How do you approach a disgraced prince? The traditionalist in me suggests, “Could we speak a moment, Your Highness?” Or given recent events, perhaps simply, “Harry Honey, we need to talk.”
I don’t want to be part of the Duke and Duchess’s sordid spiral, you understand. But since quitting my own family two decades ago, I’ve become a sort of discreet adviser to those considering an exit from the familial fold. Not by desire or design. But because some people I know, a client and a business mentor, were generous with their advice and experience when I was groping for a change, I feel strongly about paying the kindness forward.
Okay, Prince Harry, let’s get two things out of the way up front. One, while it is admirable to move away from all you have known and attempt to change your life, such a break involves the feelings of others, which should not be hurt gratuitously, regardless of how much anger is held toward the offending parties. Two, breaking from the family fold is essentially a private matter and nobody else’s business.
Time and space are necessary to process the loss. The question of whom to tell and when is a complicated one. It took about six months before I could talk to anyone except my husband about what had happened, including my in-laws.
Twenty years later, I strive to strike an even balance. While I don’t avoid talking about my situation despite its painful nature, I don’t randomly introduce it, either. I work to avoid pointing fingers or presenting myself as the victim. If it becomes clear that the person listening only wants to gossip, I shut the discussion down.
Admittedly, I am a private person, in contrast to today’s climate of indiscriminate tell-all. But I am not totally walled off. As an essayist, my work involves the writing and analysis of personal experience. After years of reading about craft and process, writing workshops, online classes, and work with one-on-one mentors (one of whom pushed hard for me to mine the gory details of my split), I learned the difficult lesson, the memoir writer’s golden rule: The only story you have the right to tell is your own.
Don’t Seek Revenge
In his book, “To Show and to Tell, The Craft of Literary Nonfiction,” writing guru Phillip Lopate explains, “Never write to settle scores. Enter into the other person’s point of view, and be as fair-minded as possible.”
With time and hindsight, I can see that after two decades, revenge is not part of the equation. The fact that I split from my parents and sisters is simply part of my narrative: I’m very athletic, have wild curly hair, and have been happily married to the same man for 35 years. Oh, and 20 years ago, I quit the family.
It was, with the exception of some prolonged sobbing (most of which occurred off-stage), a drama-free exit. There was no denouement, no telling off my parents or presenting a laundry list of ways they had failed me. For a few short years I regretted this, thinking that the script for such a split required far more melodrama.
Then I realized my break was not about letting them have it. It wasn’t actually about them at all. I was running, alongside my husband, toward a future uncolored by the attitudes, expectations, and fears of my family, coveting a clean slate. In the 20-plus years since, there has been very little looking back. That’s what a break from the familial fold can provide, the chance to produce a fresh start and a new reality.
This Actually Isn’t About Harry
I will not read your book “Spare,” Harry, nor have I been able to watch more than a few minutes of your countless television interviews before cringing. But here is what I see: This whole mess is actually not about you at all. It is your wife’s affair. Leaving the royal family is a measure of Meghan Markle’s insecurity.
The Duchess of Sussex apparently feels compelled to constantly test your love, devotion, and limits, in a game of emotional chicken. Like an awkward 4-year-old seeking assurance of her mother’s affections, she poses the question, “How much do you love me?” by convincing you that your family is the enemy. In Meghan’s mind, you must take sides. It is either them or her. Like a teenager with a gothic bent who repeatedly demands, “If the house was on fire dad, which one of us kids would you save?”
Harry, you have already lost your family, your country, and your dignity in an effort to placate your wife. But you have clearly missed the point, which is this: You cannot quit the family to please, validate, or heal anyone except yourself.