenager.
MARTIN: When you describe - as I said, by page five of the book, you've recounted the fact that your father was a serial bank robber, that he went to prison. And you say, there, see? Done with the facts already. The facts are easy to say. I say them all the time. Was it like that for you growing up? I mean, were the facts of your existence - like why you moved all the time, all your dad's various scams - was that something that was kind of out in the open, or did in a way you have a dual life?
BRODAK: Well, yeah, I did. When he was first arrested, it was all over the news where I was growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. So everyone knew about it. And I was in middle school, which is hard enough as it is. And so at first everyone knew and everyone talked about it, and it was, like, a big deal. But then it faded and people forgot. And then it became a secret in a way that eventually in my course of knowing a friend or someone new it would come up. It would - we'd sort of get to that point in our relationship where I'd say, well, this is this thing that happened to me. And I'd have to tell this long story. And so, yeah, you become sort of pretty rehearsed at telling the facts and saying what happened.
So, for example, I would sometimes leave out the detail about my father's nickname that the FBI gave him when they were trying to find him, which is a funny nickname. And it would sometimes change the tone of the story as I was telling it because people would kind of start laughing. And...
MARTIN: What was the nickname?
BRODAK: His nickname the Super Mario Brothers Bandit because he had worn a fake mustache and suspenders and this, like, flat newsboy hat. And someone thought he looked like Super Mario Brothers' Mario, you know? And so part of the reason why he became notorious was the name.
MARTIN: Do you want to read a little bit.
MARTIN: Do you mind? OK.
BRODAK: (Reading) I was something like 11, and I had a cloudy notion that it would be exciting and romantic to work in a recording studio to help create music but not have to play it. He fluttered his eyes upward, as he often did, and answered without hesitation. He told me about the equipment and how bands work with producers and how much money sound engineers make and what their schedules were like, details, I started to realize, he could not possibly know. Some giant drum began turning behind my eyes. I could see he was lying. Something changed around his eyes when he spoke, a kind of haze or color shift, and I could always see it from then on.
MARTIN: There again, that's what's remarkable about the book. I mean, you describe something that, you know, often happens to kids. At some point, they have to face that their parents are not heroic figures or that they're...
MARTIN: ...Just people. But in your case, it's something else. It's not just that you have to face that your father's not a hero but that he is a liar and that there's something very wrong with him - or the whole situation, let's say. And that's a heavy thing. That's a heavy thing for a kid to have to do, especially at that age.
BRODAK: Yeah, it is. And I think kids do get to an age where they realize that their parents are people. And they have their own lives, and they don't exist solely to serve them. But to realize that on top of realizing that your dad isn't an honest person, you know, realizing that he lies - and another scene I describe in the book is watching him steal tires in the middle of the night. He had taken me along for the ride for some reason. I was in the car when he was doing that.
And so that's sort of another level of realization that you might have as a child, that realization that your parents are not only not perfect but maybe disordered in these very severe ways. And you feel disappointed in a way. And thank God I had my mom, who was always a very good model to me, even though she suffered mightily because of my father and because of her own issues. But she was always a good person, and I'm really grateful for that.
MARTIN: You talk about how you learned to live with this because you really had no choice. You learned about how you learned to live with this by making yourself small. Can you talk a little bit about that?
BRODAK: Well, I have one sister. And my sister and I had sort of opposite reactions to our family situation. My sister wanted to make a lot of noise and get the attention that she felt she deserved. So she became sort of angry and acted out and would do things to kind of get, you know, her parents' attention because they weren't really paying that much attention to us because they had their own issues or problems.
And I took the opposite route. I decided I didn't want to be any more of a problem to anyone in the family. And so I sort of removed myself by reading books and staying in the library and studying plants and insects in the backyard and just sort of building my own private world that felt safe. And I felt like I was doing something for my family by just sort of being a non-problem and not making any fusses and just kind of being quiet and peaceful.
MARTIN: As I understand it from the book, you were warned by several people, including your sister and your mother, not to write about this. Why is that?
BRODAK: Well, part of it was practical. My father, being a gambling addict, is always looking for money (laughter). So I think they were worried, well, what if he sues you? Part of it was that.
But I think every family has a secret. Every family has darkness and heaviness that people would prefer to not talk about. And when you choose to become the person who's going to bring light to the dark family secrets, you can sometimes be perceived as the betrayer. And I think that my story's not unusual in that way. I think that there's a lot of people who can relate to that. So I think they were warning me in that sense, like, oh, well, do you really want all this on you? And I was so beyond that point when I started writing it. I just - I was so ready to do it, and I was so ready for all of the light to shine on the story. So it didn't - it didn't faze me.
MARTIN: What about him? Has your father read it? Do you think he will read it?
BRODAK: He knows about the book, but I don't think he's read it. And I don't know if he will. I imagine he would want to. But his reaction - I am sort of bracing myself for that, you know? I don't know. Most people who know him will say, well, he's going to be really upset because this is kind of revealing all of the things that he would like to hide. But other people say, well, he's kind of an ego maniac, so maybe he'll love it, you know? (Laughter) I don't know. I guess we'll have to see.
MARTIN: Molly Brodak is the author of "Bandit: A Daughter's Memoir." She was kind enough to join us from member station WABE in Atlanta. Molly Brodak, thanks so much for speaking with us.
BRODAK: Thank you so much.
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MARTIN: For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. You can follow us on Twitter - @npratc or follow me @NPRMichel. Coming up later tonight is the second presidential debate. Our colleague Robert Siegel will anchor live coverage airing on many NPR stations beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern Time along with live fact-checking at npr.org. We are back next weekend. Until then, thank you for listening, and we hope you have a great week.
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