On, December 10, 2008, Stephanie Madoff Mack was seven months pregnant and busy planning the baby’s nursery when she got a call from her husband, Mark. “It’s my father,” he said. “My father has done something very bad, and is probably going to jail for the rest of his life.” The quiet world she shared with Mark and their two-year-old, Audrey, was about to shatter.
Mark’s father, Bernie Madoff, had just revealed to his sons that his multibillion dollar investment fund—the part of the family business managed solely by Bernie—was nothing but a huge Ponzi scheme, a massive fraud. Mark and his brother, Andy (both of whom worked in a different part of the firm) immediately notified the authorities and turned their father in. Neither son has been charged with a crime, and both maintained they had no knowledge of the fraud (as has their mother, Ruth).
Still, the family was vilified by the public, hounded by the press and subject to civil suits as the scam’s repercussions devastated banks, charities, businesses and ordinary citizens around the world.
Stephanie and Mark struggled to rebuild their lives but in December 2010, two years to the day after his father’s arrest, Mark hanged himself in the couple’s SoHo loft.
In a moving and revealing memoir, The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life, Stephanie finally tells her side of the story. And in this MORE.COM exclusive, she opens up about her relationship with Ruth, her theories about Bernie and her hopes for the future.
Yesterday would have been your seventh wedding anniversary. Did you do anything special?
I missed him so much yesterday. I didn’t really do anything special. It just seemed too painful to sort of celebrate that time that was such a happy time for me. So I hung out with my kids, and my mom treated me to a manicure and pedicure. We just had kind of a lazy day.
Speaking of your kids, you were especially eloquent in the book when you wrote about helping them deal with the loss of their father. Did you learn anything about grieving by watching how they dealt with it?
Yeah, I did. To watch them be excited to talk about their dad or draw a picture for their dad. Or go to the windows in the apartment and dance around and say, “Daddy, look at me.” It breaks my heart but I know it’s healing them.
You led a pretty quiet, family-oriented life before all this happened. What made you decide to write a book?
I wanted to give my husband a voice that he was never allowed to have. And I wanted to do it for my children, so that one day they’ll have something to read that’s the truth about their father and not just the tabloid version of the Mark Madoff story.
In the book you say about your mother-in-law, “Ruth could take you down like sniper.” Have you heard from her since the book came out?
Did you expect to?
I was forthcoming with her about my book. And I know she’s participating in a book that’s coming out and she was not forthcoming with me.
How do you know she’s participating in another book?
I’ve heard that she participated in an upcoming book [Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family, due out October 31].
Do you hope that she’ll read your book?
Yes, I do. I think it’s a wonderful tribute to her son. And I don’t know if I’ll hear from her. I’ve been honest in the book about my feelings about Ruth. She was vilified for no reason. She’s lost a son. As a mother myself I feel terrible for her and for that loss. But Ruth has made some disastrous choices. In time, who knows? But that’s how I’m feeling right now. My husband’s last correspondence to her, which was two days before he died, was that he just wasn’t ready to see her yet [because at the time she refused his request to sever contact with her husband]. And I’m honoring that right now.
There have been reports that Ruth finally did what Mark wanted and stopped visiting Bernie Madoff in prison and may even be filing for divorce. Do you know anything about that?
I don’t know anything about that. At this point it makes no difference to me if she speaks to Bernie or if she divorces him. It’s a little too late right now.
Given the psychological training you’ve had while working toward your master’s degree, and all you’ve seen being part of the family, is there anything you can think of that would explain or shed any light on why Bernie did what he did?
Noooooo! I mean, he duped everyone. I thought Bernie Madoff was such a sweet guy. And he was quirky, but his quirkiness was sort of endearing, and, no. I mean, not at all.
What was one of his endearing quirks?
Just the way he would line up his shoes or neatly place his clothes. It was sort of funny. But endearing too, because I always thought Bernie was this guy who came from nothing and made himself this successful man. And I was proud of him, and happy for him. So I thought it was really nice that here he was, this quote-unquote millionaire, or whatever, taking care of his things. Because he had--I thought he had worked really hard for them.
Everybody’s fascinated by the psychology of this. Was there some insecurity that drove him, maybe? Or do you think some people are inherently evil?
