Ted, Rafael recalls, got a significant scholarship from Princeton and picked up odd jobs as a cameraman and a standardized-test tutor to pay his tuition. "We helped with whatever we could," Rafael told me. "After a while, he basically said he'd just take care of it." Indeed, as Ted's star was rising throughout high school and college, his parents' life was coming apart. The successful seismic-data software company Rafael and Eleanor had started in the mid-1970s, Explorer Seismic Services, went under a decade later, after the price of oil plummeted. "We started losing money, got totally cash poor, and in the end, we even lost our home," Rafael says. Both he and Eleanor took commission-based jobs selling insurance, soda machines, and nutritional supplements. "That's how we survived," he recalls.
In May 1993, the couple separated, court records show. Rafael filed for divorce after several years. His divorce petition cites "discord and conflict of personality" without any chance of reconciliation as the reason for the divorce. The petition suggests that Rafael had little to his name at the time: a few thousand dollars in a bank account and some frequent-flier miles but no property, no pension, no car, no furniture.
In his stump speeches and presentations, Rafael rarely, if ever, mentions his divorce or this difficult period of his life. (Eleanor, who lives in the same apartment complex as Ted and Heidi Cruz, told me that she and Rafael "buried the hatchet" and are now friends who get dinner when Rafael is in Houston.) In Iowa, in response to a woman's question about Ted's citizenship, I heard Rafael refer to Eleanor as "my wife." After another appearance, when a pastor asked Rafael about his family, he explained that he'd been divorced for 20 years. "I was traveling a lot outside of the country when Ted was in college, coming and going every few weeks," he said. The travel destroyed his marriage. The divorce, he told the pastor, "is one of those things I regret."
IN A RECENT INTERVIEW with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Rafael spoke of how he would stand over his young son, proclaiming the word of God. He told him: "You know, Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I know. And God has destined you for greatness."
Hearing him speak today, Rafael retains the same unflappable belief in his son's trajectory. On the campaign trail, however, I never saw him talk about his first family—a story that further complicates his life's narrative.
Publicly, he says little about his life during this time, never mentioning his first wife, Julia Ann Garza, or the couple's two daughters, Miriam and Roxana, born in 1961 and 1962, respectively. His first marriage was stormy, and he and Garza divorced after three years. "That was a very rough marriage," he told me. "I was a sophomore in college, and I was very immature." (Garza, a college professor, died in 2013.) The couple's two daughters, Miriam and Roxana, lived with their mother during the school year, but they spent some summers with Rafael and Eleanor in Canada. Miriam and Roxana were eight and nine years older than young Ted, but that didn't stop Rafael and Eleanor from insisting that the girls drag Ted along with them when they went out to meet their friends. "When you have a 6-year-old with you, it limits the mischief you can get into," Ted Cruz told me recently.