Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Melissa and Joe Gorga would have fans believe that their day-to-day marriage is as perfect as it seems on TV. But in her new book, Love Italian Style: The Secrets of My Hot and Happy Marriage, the RHONJ diva opens up for the first time about a dark secret from her past that has haunted her for years -- and almost torpedoed her relationship with Joe before it ever really began.
On March 29, 1986, Melissa's father Anthony Marco was tragically killed when he drove into a tree. And after his death, the daddy's girl learned he hadn't been the white knight in shining armor that she'd always thought: In fact, he'd been cheating on her mother for years.
"My father died driving in the middle of the night on personal business that my mother and I knew nothing about," she writes. "…He had disappeared before. Many, many times."
"Like all young men, my father liked to party," she reveals. "But he didn't want to do it with his wife. A wife was supposed to stay home, care for the kids and make dinner," she continues. "A good woman didn't run wild. So when the urge to run wild hit my father, he went elsewhere to chase it," and with other women.
"As young as six or seven years old, I remember nights and days of anxiety, of not knowing or understanding what was going on. Dad was home, and then he was gone," Melissa remembers. "Mom fretted and cried."
After a few days, he'd return, and everything would go back to normal in the household. "No matter what, she would never have left him," the Bravo star claims. "And he never, ever would have left her. Okay, he did leave the house. But he'd never leave the marriage. There was never a doubt that he would eventually return home to her."
"He was a great father and a great teacher," she remembers. "As a husband, not so great."
And from watching her parents' "unfaithful marriage," she says she "learned that men aren't reliable. Even when you love them as hard as you can, they cannot always be trusted."
That early lesson would come into play years later when Melissa and Joe first began living together and her "trust issues" resurfaced.
"I would still get suspicious about Joe, despite his seemingly loyal behavior," she reveals. "…If Joe said he was going out on a Sunday morning to do estimates on properties, I'd always question it in my mind. My father was a builder too. He used to say the same things to my mother. And then we wouldn't see him until Tuesday."
Joe resented her defensive and untrusting behavior, she says, and would snap at her over her obsessive worrying. Finally, she "worked up the courage to reveal the whole truth to Joe."
"That day was a real turning point in our relationship," she writes. "He already knew my father died in a car accident. Then I told him the rest: his infidelities, disappearing acts, the distrust that lingered in my heart. … I'd never told another man so much about myself. I realized that confiding in Joe was a sign that I did trust him."