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At age 60, Ed Hajim was looking through a suitcase of yellowed letters belonging to his deceased father when he stumbled across a secret so big, so dark that it completely upended his life.
“It was horrendous,” Hajim, now 84, told The Post. “I must have sat there for half an hour.
The letter Hajim found revealed that his mother, who his father had told him died when he was a baby, was, in fact, still alive. And his father had stolen him from her.
The kidnapping was just the start of Hajim’s childhood troubles, which would rise to near-Dickensian levels. But he managed to overcome his rough start, build a happy family of his own and make millions on Wall Street.
His story is told in the new memoir “On the Road Less Traveled: An Unlikely Journey from the Orphanage to the Boardroom” (Skyhorse Publishing), out now.
“I had a lot of trouble writing it,” Hajim says. “I got welled up. When I was 18 and went to college, I decided I would take my [childhood] and bury it and not bring it back.”
The excavation of his youth begins with his parents: Jack, a Syrian Jew who grew up in Bensonhurst, and Sophie, a young woman from St. Louis.
They lived in Los Angeles, where Ed was born in 1936. Soon, however, the couple split, and Sophie took Hajim back to St. Louis.
In 1939, Jack arrived for one of his routine visits. But instead of returning Hajim to his mother later in the day, he kept driving — straight back to LA — telling his son his mother had died. The event would launch a childhood of instability and heartache for the young boy.
In 1942, Jack was drafted into the US Merchant Marine and was forced to leave Hajim behind. The boy cycled through five foster homes. He was unhappy, plagued by nightmares and stomach problems.
He didn’t see his father again for four and half years.
“Daddy, I hope you can come for my birthday,” Hajim wrote his father. “It seems so long since I’ve seen you.”
Eventually, his father reclaimed him and the two moved to New York City, at first living in the 34th Street YMCA before taking a room in a Coney Island hotel.
When Jack, who had trouble finding steady work, landed a job on a ship, he left 11-year-old Hajim behind in the hotel alone for weeks.
“I learned a lot about cards and dice, the games being played in front of the hotel,” Hajim writes.
In 1947, with his father still absent, Hajim was forced to enter a Far Rockaway orphanage.
He’d see his father occasionally when he was in port, but at one point, the old man failed to show up for a visit and disappeared for three years.
At age 15, Hajim moved to the Hebrew National Orphan Home in Yonkers and began thriving. He played sports and took side jobs.
His adversity had “sparked his ambition and work ethic,” he writes. He became determined to make something of himself.
“In some respects, disadvantages become advantages,” the author says. “They were the gift that keep on giving. Resilience and adaptability are things you can’t get unless you go through it.”
Hajim eventually graduated from the University of Rochester and Harvard Business School before entering the financial world.
He worked high-powered jobs at brokerages including Lehman Brothers. He married, eventually had three children and lived a happy life in Connecticut.
Then iIn 1971, his father died — and while cleaning out his belongings, Hajim discovered the old suitcase full of letters. He put the suitcase aside, finding it too painful to revisit his childhood.
And he left it aside for 25 years until 1996, when he finally opened it and read the letters inside.
It was then that he discovered his mother had not died. Hajim hired a private detective to track her down,. The PI eventually found her using marriage records.
It turned out Hajim’s mother was 81 years old and living alone in St. Louis. She had gotten remarried, though her husband had died a few years earlier. They had one son.
In 1997, Hajim traveled to St. Louis and stood outside his mother’s apartment for several minutes, anxious to ring the bell. Finally he did.
“When my mother answered and I was a foot away from her, it was overwhelming,” he writes.
The physical resemblance hit Hajim immediately. Seeing her was like “an out-of-body experience.”
“It’s your son, 57 years late!” Hajim joked.
There was no crying or hugging — no drama at all. She invited him in, and he accepted. “It was an immediate connection. It was almost like there was no time there,” Hajim says.
He was eager to know about his mother’s life, her relationship with his father and why she never looked for him. “My mother told me . . . that she wasn’t actually angry about my father taking me because in her heart, she felt I was probably better off with him,” he writes.
Hajim got to spend more than a decade getting to know his mother before she died in 2008 at age 93.
The author now says he hopes readers take from his rags-to-riches story “something that makes their trip a little easier.”
And Hajim says there’s one other gift his rough childhood gave him.
“You get gratitude,” the author says. “You’re thankful for the good times, even if they’re not so terrific. You look up one day and say, ‘Wow, I made it.’ ”
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