Ex-Mobster Frank Calabrese Jr. Pens Autobiography

Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune / MCT

Katherine Forneret

In his debut novel “Operation Family Secrets,” ex-mobster Frank Calabrese Jr. writes about his father’s dual nature as both a loving father, and a calculating crime lord.

When you think of Italian crime families with hands drenched in blood, you automatically think of some famous crime dramas like “The Godfather” or “The Sopranos.”

The last thing you would expect is to find this elaborate world of crime right in your own backyard.

But thanks to Frank Calabrese Jr., we are able to step into the life of one of the biggest criminal masterminds of the past few decades. In his debut novel, “Operation Family Secrets,” Calabrese tells his life story of growing up under the control of his crime boss father, Frank Calabrese Sr, and we learn more about Frank Jr. and his slow shift into the family business of working for the “Outfit” and their juice loans operation.

Calabrese begins his story with a quick background of his father growing up on the streets of Chicago. He quickly drops out of school and begins to support his family by working legally and illegally to bring in money for the household.

We’re rushed through the early life of Frank Sr. to the time when he marries his wife and has his children, Frank Jr. being the first, followed by Nicky and Kurt. Frank Jr. makes it apparent that he looked up to his father and wanted to impress him. Soon, his need to impress his father evolved into him wanting to join him in the family business.

Even though his father wanted more for his sons, once Frank Jr. finished high school and got a job, Frank Sr. slowly began to bring his eldest son into the business.

What starts out as a closely bonded father and son relationship soon turns to an abusive one. Not only does Frank Sr. abuse his eldest son, he abuses his younger sons, as well as his other family members.

No one is safe from Frank Sr. and his sudden outbursts. As the story progresses, Frank Jr. begins to understand that his father suffers from multiple personalities.

It is interesting to see the interactions between Frank Sr. and his family. One minute he is the loving father, the next he is the crime lord, giving orders that he expects to be followed or else your life will be on the line.

Family or not, no one was safe from Frank Sr. He was a businessman through and through, and he followed the rules of the Outfit whether he agreed or not. If a boss told him to kill, he would kill—no questions asked.

Eventually, Frank Calabrese Jr. came to a point where he feared that he would never get out from under his father’s control. He decides to turn to the FBI to ensure that his father will never again be a free man. Frank Jr. claims that he realized that his father was a sick man who killed many people and deserved to stay behind bars where he could get the psychological help that he needed. Frank Jr. worked with the FBI while serving time for being involved with the Outfit, and once the trials ended he became a free man.

When describing why he wished to tell his story, Frank Calabrese Jr. explains that it was his desire to help people who are in similar situations.

“I needed to tell my story because there are people in similar situations, trapped inside their own family secrets,” said Calabrese. “There are people out there who are afraid to stand up and speak up against abusive family situations. They feel as if they’re locked in a cage of secrecy, and there’s no way out. I believe my story shows there is a way out. What is important is it doesn’t have to be the wrong way out.”

But after having read the book, it seems apparent that maybe Frank Jr. gave too much of his family history away. He makes it clear that his father was a master manipulator, always knowing how to stay under the radar, doing and saying just enough to get what he needs from others. No matter how much his father abused him, Frank Jr. never let go of the love he had for him, and was often convinced that his father might change his ways.

Because his father was a master manipulator, Frank Jr. allowed himself to be tricked into giving his father a second chance. Frank Jr. often reiterated that he learned a lot from his father and as the story progresses it is clear that while Frank Jr. might not be a killer, he is definitely his father’s son.

While Calabrese tells a riveting story that reads like a mobster movie put to print, it also raises the question of his true motives. While he claims that he wanted no reduced sentences and he only wished to stop his father from harming others or himself, it is more logical to assume that Frank Jr. used the tools that his father implanted within him throughout his life to manipulate FBI agents, family members, jurors, and now, readers.

While reading his book, you can almost forget that he was once a member of the Outfit. But you mustn’t allow yourself to forget all the illegal activity that he was involve in, including stealing from his father and selling/using cocaine. Frank Jr. clearly was looking for anyway to get away from his father’s influence and he may want you to believe that his actions were in the best interest for others, it is easier to believe that this mobster was in it for himself.