The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.
In this story, as told by Liel Leibovitz, we hear about a boy growing up who finds out that his father is really a bank robber. It’s not something that most of us can relate to. But there is a larger story about the stereotype of what it means to be a man, and Liel’s journey to deciding what that would be for himself and his son.
We’ve all had relationships with our parents during our younger years, and for those who decide to raise a family of their own, there is that ever present past alongside the desire to make our own child raising decisions. Think about your own experiences, then as you listen to Liel’s story, and review the manuscript, identify the story blocks that you could develop to craft a story of your own.
I grew up in Israel in the 1980s, and my father’s mission in life was to make sure that his only son – me – grew up to be a real man. And so, as soon as I turned four, every Saturday he would take me shooting, which was funny because my arm was exactly the size of a Smith & Wesson .45. Two or three years later, when I was six or seven, my father would take advantage of Israel’s surprisingly relaxed car rental insurance policies and he would rent a car to take me on driving lessons, which were terrifying because even sitting in his lap I didn’t reach the wheel.
And every two or three weeks, there was a special treat. We would stop the rental car by the side of the road and my father would make me go out and change tires, whether the car needed it or not, because in his mind knowing how to change a tire was the epitome of manhood.
I really hated changing tires, and I really hated spending these Saturday afternoons with him, but he didn’t care, because he was inducting me to the International Brotherhood of Macho Men. Every chance he got, he would take me to the movies to see his heroes – men like Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris or Burt Reynolds. I didn’t mind these guys too much, but they were not my idols.
My real idol was a real live person named the Motorcycle Bandit. He appeared on the scene shortly after my twelfth birthday, robbing bank after bank after bank all over Israel. He was in and out of the bank in under forty seconds, never leaving behind any clues to his real name or identity, and he just drove people insane.
He got so popular that Israel’s most famous comedy sketch show – sort of the local version of Saturday Night Live – devoted an entire episode to the bandit, speculating in one bit that he probably never robbed a bank in Jerusalem because he didn’t particularly care for that
city. So you can imagine what happened the next day, when, in an apparent tribute to his favorite television show, the Motorcycle Bandit robbed his one and only Jerusalem bank.
People went insane. Women who worked at banks would write their names and phone numbers on little notes so that if the sexy heartthrob robber happened to hit them up, maybe when he got off work he would find their number and give them a call.
But the people who loved the bandit most were us teenage boys. For us he was a complete hero, and on Purim, which is more or less the Jewish equivalent of Halloween, we all dressed up like him – in a leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet and a big shiny gun.
So about a year and a half later, I’m thirteen and a half, I’m walking home from the eighth grade, and no one’s home, so I sort of mosey over to the kitchen to make myself a snack. I hear a knock on the door, but it’s not a tap-tap-tap. It’s a boom-boom-boom. I open the door, and there are three police officers standing there. They’re not looking at me, and none of them are saying anything.
Finally, about half a minute later, one of them looks up and says, “Son, we arrested your father a while ago with a motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket and a big shiny gun.”
And I remember my first thought was, NO WAY! You think, you think MY DAD, with a beer belly and the receding hairline and the terrible jokes, you think THAT GUY is the Motorcycle Bandit? But in the hours and the days and the weeks that passed, I learned that he was.
The real story, as I soon came to learn, began about two years earlier when my father, who was thirty-five at the time and the son of one of Israel’s wealthiest families, was summoned by his father to have “the talk.” Now, if you’ve watched a couple episodes of Dallas or Dynasty or Knot’s Landing, you know “the talk.” It’s when the rich guy calls his wayward playboy son over and says, “Son, it’s time for you to grow up and be a man, take responsibility for your life and get a job.”
My father didn’t like that at all. So he stormed out of my grandfather’s office, and he hopped on his motorcycle – because, of course – and he drove to the beach, and he’s sitting there watching the sun set over the Mediterranean, and he’s thinking about his life. My father grew up in the sixties, so he believed in sayings like “do what you love” or “follow your heart.” So he decided to follow his heart, and his heart led him to robbing banks.
Now, as it turns out, he was good at it; he was great at it; he was an inventor, an innovator. He was the Elon Musk of the stickup job. And later I learned how he did it, and how he did it was incredible. He would rob a bank in under forty seconds, he would run out, jump on his motorcycle, drive around a corner, up a ramp he had custom-built, and into a van, where he would pause, and like some mad philosopher king, he would ponder this seminal, existential question of bank robbing, which is, “Where’s the last place you would ever look for a bank robber?”
And the answer is – and now is the point in the story where any of you contemplating this line of work may want to pay attention – the answer is that the last place you would ever look for a bank robber is the bank.
