You need to know up front that this post is going to get a little catty. If you’re okay with that, proceed. If you’re not, just don’t read it.
Swear to god, if you aren’t okay with catty and you read it and then you judge–well, that’s your problem, isn’t it?
I was raised Roman Catholic by an Irish mother, who spoke openly of her disdain for all things English. From a young age, I was aware that the Irish had suffered greatly at the hands on the English, and that being Catholic and Irish was a badge of honor to her, and therefore, to me. And even though I didn’t know why, I knew that the British royal family was somehow involved in this whole business (I do know now). It was clear from my mother that Catholicism and Irishness were inextricably entwined and intrinsically good.
My first Catholicism-related shock came when I met a Methodist for the first time, after I left Catholic school for public school in 7th grade. The non-Catholic was so good, so kind, and her family so full of compassion and love, I was heartbroken that they were going to burn in hell.
I mean, obviously, because they weren’t Catholic.
In high school, my boyfriend Tim’s Canadianism was novel, his accent thrilling, his lack of pride in his family’s national heritage positively baffling. When Tim and I got together as adults, and I started spending time with his family, and then spending time in Canada in the summer, I found out that his family rather admired the royals. Tim joked —
sort of — about being subjects of the Queen. At an all-male family gathering, all six grown men watched a VHS recording of the funeral of the Queen Mum. Not all of them did it enthusiastically, but they did it un-ironically.
When Lady Di became Princess Di, I watched in horror as this sweet young woman, blinded by the stars in her eyes, was shuttled off to become One Of Them, an elbow-waving, crown-wearing, titular-head-of-state, paid for by the citizens of the small island country full of poor dental care and recycled woolen socks. When she divorced Charles, I cheered; he never deserved her in the first place. And when she died, and when the very “proper” royal family was confounded about how to act in the face of such sorrow, I grieved.
More than any man I’ve ever known, Tim keeps abreast of royal doings. It was he who alerted me to Diana’s sons’ engagements, and he who informed me about the shaky ground on which Harry was treading as he married an American.
I’ll confess I watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding, if only to witness the purest whiteness known to man becoming one tiny bit less white when Ms. Markle joined their number. And I’ll confess I cried happy tears when the choir at her wedding sang a gospel song — even though it was only the one. The choral director was a particular joy to watch.
All the shots of the royals burying their faces in the programs, and the hats in the crowd with their twitchy feathers. Such a clash of cultures, and I was happy to see it. Maybe this was a crack in the wall.
Tim and I have watched together all seasons to date of the Netflix show The Crown. I was reluctant, given my background and bias against these venerated people, but when this guy wants to do something with me, I typically agree.
It wasn’t long into the first season that Tim paused the show, turned to me with a stunned look on his face, and said “I just realized . . . this is how my family operates.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on.
“Think about it. They have a strict, unspoken code of behavior. It’s all about keeping up appearances. And if somebody violates that secret code, the family doesn’t communicate about it directly; one person tells another person to go tell *another* person to please knock it off. All the while pretending like everything is just fine.”
This launched several discussions about the way his family behaves, and his role in the family, and how this method of conduct had affected our marriage and our children. We realized eventually that this insistent indirectness had threaded itself through family conflicts, and embedded itself in how we communicated with his parents, and that the relationship with them that sustained the worst damage was mine, as I tend to be very direct.
I am, after all, a Chicago native raised by an Irish woman.
So when I saw the news that Harry and Meghan were backing out of the royal family, I felt a little smug. A little “that’s right, leave those people behind or you’ll never have a normal life.” A little “Finally! A husband standing up to protect his family from the perniciousness of ridiculous expectations!”
Yes, I know, it’s about Meghan, not Meg. But I couldn’t help but see parallels, especially in the part about Harry and Meghan striving to become financially independent. That’s gotta be a tough gig when you’re a royal. Who’s going to hire you when you have walked away from the wealth and connections of the famous queen that graced currency and ceramic plates? What are they going to do, open a food truck? Is Meghan going to go back to acting? Will she need security protection? How does this work?
Meghan has much more difficult waters to navigate being the only person of color in a sheet-white family. She has to face racism every single damned day on TOP of this shitty family nonsense–and there’s no guarantee that the family itself doesn’t also give her racist bullshit to deal with. But on this one narrow issue, on needing independence from a controlling family, I see some parallels.
To me, the crux of the problem comes down to money. The royal family could pull the levers of power and force their members to behave by threatening to take away their means of support. “You’ll act as I demand, or no more fast cars and vacations and living in a dimly lit castle for YOU!”
And so, in a way, it was with Tim’s family; like many young families, we needed help occasionally, especially early in our marriage. Tim’s divorce and lingering custody war was unbelievably expensive. His parents, too, pulled levers of power and tried to force family members, us, to behave by threatening to take away their financial and familial support. Emotional support was never part of the bargain in the first place.
This was a potent lesson for me. What I saw, what I experienced was not the unconditional love of family, the sweet, welcoming comfort of people who know and love you, but a transactional relationship between powerful and powerless, between moneyed and in need. That’s not love. That’s certainly not parenting. How many years of our lives did we give over to the shrine of family? To the weight of tradition?
In the wake of the Harry and Meghan news, I saw tradition referred to as “peer pressure from dead people.” I never want my children to feel that. I hate that my husband ever felt that.
I backed away from Tim’s family when we moved out here, out of their sphere of influence. Coming to Portland freed me from their expectations immediately, and it has been freeing. Tim and I have vowed to keep any help we provide our kids free from any kind of strings. We made other mistakes, but to this promise, we have been true.
Harry and Meghan are in a very different situation for so many reasons, but I have a tickle of glee at them giving the royal family the finger and walking away.
Live your own damned lives, kids, and be happy.