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Becoming an Austrian citizen

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Experiencing divorce as a son and a father
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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So my parents got divorced. I led a happy childhood in Vienna and at age 12 or 13, something around that time, I was spending the summer with my father as usual in Sofia. My father was a specialist in venereal diseases, which is a sort of occupation where- since his patients were people from I’d say the society and not prostitutes don’t want to be seen in his waiting room because that time if you were syphilitic for instance you were easily a patient for three years getting, going through arsenical therapy. So his waiting room was sort of like a waiting room of psychoanalysts or therapists where patients don’t see each other as they come and go. And but that was in his apartment, in his flat where he also lived in Sofia where I of course stayed with him. And one day I was staying there and bumped into strangely enough in the waiting room a very attractive young woman. Young- for me at that time she was really old but she was probably somewhere in her 30s or something like that, and she- my father probably in late 40s and then he came out. He was the first time so slightly tongue-tied. He introduced me to her and said, look she’s coming with us on the- We went hiking every Sunday in the mountains outside of Sofia. She’ll come with us. And then started to explain to me that really that he and my mother were divorced and so it’s, so he had some female company and she was his, his companion so to speak. And thinking that I would be either outraged or surprised or shocked I was none of these. I was just interested. The first, you know, touch of testosterone had hit me and I was interested in potential first girlfriend of my own and not my fathers, and I sort of, sort of shrugged it off. But that’s how I learned about that my parents really had been divorced. It was not a shock at all, but what is so ironic is the same thing happened to me all over again and this repetition is, is actually quite striking. Namely I already mentioned earlier that in deference to the wishes of my second wife I not, did not acknowledge this to my first wife and most certainly not to my children because that’s really where the entire crux of the matter was. Maybe they questioned that my second wife was already highly pregnant before we got married. So I did not tell my children that I’d been married earlier. First of all how do you tell it to a three-year-old kid anyway and explain it to them? But the longer you postpone it the more difficult it becomes to suddenly bring it up because then there comes a point when you have no reason to bring it up, or you can say- out of the blue one day I say, oh by the way you know I was married before. So that just rested and as far as I could see that probably would, would never have been disclosed. And then one day my daughter with that age was, that time was almost exactly the age that I was when my father- Around 12 or 13. Came home one day from school and somehow started talking to me about what happened in school that day by saying, you know, one of her friends- that was now California. In a way all these complicated family relations. Stepbrother, half-sister, my mother has a second or third husband and so on. Sort of jokingly wasn’t complaining and then she said- She looked at me and she said, look you have this completely simple- You have one father, one mother, you know, one brother and a Dachshund, you know. Just completely- Apparently standard family but in fact an exceptional family in that type of northern California’s social setting of that time. Well, I realised here was an opportunity that I would never get again and I said- Pammy I have to tell you something. That isn’t completely true. I was married once before. Again, wondering as my father probably wondered what her response would be and she just jumped up excited and said- what did she look like? That was her first question. There was no why or when. She said- what did she look like? So I who had carefully hidden all pictures of my first wife because of the fact that I wouldn’t acknowledge her, I wasn’t going to destroy them, but I was not going to- I had to go through these hidden files, which were among my chemical files that I’d put my wife’s pictures in, and showed them to her and she was fascinated by this biographical detail of her father. And then said- how are you going to tell it to Dale? Dale is my son and, you know, I chickened out. I said- you tell him, which she did. And that is really how my son learned about the fact that I’d been married before.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Sofia, California

Duration: 5 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008