*Author’s note: Click on the bolded words below for links to related video clips.

All I really need to know, I learned from the Godfather and Godfather II.

godfather1    godfather2    godfather_fredo_boat

The most important of these cinema taught lessons was that you don’t side against your family with people outside of your family. You can disagree and argue with family all you want in private, but not in public and no matter how much you feel short-changed or mistreated by a family member, you don’t align yourself with a non-family member or entity to try and right a perceived wrong by your family.  Nothing good can come out of it if you do. This opens the door of opportunity for the non-family member to take advantage of this lack of family solidarity for his or her own nefarious gain.  This was nothing that my parents had not already impressed on me through the normal upbringing process.  However, it obviously had more of a lasting effect seeing it portrayed large on the screen than anything my parents could have taught me by example.

In the Godfather, Vito Corleone and his inner circle meet with Sollozzo, the head off another organized crime family, who wants to the Corleone family to get into the narcotics business so that this other crime family can leverage the Corleone’s political influence to their own advantage. Vito Corleone turns him down.  However, his son Santino (Sonny) opens his mouth during the meeting showing a division between what he thinks and what his father thinks. Vito Corleone abruptly cuts him off before he can say too much, but the damage is done. Sollozo has noticed this subtle division.

After the meeting, Vito Corleone reprimands his son:

“Santino! Come here. What’s the matter with you? I think your brain’s going soft with all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you’re thinking again! Go on.”

Shortly afterwards, Vito Corleone is gunned down by the Sollozo family in an attempt to eliminate what stands between them and their desire to capitalize on the Corleone political influence by taking advantage of the subtle disagreement in philosophy between Vito and Sonny Corleone.

Fredo Corleone, the older brother of Michael Corleone, feels slighted and passed over all of his life.  Having been a sick and weak child throughout life, he has been passed over and neglected by his parents in favor of his younger brother Michael who steps up to fill Vito Corleone ‘s shoes as head of the family when his father is incapacitated after the attempt on his life by the Sollozo family.

In Godfather II, Fredo betrays Michael and the family in attempt to finally get something for himself.  Tired of getting short changed, Fredo makes a deal with forces outside the family, which almost results in Michael being assassinated by rival families.

Once again, the cost of going against the family with outside forces or individuals, regardless of the motivations or intentions carries a heavy price.  Michael disowns Fredo and cuts him off from the family. He forbids Fredo from visiting their mother, unless he gives Michael a day’s notice so he can be gone when Fredo comes.

Michael delivers instructions that nothing is to happen to Fredo as long as their mother is alive.  However, we all know, that their mother will not live forever. When their mother dies, Fredo must pay for his disloyalty to the family.  He is shot and killed on orders from Michael while fishing.

Of course these outcomes are cinematic hyperbole.  In life, family betrayal is usually handled with a strongly worded e-mail or a heated exchange of words that makes all subsequent family gathering a little uncomfortable.

But dramatic effect aside, most families have a Fredo – One member who just never can be in sync with the rest of the family. Sometimes, the reasons may be apparent. Maybe he was raised by different parents due to divorce, or he had a harder upbringing compared to later siblings because the economics of the family improved over time, or he had less parental interaction, because by the time he came around, the parents were more hands-off, or too exhausted from working multiple jobs to keep the family together and supplied with the essentials.

Other times, the causes may not be so obvious. What about the child who is raised by the same parents, and given the same amount of love and affection and necessities in life? Yet, he turns out to be a Fredo. He bites the hand that feeds him, never grateful for the sacrifices made on his behalf by both parents and siblings. He grows up with the idea that he is entitled to receive more from life than he has contributed, sneering down at the work ethic by which he and the rest of the family were raised, as if it were a hideous blemish that may expose his humble beginnings. So this Fredo goes through life trying to run from his own history in the hopes of changing it to something more deserving in his eyes. He marches through life to the beat of a different drummer, but tragically, this drummer has no rhythm. As a result, this journey is an never ending escape, filled with poor judgments, and decisions fueled by a desire to prove something to a family that never required this elusive validation in the first place.

Just as my parents impressed upon me the importance of family sticking together and being there for each other, I have tried to teach my kids the same value. Sadly, I have to admit that this is a challenging work in progress. I may just have to sit them down and have a family screening of the Godfather and Godfather II and hope that even in this day of wall to wall violence and carnage on TV along with the hate filled, backstabbing, Fredo like characters that permeate the monstrosity known as “reality” TV that it will have the same moral teaching effect that it had on me when I first viewed it so many years ago. If not, maybe I will take them fishing, for added dramatic emphasis and to encourage their appreciation of family unity.

An Ode to Fredo for all of those Fredos and potential Fredos that still have time to do the right thing.

-B

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