Eli’s and Joseph’s shared office is a lot neater and nicer than I expected it was going to be. I thought I was going to see papers in disarray, orders everywhere, spilled coffee stains on desks.
Instead, I see sleek leather sofas (“Nap time,” Eli laments, “people know when that door is closed, do not bother me.”), Apple computers perched on oak furniture, and a large window that overlooks the New York skyline. A small bar sits in a nearby corner and a bathroom is hidden in another.
A foosball table and two arcade machines are in the other corner. “You’ll be surprised the number of ideas I get when I’m playing Street Fighter,” Eli laughs.
“Right there,” Joseph’s baritone points me toward Eli’s desk, “that’s where the magic really happens.”
Numerous family pictures adorn Eli’s desk. One in particular – a picture of Eli and his ex-wife, Faith Sheppard – stands out.
Faith, the daughter of famed minister, Reverend David Sheppard, met Eli when the couple was teenagers in high school. “I knew he was trouble the moment I met him,” she says as we met later for coffee, “but he was the kind of trouble I wanted.”
Faith is small in stature, just a little under five and a half feet. But her presence is big. She often greets everyone with a warm smile and doesn’t shy away from the latest gossip offerings. She had an interest in hair when she was a teenager and when she graduated from high school, Eli paid her to attend college and cosmetology school.
The pair dated for several years before they had an extravagant wedding at the St. Regis Hotel. “This was before social media so it was a huge deal. I was more or less a socialite and Eli was already famous on his own due to the shop.” Faith commented. “It was a production but it was totally us.”
Several children followed later but Eli’s affair with an ex-girlfriend nearly broke the couple. Faith’s retaliation affair did not help matters, neither. “We were both stupid,” she sighs, “really stupid. I guess I was so hurt by what he did, I figured if I did it back to him, he would feel the pain he gave to me. I was the one that got burned twice.”
The couple, once shown on TV as playful and understanding of each other, went through an acrimonious divorce that almost played out in the media.
False accusations that Eli was abusive in their marriage put a dent into the D’Amato armor and caused a few advertisers to pull their ads. Madre’s saw protests from domestic violence groups and Eli’s personal Instagram page was a landmine of hateful comments.
“I have never hit any woman ever,” he declared, “I wasn’t raised like that neither were my brothers. I don’t play that mess. I’ve never emotionally or mentally abused her nor our children.”
“If my Eli had ever hit a woman, he would have to deal with his brothers before me,” Nicola replied during our lunch gathering, “his punishment from us would’ve been worst than anything a judge would’ve given him.”
As soon as the accusations came, they left. Faith soon put out a statement denying Eli was ever abusive to her or their children. Numerous friends and family members rallied around Eli and the controversy surrounded him seemingly boosted his popularity and wealth.
It’s clear the former couple have a lot of issues to sort out. They stopped speaking to each other completely for two years, only having all communication go through attorneys. Recently, the pair spent Christmas and the New Year together. “We’re in counseling now,” Faith’s voice is soft, “I don’t know if it’s a sign of reconciliation but it helps when our kids have parents who don’t hate each other.”
“Let’s talk about the affair,” I begin and Faith’s eyes draw a blank stare, “Eli’s been pretty open about it on the show but you haven’t.”
Faith circles her cup of coffee with a finger as she contemplates an answer. “I understand why he cheated on me. I’m not saying it’s entirely my fault but I can admit I played a role in it. Not a lot of women want to admit that. I didn’t at first.” Faith takes a sip of coffee. “I was so happy on blaming him and only him that I didn’t think, ‘Well, how did I contribute to this?’”
“So what happened when you did realize it?” I ask.
Faith scoffs and shakes her long, black hair. “Honey, let me tell you that was a very sobering moment. It wasn’t even just one big thing. It’s like the snowball effect – something small here, something small there, until there’s an avalanche. A lot of things led up to it and the signs our marriage was in trouble was there. In fact, our marriage had been in trouble for a while before the affair happened.”
“Do you think the affair possibly saved your relationship with Eli?” I ask.
She gives a casual shrug. “Maybe at first, but the problems were still there. He was apologetic and I didn’t want to forgive him. I liked being angry at him.”
Faith’s subsequent relationship with high-profile basketball player, Jeremy Griggs, was the subject of much adoration and scrutiny. The former couple received offers for a reality show but those were shut down when Eli wouldn’t agree to have their children on the show.
That action, Faith reveals, led to a relationship that was even more contentious between her and Eli. “It felt like he hated me and wanted to get even with me for everything. I didn’t help matters. I wanted to move to L.A. and take the kids with me.”
“So what happened? I get the feeling the two of you are on good terms now.”
Faith looks away and tries to hide her wide smile. It’s not a smile of a woman who is just on good terms with her ex-husband and father of her children. If I didn’t know better, it was the smile of a woman who got that old thing back. “Things aren’t perfect but I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in years and so are my children. Things are really good between us now.”
“I can honestly say the affair was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” Eli later admits, “I know why I did it. I wanted attention from my wife and I wasn’t getting it. I’m not blaming at her at all. I was the one that stepped out and that started a very unfortunate chain of events.” He’s trying to grasp at the words but what he’s feeling isn’t coming out in what he wants to say. “It’s like I hate the affair happened but I wondered what would’ve happened if I remained faithful. Our marriage before the affair wasn’t great. We were fighting a lot and I wanted her to stay at home more so she could raise the kids and not rely on nannies and babysitters…I don’t know…”
“Do you think you still would’ve divorced if you didn’t have the affair?” I ask.
Eli carefully thinks for several moments before he finally gives his answer. “Yes.”
The rest of the character interview will be in a short book that’ll be out this weekend for 99 cents. A preview of said book will be posted on wattpad later.