Every time a scandal erupts with a married politician and a mistress, it takes me back. Like silt at the bottom of a pond, old emotions rise to the surface. On a snowy morning in March 1981, I ventured outside our house to fetch the paper. I was a 14-year-old in braces and a training bra. My father was the congressman from Delaware, a rising political star, so reading about him from time to time was normal. Plastered across the front page of the Wilmington News Journal was a picture of Dad. This time with a blonde.
Who is that woman?
All I remember from the headline are the words “Evans and the Lady.” I stood on the front stoop reading about my father and “the other woman.” Was this the same father who raced home to see me in the school play or watch my field-hockey games?
Running inside, I yelled for my mother. She was on the phone with a reporter who was looking for a comment. Dad was in Washington. Mom hung up, ashen-faced, and I handed her the paper. She glanced at it, then told me not to read “that trash.”
My mother was an artist who preferred museums and galleries in New York to teas for congressional wives on Capitol Hill. Apart from raising my two older brothers and me, she spent her time painting and volunteering. She taught art in a women’s prison and helped out at an inner-city daycare center. She joked that prisoners were more interesting than politicians. She was a renegade wife, politically speaking. And because my parents spent weeks apart, the distance—emotional and physical—had taken its toll. So perhaps when the news of my father broke, Mom wasn’t as shocked as the rest of us.
I was apoplectic. At 14, you don’t want to know your father is intimate with your mother, let alone a buxom lobbyist who has posed for Playboy. Now I was faced with this news. And my friends would know about it.
I ran upstairs, alerting my brothers. Shaking the front page in their faces, I sobbed, “You’re not going to believe what they’re saying about Dad!”
I ran out the back door and hurled myself through the snow toward the woods behind our house, then pitched to a stop near a fallen tree, flopping over it. I rocked back and forth, snow soaking through my corduroys. Our black Lab arrived, wagging his tail and panting. As he licked my tears, I got up and went back home.
“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” my mother was saying on the phone in the kitchen. She handed me the receiver: “Dad wants to talk to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to him,” I said.
“He needs to talk to you.”
I grabbed the phone, wailing into it, “I don’t want to talk to you!”
“Pagie,” he said, “I want you to know how much I love you and how . . .”
“How could you?”
“. . . and how terribly sorry I am. I hope someday you’ll forgive me.”
I screamed, “I hate you and I never want you to come home!”
I slammed down the phone and stood there looking at my mother. I imagined I’d told him what she wanted to—or perhaps already had. I wanted her to high-five me, but she told me to call him back and apologize.
“No way, Mom. I hate him.”
“You know how much he loves you. And he’s suffering.”
“Now go upstairs and get ready. Mrs. Draper will be by in a minute to pick you up.”
This fit with her “keep moving, this too shall pass” coping mechanism. She focused—as she still does—on going forward, never drifting into self-pity.
School was delayed that day because of the snow. When I arrived, the receptionist pulled me aside. She looked into my eyes while holding my shoulders, as if to prop me up.
“Page,” she said, “your father’s still a great father. And he loves you very much. Remember that.”