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  • robertfarago1

Tessa and Lee

"Sorry to hear about your father passing," the caller announced, in a goulash-thick Hungarian accent. "Did you grow up with him?" I asked.

A long shot. Most of my father's contemporaries were worked, beaten, starved or frozen to death in labor camps, or exterminated. "Yes," he replied. "And I knew his first wife." Wait. What?

The existence of my father's first wife was bolt-from-the-blue news. When I told my oldest brother about the revelation, he casually informed me that he knew all about it. As did my middle brother.

In fact, Peter Farago's eldest son tried to chase down the first Mrs. Farago in New York City. He rang her apartment doorbell. She didn't answer. And... that was that.

That neither of my brothers thought to mention this chapter of our family history tells you all you need to know about our relationship. But that wasn't all that I learned...

Green Card

Turns out the old man married Mrs. Number One, an American, for a Green Card.

So that's why my South African-born mother emigrated to Canada. Waiting for my father to get his American citizenship. And his divorce.

The information opened the door to another revelation...

I knew my mother had been a card-carrying Communist, whose post-War activities may or may not have had a Russian connection.

What I didn't know: her immigration was helped along by a high-ranking American military man with whom she'd had an affair. A married man.

Huh. No wonder she'd grabbed the letters to my father I'd found in the attic before I could read them. And burned them.

No Surprise There

The unexpected intel didn’t change my perception of my parents’ basic nature.

Mother was a closed book, concerned about social appearances.

She refused to answer questions about her past (including her mother's suicide). The idea that she would admit to a pre-marital conspiracy is the dictionary definition of inconceivable.

Father was "a fun-loving character” and a brilliant strategist.

I'd always suspected his frequent business trips included extra-curricular activities. A secret first wife fit that template.

My main observation about their relationship also remained unmolested: it lacked any overt displays of intimacy.

A Major Disconnect?

My father was physically affectionate. We held hands until I was a teenager. He blessed his grandchildren with physical affection.

My only physical connection with my mother came in the form of abuse. She was as far from touchy-feely as a person who isn't in solitary confinement can get.

I never saw my father touch my mother. No hand-holding. No hugs. No cuddles. When they kissed – an extremely rare occurrence – it was a quick, uncomfortable peck on the lips.

Don't get me wrong: there was a strong, unbreakable connection between them.

Bereft of any extended family, my immigrant parents were bonded by their determination to live the American dream, for themselves and their children.

Dream Weavers

Although I didn't reach the academic pinnacle (Ivy League), my brothers and I all went to the "right schools." Through hard work, imagination and determination, my father was a wildly successful entrepreneur.

My mother adorned and surrounded herself with the trappings of wealth and taste. Both my parents connected with the community as engaged philanthropists.

As to whether and what kind of love existed within my parents' marriage, that's not for me to judge.

Father was a Holocaust survivor whose parents were exterminated when he was a teenager. Mother also lost both parents at early age, her mother by suicide. God knows what else she endured.

Despite everything, or perhaps because of it, my parents forged a mutually agreeable, admirable future. Their marriage lasted until death did them part. And yet...

Tessa and Lee

The image at the top of this post is a painting by a new friend. It's based on a photograph chronicling the moment a couple learned that the husband was cancer-free.

The painting struck a deep chord within me. It reminded me of what my parents missed. Lost? Lacked? The romantic love that can only be communicated by physical intimacy.

I've experienced that physical connection with wives and lovers. These days, as I cuddle my pillow to sleep, I try not to think about all the empty places that particular pursuit of happiness brought me.

Christa Conley's painting Tessa and Lee isn't just another trigger for ye olde I want, I want, I want. It's also a beautiful reminder that there is love in the world. And that some people know, instinctively, how and when to share it.

And why not? As Margaret Atwood observed, "Touch is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth."

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1 Comment

Sequoia Sempervirens
Sequoia Sempervirens
Jun 28

Robert, the World War II generation was definitely the generation of secrets. My father-in-law had a wife back home when he had an affair with an army nurse. He got her pregnant so he had to divorce his first wife. He and second wife never told the kids and pretended that the daughter from his first wife was their aunt. My dad also had a first wife right after the war; he divorced her and married my mom after he slept with mom. Just recently found out the name of my dad‘s first wife, but I’m guessing she’s dead by now. It’s very weird to think that your parents have a secret life that we kids never know about. Bu…

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