So my father would take off his jacket and his helmet and tuck the gun back into his pants, and walk out of the van calmly, around the corner, and back into the bank, which at that point was a crime scene sprawling with police officers. One of these police officers would inevitably run up to my father and say, “You can’t be here, sir, this is a crime scene!”
And my father would look at him with this dopey look and say, “Oh, can I please just make a quick deposit? My wife will kill me if I don’t”, and the police officer would say something like, “Sure, but be quick about it,” and my father would walk up to the bank teller and deposit the same exact cash he had robbed three minutes earlier. This being the 1980s and computers were still kind of new, he made the cash virtually untraceable.
It was a work of genius. He was so good at it, and he became so popular, that eventually he got cocky. He robbed one bank a day, and then two, and then two banks in two different cities. One time he was riding in a cab on his way to the airport when the urge struck. He told the cabdriver, “Would you mind stopping? I promise I’ll only be a minute.” It was literally true, he was only a minute. He robbed the bank, hopped back into the cab, drove to the airport, and flew off for an all-expenses-paid vacation in New York.
But you know how this story ends. Eventually he was caught. And after he was arrested, life got really weird, in no small part because Israel, as you may have heard, being a small state surrounded by enemies, has its own ideas about prison. And one of them is that prisoners get one weekend out of the month off to go home on vacation. The logic being that since the country only has one really secure airport, if you want to go ahead and try to escape through Gaza or Syria, you know, be our guest!
So every fourth Friday, I would go to the prison to pick my father up, and we would go out and have ourselves a weekend on the town. People would come up to him and high-five him and pat him on the back and say things like “Bandit, we love you, you’re cool.” But to me he wasn’t cool. And he wasn’t even the bandit. He was my dad, who had just done something so incredibly stupid that it landed him with a twenty-year prison sentence.
But even weirder than that one weekend a month together, were the three weekends a month apart. Because here I was, and it was Saturday, and there’s no shooting practice, there’s no driving lesson, no changing tires, no Burt Reynolds, and I didn’t know what to do.
So one afternoon I got dressed, which, by the way, was also an ordeal, because when the police searched our house, they took not only all of my father’s belongings but, because we were more or less the same size, also all of mine. So I put on one of the few outfits I had – which was this really ratty, disgusting purple sweat suit with the Batman logo up front, which I assume the police thought no self-respecting bank robber would ever wear.
I walked out and started walking around town, literally looking for a sign. And then I saw it. It was a sign above a theater advertising an all-male Japanese modern-dance show. And I thought about it for maybe five seconds, and then I did something that I’m pretty sure my father would disown me for: I bought a ticket, and I went in.
And I loved it. Here onstage were these amazing, elegant, graceful men, and guess what? They weren’t punching each other in the face, they were not riding Harley-Davidsons, they were dancing. And yet they were so secure in their bodies and their masculinities, and I thought to myself, “If that’s another way of being a man, what other ways are there?”
And thus began a two-decade-long process of trial and error – of trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be. And look, some of the things I learned didn’t surprise me at all. I love bourbon, and I’m the kind of guy who would watch as much sports as you would let
him in a given day.
But some other things were really surprising. Like some French poets moved me to tears. And even though bourbon was great, you know what else tastes really good? Rosé wine. And even though I’m really, really good at changing tires, if I get a flat now, I’m calling AAA. I didn’t share any of these insights with my father, because for one thing he’s not really the kind of guy who’s into insights. But, for another, by the time he got out of prison, I was already a man in full – it was too late for him to shape who I became in any meaningful way.
He still comes to visit from time to time, in New York, where I live with my family. And on one of these recent visits, he and I are sitting in my living room, not talking, as men do, not talk. And my son comes prancing into the room – my three-year-old boy. Now, that boy looks exactly like me. Just as I look exactly like my father.
And if there’s one thing in the world that boy loves, it’s his older sister. And if there’s one thing in the world that his older sister loves, it’s Disney princesses. And in prances the child dressed like Princess Anna from Frozen. I look at my son, and I look at my father looking at my son – who, by the way, looked amazing in this light green taffeta with a black velvet bodice and some lovely lacing – and I know that my father is judging me.
But you know what? I don’t care. Because at that moment I realize, strangely, that by going to jail when he did, he didn’t just free me up from the burden of this macho nonsense, he also freed up my son to grow up as a happy boy who can pretend to be whoever he wants to be, even – or especially – a pretty, pretty princess.
And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that instead of going through life mindlessly as two tough guys, my son and I are free to become real men.
[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]
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