What Learning My Dad Was One Of Israel's Most Notorious Bank Robbers Taught Me About Being A Man

Journalist Liel Leibovitz shares how it felt to find out his dad was the 'Motorcycle Bandit', and how that gave him the freedom to decide what kind of man he wanted to be

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.

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 rent a car to take me on driving lessons (which were terrifying because even sitting in his lap I didn’t reach the wheel).

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 idol was a real live person called 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 banks in under forty seconds, never leaving behind any clues to his real name or identity.

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 the reaction was 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 heart-throb robber happened to hit their bank, maybe 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 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. I’m walking home from the eighth grade, and no one’s home, so I 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, after about half a minute, 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 a 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 when my father, who was 35 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. He’d later tell me that as he was sitting there watching the sun set over the Mediterranean, he was thinking about his life. My father grew up in the sixties, so he believed in things like “do what you love” and “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 it was incredible. To rob a bank in under forty seconds, he’d take the money at gunpoint, then run out of the bank, jump on his motorcycle, and drive around a corner, up a ramp he had custom-built, and into a van, where he would pause.

So here’s a seminal existential question of bank robbing: Where’s the last place you would ever look for a bank robber? And the answer is: the last place you would ever look for a bank robber is inside the bank he just robbed.

So my father would take off his jacket and his helmet and tuck the gun back into his pants. He’d calmly walk out of the van and around the corner and go back into the bank, which at that point was a crime scene crawling 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 give him this dopey look and say, “Oh, can I please just make a quick deposit? My wife will kill me if I don’t.”

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 stolen 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 asked the cab driver, “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, being a small state surrounded by enemies, has its own ideas about prison. Prisoners get one weekend out of the month off to go home on vacation, the logic being that the country only has one airport, and it’s extremely secure, and 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 had landed him a twenty-year prison sentence.

But even weirder than that one weekend a month we spent together were the three weekends a month apart. Because here I would be, 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 – this really ratty, disgusting purple sweatsuit with the Batman logo on front, which I assume the police thought no self-respecting bank robber would ever wear.

I walked out and started walking around town, looking for a sign. And then I saw it – a literal sign. It was a sign above a theater advertising an all-male Japanese modern dance show. 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. 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 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.

From time to time, he still comes to visit 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. 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 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 whatever kind of real men we want to be.

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book, Occasional Magic, for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here and listen to Liel tell his story live here.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird, wonderful and transformational life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.