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Better Red Than Dead

Love Child

by CLANCY SIGAL

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 13-year-old son by his former housekeeper, I’m a "love child" ? the spawn of a liaison between my single mum and her married lover, my dad. I wouldn’t be alive today if my father had not betrayed his legal wife and their two children. My mother resisted pressure, from my dad and even members of her own family, to abort me ? she really wanted me. So, I have a personal interest in the "Arnold scandal", his infidelity to his wife Maria Shriver. And, necessarily, I’ve also a complicated, emotional attitude to abortion.

I wonder if Arnold’s housekeeper’s son, being raised by his single mother, is feeling as I did growing up ? which is sad that I don’t have a "real" dad, but at least, I’m not an orphan or dead.

There are vast differences, of course. My folks were Depression-poor, and Arnold ? and Maria ? are filthy rich. They are both celebrities with millions in cash at their disposal. Schwarzenegger can afford to make a deal with the boy’s mother ? and probably has, as some sources report. Super. My only real grudge against my own hardly-ever-there dad is that: a) he wasn’t around much; and b) he’d rather unionize workers than make money. (He was a labour organiser.) So, it was ma and me against the world on our own ? and, looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m sorry only about one other thing, which is that my half-brother and half-sister, dad’s "legitimate" children, both fine people, had a problem with me when we finally discovered each other after our parents died. (It took my dad several years of agonizing indecision to tell them once I popped up in his life.) They had always seen themselves as his proper children, and why not? So, it came as a shock when he finally ‘fessed up, late in the game, as Arnold just did with Maria, years on.

From day one, my mother Jennie always knew she had taken her man away from his wife and kids. She coped with the knowledge as only a "fallen woman" could in those days. Dad’s wife, the mother of his kids, I’m told, lived for years in denial ? until he finally returned to the family hearth, when God knows what revenge she took on him. (Arnold may be lucky Maria has moved out; she can look pretty fearsome.)

The worst part of it all was that I had to grow up not knowing any of this, at least consciously, until I was in my thirties. Secrecy, not wanton sex, kills. A kid usually knows what he doesn’t know ? and that can be the dark cloud he’s always fighting, without knowing who, what and where it is.

In the end, it took a while but my grownup half-sister wholeheartedly and warmly embraced me and took me into her own family ? for me, what Jews call a "nachas", a joy. My brother took longer, painfully wrestling with himself to acknowledge that, even though we both startlingly resembled our father, we really were both his sons.

Obviously, I identify with "the housekeeper’s son" ? my mom also sometimes worked as a housekeeper and cook, in a lumber camp and at a summer resort. I wish him all the best. Perhaps one day, in the fullness of time, the four Shriver kids ? that’s how they now identify themselves ? may feel it’s time to meet their half-brother. What’s the Catholic word for nachas?

Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. He can be reached at clancy@jsasoc.com