L.A. Affairs: I discovered my dad’s secret children. It changed us forever

An illustration of a man looking out a window at an older man talking to a woman on the lawn
(Rebecca Reed / For The Times)
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We all have a past — little ghosts of heartache and regret that can haunt us forever.

But for some people, the ghosts can become demons.

My father was one of those people. In his 94 years, he was married four times and had at least seven kids besides me. Three of them I grew up knowing: my half-siblings Donna, Karen and Michael, born after World War II when my father separated from the Army and came to Los Angeles with dreams of being the next Perry Como.

The other kids, he kept hidden from me at all costs.

L.A. Affairs is a first-person column in the Los Angeles Times chronicling romance and relationships. We are looking for original essays. Here’s how to send us yours.

June 3, 2024

That was because he had left them when he met my mom, his fourth wife. He married her in 1982 and had me — when he was 57 — in 1984.

I was the only child he ever raised to adulthood. Growing up, knowing little of my father’s past, I idolized him. He was a decorated veteran. An usher at the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. My grade-school football coach. Leader of the neighborhood watch.


He put the “all” in all-American.

But he was almost a little too perfect. Like most people with skeletons, my father was adept at hiding them. As I became an adult and started to make my own mistakes — as I started to understand the weight a person’s decisions can carry — I found myself longing to find a single chink in his armor; some flaw of his that would let me put my own problems into context. I didn’t want to idolize him anymore. I wanted to connect with him.

But he never let me — until our doorbell rang one summer afternoon in 2010 and forced him to.

It was sad watching a happy relationship with my husband end. But every day I imagined myself living as a woman. I couldn’t keep it hidden any longer.

June 7, 2024

It was a woman, about 10 years older than I was, with light brown skin. Her name was Maria. She asked if this was where Ned Manley lived. I said it was. My dad came to the door and talked to her quietly on the front lawn of our Temple City corner lot. I watched from the window. When she left, she glanced back at me for just a moment — and I knew my life had changed forever.

Maria was one of three daughters my father had during a decade-long affair in the 1970s with a Mexican immigrant in East Los Angeles. At the time, he was on his third marriage. When he met my mom at Sunday Mass in 1979, he fell in love. And then, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, he left Maria and her siblings and never looked back. He managed to hide everything — the affairs, the kids — not only from my mother and me but also from Donna, Karen and Michael.

When I confronted him, he confessed. He said Maria had spent years looking for him. She wanted a relationship now. His fear was palpable. He begged me not to tell my half-siblings. Not to tell my mother, a devoted churchgoer and faithful wife. The news would devastate her.

I was angry at him for putting me in this impossible situation. I told him I wanted no part of it. I tried to get him to come clean. I tried to tell him that it would be OK. But then, slowly, my anger began to melt. His fear began to form a strange, unshakeable bond between us. As the weeks went by, I realized — uncomfortably — that if anything, I loved him now more than ever. For the first time in my life, I saw my dad as human. As fallible.


Things were tough. We didn’t know how to establish boundaries or communicate well. I also was exasperated that he could not cook anything at all — not even scrambled eggs.

May 31, 2024

So I kept his secret for 11 long years. He met with Maria whenever he could and emailed her every week, making up for lost time until he was on his deathbed in 2021. Just before he died, with the specter of Maria and her sisters possibly coming to his funeral, I told my family about them. My mom and half-siblings said they understood. They told me this was not my fault. They tried to welcome their new family members with open arms. But their eyes told a different story. They were hurt; shocked to find out that a man they thought they knew so well could have hidden something like this. Not to mention the hurt that Maria and her sisters still felt — a hurt that eventually led to us keeping in touch only with Christmas cards or the occasional text.

I don’t blame them for feeling this way. But my own feelings toward my father were — and still are — different. Because I am the only person he never left. He gave me every ounce of blood and sweat he had, quietly trying to atone for the long-buried mistakes of his past. And we connected in his last years in a way we never would have if Maria hadn’t come to our door. Through his mistakes, I came to understand my own. I understood why I had pushed away many people who loved me. I understood why I liked to leave people and situations that were good for me. I understood the anxiety I had about getting into committed relationships, and why, when I was in them, I felt tempted to have my own affairs.

Love with my musician boyfriend has always been different. Maybe it’s because falling in love again was so unexpected after my husband died.

May 24, 2024

But most of all, I understood why I reveled in secrets. I understood why I liked to keep my real feelings from my family, my friends and my romantic partners. And I understood — long before I married my wife in 2019 and had two beautiful children with her — why I needed to stop.

After my father died, genealogical and family records revealed that he had a seventh child, a son named Lionel born during his third marriage. We are still looking for him. And I am still unraveling my father’s secrets, one by one. But his final years taught me, in their own way, that it’s never too late to open up, to be vulnerable, to start over. He turned on a light deep inside me that let me know it’s always OK to be honest and come home — wherever home may be.

The author is a recent law school graduate and screenwriter. He lives in Covina with his wife and two children. Visit his website at

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.