I think he lived, and still lives, in a delusional reality. Thinking that he still has some control over the situation. Being able to believe his own lies. But no, there were no signs [that he was a criminal]. No. Never in a million years. I thought he was such a nice person. I felt lucky to have him as my father-in-law. He was my emergency contact number!
Lily Tomlin played a Ruth Madoff-like role on the TV series Damages, and there’s a character on the new sitcom 2 Broke Girls who’s the daughter of a Madoff-like swindler. Have you seen any of these shows?
I started to watch the first episode of 2 Broke Girls, and when I saw that it was based on [laughs, then pauses]. I mean, I don’t know. I just—honestly, I haven’t watched Damages and I’ve never gotten through an episode of 2 Broke Girls.
You prefer not to?
Umm, I’m a big TV watcher [laughs], and my DVR is full. It’s hard for me to keep adding shows, I guess!
In the book you talk about the financial and legal mess that Bernie’s behavior created for you and your husband, and how that’s continuing now even with the estate. Have things gotten any better?
I know as little as I did nearly three years ago. The legal matters, they are just so complicated and I truly do not understand them. But I do look forward to the day when these lawyers can all come to some sort of resolution and I can move on and focus on what’s really important in my life, which is my two children.
You write about how, because of the civil suits, the government monitored your finances and required you to “turn in regular accounts of every dime we had spent.” Do you still need to do this?
I have no comment on that.
You’re working toward a master’s degree as a Child Life Specialist. What kind of work is that?
It’s a position in pediatrics and we basically provide psych or social support to patients and their families in the hospital, when the child is in the oncology ward, or if a child needs to have an MRI. We prep them for those scary tests, using play therapy or art therapy. Also, you’re sort of advocating for the patients and their families when they’re put into the hospital environment.
You did volunteer work in this area, didn’t you?
I worked in a cancer center in New York City, volunteering.
What appeals to you about this kind of occupation?
I’ve always—this is going to sound strange—I’ve always been fascinated by hospitals. I like hospitals. Obviously, I don’t like to be a patient. But I do find hospitals really interesting, and I love working with children and their families. I found it really rewarding. I have two more classes left, which I hope to finish up by the end of this summer, and then I hope to do my internship next year.
You are also very eloquent when writing about the guilt and anger you felt after your husband’s suicide in December 2010, especially since he had already attempted it once before [in October 2009]. How do you answer those who ask why you left him alone with your son those few days last December?
It’s an interesting question, and I kind of look funny when people ask because at that point, Mark was in such a great place. He had started a job that he loved. We were looking towards the future. We were talking about where we might want to live. We were discussing even having a third baby. The second anniversary of Bernie’s arrest truly was not even on our radar.
He was so excited for me and Audrey and my mom to go on this girls’ trip [to Disney World]. My daughter’s obsessed with the Disney princesses. And there were absolutely no signs at all. I wasn’t even worried for a moment, “Oh my gosh, is he gonna”—especially after that first suicide attempt. He was so embarrassed by it, and so sorry and so ashamed.
How do you cope now going forward. Did you join a survivors group?
No. I did not want to, and I do not want to. I feel I have a lot of support. I have a therapist. I have a ton of support from my family and my friends. And you know I get through this because I have two young children to take care of and they truly bring a smile to my face every day. And I hold onto the hope that things are going to get better for us one day.
Can you imagine marrying again some day down the road?
You know, right now I am heartbroken. But you don’t want to be alone for the rest of your life. I know I have a lot to offer. And I know my children have a lot to offer. And we’re really a great family, the three of us. One day, maybe. But today my heart hurts.
You’re going by the name “Stephanie Madoff Mack.” You and your husband came up with “Mack” as the name you’d use in your post-scandal life. Tell us how you came up with it.
Mark and I took M from Madoff and ACK was the Nantucket airport code. And Nantucket was the place we loved the most.
Is there anything that you want readers to know about you, Mark and the kids?
I think if Mark were here he would want everyone to know that he was a very trustworthy, honorable, good guy who got duped by Bernie. As far as me and the kids are concerned, we’re hanging in there. My kids are happy children. They love each other. And we’re not letting life stop because of all of this. I’m not gonna let Bernie Madoff ruin our lives any more than they’ve already been ruined. I’m not gonna let any of this define who my children are for the rest of their lives. Or define who I am anymore.
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