Before You Were Born

Before You Were Born: Dad joins the Peace Corps and flies to Iran to avoid commitment.

Pin it
Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth.

When my father broke up with my mother by joining the Peace Corps in 1969, she thought she would never see him again. This is the story of how my parents almost never got married.

Where were you guys in 1969?

M: I was working as a social worker for a foster-care agency in New York City. It was really a dreadful job. And he would pick me up at work and we would go out to a place called Molly Maguire's. I was living at home, in the Bronx, and Dad was living —

D: In Inwood. At home. And I was working with the New York State Employment Division, which was also —

M: A terrible job.

D: And I had one eye over my shoulder looking for the draft board.

And how old were both of you?

M: I was twenty-three.

D: And I was twenty-five. Draft eligible.

How long had you been dating?

M: We had been dating at that point pretty seriously for about a year. It was really getting to the point where it was time to step up. And Dad… was having some issues. But part of those issues was also that it was a very crazy time. The Vietnam War was going on, and if you were of draft age, it was pretty frightening. We had friends who were drafted, friends who had been injured and killed.

Were you hippies?

M: I was more of a hippy than Dad was.

D: I was a civil servant.

M: But we were certainly very involved in those issues. I had the year before worked for Robert Kennedy's reelection campaign. I was working in his offices in New York City the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. It was a terrible day in New York City. There were riots. They were running the trains through Harlem without stopping, because they were worried about further riots.

D: That was '68.

M: It was right after that Dad and I met. I'd just had surgery on my leg, so I was in a cast that ran up my entire leg. We had kind of distantly known each other through friends, and then met down in the Jersey Shore at a bar. I was, of course, flirting with one of the bartenders.

Would you say you were more of a Snooki or a Jwoww?

M: I have no idea what that means. So I was flirting with this bartender, and Dad was there. And this bartender was a real player. You knew there were at least ten girls in that bar trying to get him. And Dad said to me, "You're too good for him." I was just so impressed that that was his opinion of me. Really, from then on, I was like, "This is the person for me." We went out all that summer and through the next year.

Dad, you had avoided the draft up to 1969, right?

D: Yes, I had a student deferment, and for a short period of time I had a physical deferment. And then I had a deferment because my father was dying of cancer.

But in '69 you were back to being eligible?

D: Yeah. And I had put in an application for the Peace Corps, God knows when, before that. And then one day in the mail came a big fat envelope from the Peace Corps saying, "You've been accepted, and we want to send you to Iran."

So when you accepted, was avoiding the draft your only motivation?

D: Well…

M: Well, it was a combination of the draft, and also having a sense that you wanted to do something. You wanted to do something different. You wanted to change the world.

D: Right!

Okay, but I'm wondering if there were motivations about which Mom would be less approving.

D: Well… I wasn't ready for a commitment! I was too young.

How old were you again?

D: Twenty-five. A young twenty-five.

So did you tell Mom you would go to Iran, and then when you got back you would still be together?

D: Um… no. No, that did not happen. I might have just disappeared into Peace Corps training.

M: Well, I knew he had gone to Vermont for the training. And I knew when he was leaving for Iran. I was overwhelmed with the fear that he would go and I wouldn't even have talked to him before he left. Even though I was obviously angry, I just had to at least talk to him. And so I called his house, and I was sitting with the phone and listening to it ring and ring and ring, and I knew I was too late.

D: I was in Tehran, walking around looking for the U.S. Embassy, where they were having a great big party.

How did you feel about having broken up with Mom?

D: Ambivalent.

M: He was having a very difficult time. His father had just died. His mother and sister were dependent on him. There was so much upheaval. I think it added to a hesitancy to commit, to say, "This is what I want to do." We had no contact when he was gone.

So when you broke up with her, you thought it was completely over. You had no plans to get back together.

D: I think immediately, yes. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have gone.

And what was your job in Iran?

D: I taught English as a second language. The problem with the Peace Corps in Iran was that we were in there to support Shah Pahlavi as tools of the American government. There were a lot of people there who said they were supporters of the Shah, but the only ones who wanted to have contact with us were the minorities. The Bahá'ís, the Christians, the Jews. But the majority of Iranians really weren't that anxious to have contact.

So you hated it?

D: Yes. Yes I did.

How long were you in Iran?

D: Well, I was in training for two months state-side and then I was in Iran for a month. Then I decided I'd rather take my chances with the draft, and I came back in August.

Dad, did you try and contact Mom?

D: I did not.

Did you know he was back?

M: I didn't. No contact, none at all. I decided then that I was moving on. I just knew I couldn't be in New York. I was brokenhearted. I decided I was moving to Boston with my cousin Anne. So I went up, found a job, and went to Woodstock.

You thought you weren't going to see Dad again?

M: That was it. And then we met one night by chance. I was shocked to see him — I didn't know he was back. We talked briefly, and I said, you know, I'm headed to Woodstock next week and then I'm moving to Boston. So I moved. And I liked it, it was great. But my heart wasn't really in it.

Did you date anyone else?

M: Sure. I was good friends with this guy who was dodging the draft, and he would stay at our apartment a lot. And for a while, our phone was tapped. I'm not certain he was in the Weather Underground, I'm not sure which group he was in, but we have no doubt our phone was tapped.

And you were dating him?

M: I had… some… you know, casual interactions.

Dad, did you think it was all over once Mom was in Boston?

D: Apparently not. Because in my hand, I have this Christmas card —

M: And now I often think to myself, what made you send those cards? That's only the one to me; he also sent one to my parents. Which was just really incredible. That he thought to send a card to them. And up until then we'd had no contact with each other after that chance meeting in the bar. And when the cards came, I thought, okay. This is a door opening. And we were having a big Christmas party, back in the Bronx. So I called and said I would love for him to come. And he did. Jim, can you just get me a little more wine?

Sure. Dad, what was your thought in sending the card?

D: Obviously… I mean, you're not going to do something like that if you don't want to. And I missed her.

M: It was a big party. And it snowed. People couldn't even leave — one of them being Dad. We got back together right there. So I moved back, and we dated again, and it got back to this point where it was like, okay, it's time to make a commitment. And he broke up with me again. He had his snow tires in my garage, and I said, "Get those things out of my garage, because I don't want to see you again." He knew that was a bad sign, and a week later, he came to me and said, "I know I'm a bastard. But will you marry me anyway?"

And then you got married!

M: Yep. And it's been thirty-eight years.