The television sitcom, Murphy Brown, starring the smart and outspoken Candice Bergen, returns 20 years later - and I can’t help but reminisce - and laugh in anticipation. Generations of younger folk have no recollection of that first television sitcom - ever - to evoke a knee-jerk (and at that time shockingly, politically incorrect) reaction from the Vice President of the United States of America! Let me remind you - before President Trump, that just did not happen.
In those simpler times, when Presidents or Vice Presidents didn’t demean their office with gratuitous critique of television actors, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the seeming triviality of a television show, and found out that it was a quagmire.
Briefly. The television character, Murphy Brown was the quintessential professional woman - good job, good values. She decided to have a child “out of wedlock.” She was a serious woman making a well-considered decision to be a single mother.
The Vice President of the United States was having none of it. He had much to say about Murphy’s choice. She was “Mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone.” She was “Disintegrating family values.”
At the time, I had been the single mother of two young sons for almost ten years. I wrote a response to the Vice President’s version of “family values” on the Opinion Page of my local paper, The Roanoke Times, in June, 1992.
Much has changed in the 26 years since I wrote it - but our narrow-minded fear of diversity remains unchecked.
I reprint my story here.
Dear Vice President Quayle:
I am not the family I thought I’d be when I was growing up. I’m not the Kennedy’s of Massachusetts - nor the Millers of Maryland.
I, alone, make the decisions in this household. I don’t consult, I don’t divvy up the chores along sex lines or with consideration of muscular definition. I don’t say, “You watch the kids, I’m going to a lecture.” I don’t say, “I’m low on cash, do you have extra?” I don’t say, “I’m depressed, can I have a hug?”
Don’t misunderstand. I am not complaining.
I’m not the family I thought I’d be when I was growing up, but I’m family all right. And that wasn’t always so obvious. After the divorce, I feared, family was what I’d left behind. But I was wrong. The family exists, even if its shape is harder to recognize.
I, alone, am the heart of this family. It’s not what I expected. Only me servicing the car, deciding when to trade it, and paying for it too. Only me in my peach bedroom. Only me and two kids at the breakfast table and the dinner table, and at family crises.
Family, it seems doesn’t fit the form: the Kennedys and the Millers and their post-war baby dreams. The daddy and the mommy and the little boy who takes over his daddy’s business and the little girl who grows old taking care of him. It’s what we expected, but it’s not how it worked out.
I sit sometimes, at my sons’ school pageants, and it appears that I forgot something. I forgot to bring a husband. The gymnasium is brimming with mommies and daddies and video cameras. (I don’t own one of those either.) I’m afraid that I didn’t dress right to be family.
How could it have slipped my mind? Silly woman, so intent was I on making meals and writing books and buying kids new shoes that I forgot to be family. So preoccupied was I balancing the checkbook and driving the boys to Hebrew School and painting kids’ faces at the school carnival, I forgot to be married.
Forty million adult American women without husbands: raising kids, raising gardens, raising cain at the corporate level. Women without men - but with kids and jobs and mortgages and peach bedrooms that few husbands would permit and vacations alone to fabulous beaches.
It’s not what I expected, Mr. Quayle, but it’s undeniably family - and it’s mine.