This Is Fine. is Broadly's weekly newsletter about the previously private and highly personal tactics people use to make the world less harrowing. In this week's letter, Veronica Walsingham talks about finding relief in tabloid stories about the royals. Sign up here to receive a new essay about a dealing-with-life strategy from Broadly and This Is Fine. each Sunday evening.
You may not be surprised to hear that I, a regular person who closes her own car doors behind her, do not have very much in common with Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, but I still feel close to her somehow. Throughout the media blitz surrounding her wedding to Prince Harry, I related to and found solace in Meghan in what felt like a singularly comforting way: We both have complicated relationships with our fathers.
Even if you don’t care about the royal family whatsoever, you almost certainly know about this part of her life: Meghan and Thomas Markle’s relationship has been highly, highly reported on since Thomas staged paparazzi photographs of himself preparing for the royal wedding, photos which allegedly netted him a six-figure sum. Such an embarrassing, albeit mostly harmless act being linked to the British royal family propelled an international scandal. The coverage of Meghan and Thomas’s relationship snowballed: The latter skipped the royal wedding due to poor health, gave interviews disparaging his daughter and the royal family, and leaked a personal letter she had written him.
The coverage of their rift has been invasive and gossipy, rarely offering much nuance or empathy. Cosmopolitan even ran a poll in which readers could vote as to whether they think Meghan should get in touch with her father, as if their relationship might be decided in the same manner as American Idol. But: I cannot stop reading, even when learning that 33 percent of people voted that Meghan should get in touch felt like a gut-punch. These stories make me feel close to Meghan—and better about my own relationship with my dad.
My father wasn’t at my wedding, either. I walked myself down the aisle, like it was momentarily speculated Meghan would. Meghan and Thomas’s estrangement? I know what that’s like, too. Before my father passed away last April, I hadn’t spoken to him in a decade, although, like Thomas aired private details of his relationship with his daughter, my father did the same through Facebook statuses.
In the time since my father’s death, it’s become increasingly more difficult to detail what led to our estrangement, because the heart softens towards those who have passed and I’ve started to understand the whole sum of my life a little more. I can now understand my father’s childhood of abuse from his mentally ill mother and his having been raised in a misogynistic culture that valued toxic masculinity influenced his abusive behavior. I look at my childhood now, more objective, and see the multitudes of my father and how that affected our relationship. But when I was younger, anxiously reading books in my closet or spending entire weekends at friends’ houses to avoid my own, I only knew that I was in constant emotional pain and my father was the source. And so, I amputated the source of my pain.
I can say that my quality of life improved when he was no longer part of it. That doesn’t mean I relished our no longer speaking: Cutting someone out of your life—someone whose DNA you have, someone whose eyes you have—is painful. The aftermath—the father-sized hole in my life—is just more private pain, even if I’m living an overall happier life. So I love these awful stories about Meghan’s relationship with her father because I see a better version of myself in them. Meghan has handled this negative press with a level of grace I aspire to.
This is neither to say Meghan’s relationship with her father is exactly like mine nor that I understand how she feels. I would never be so bold. But the stories about Meghan and Thomas’s messy relationship do make me feel like we have some sort of kinship, as if she would be one of the few people who actually knows what to say when I drunkenly tell one of the shitty stories from my childhood. As if Meghan would then tell her own equally shitty story, and we’d be like, “Let’s take a shot to us, the Bad Dads Club.” And then other celebrities who are part of the Bad Dads Club (Kate Hudson, Grace Kelly, Angelina Jolie) would ding their glasses together, and we’d all laugh.
The idea of my Bad Dads Club isn’t as outlandish as it seems. Lisa Brateman, Psychotherapist and Relationship Specialist in NYC, writes via email, “It makes you feel better about your situation especially when a privileged person has similar life challenges as you do.” Dr. Brateman continues, “It can feel empowering if the celebrity has conquered or merely learned to accept something they can’t change or control… because when we see someone overcome a difficult relationship or problem, it gives us hope that we can also.” This is why celebrity news can become so emotionally important to us, why we can become so invested: We see their ability to overcome as a reflection of our ability to overcome.
I didn’t always feel this way about the stories about Meghan and Thomas. My knee-jerk reaction was that Meghan, being blood-related to such a sloppy group of people, should have known better than to have dared to marry into the royal family. I thought that Meghan didn’t understand that girls like us who come from broken, messy families shouldn’t fly so close to the sun. It wasn’t until long after the royal wedding, stories about Meghan’s relationships with family members still being published though there was no royal wedding propelling such reporting, that I reevaluated why these stories elicited such a response from me. Why did I think she was undeserving of being a member of the royal family simply because of her father? That reaction was just a projection of my internalized feelings about what I deserve in life due to my upbringing. My thinking that Meghan should know better than to marry into royalty was really my thinking that I should know better than to marry into royalty. In realizing this, it was stunning to be slapped so hard by my lack of self-love through celebrity news stories about someone I don’t know and never will.
I read stories about Meghan and Thomas now, and I don’t think she flew too close to the sun. I think Meghan is her own sun. I read these stories and think about Meghan’s unwavering poise in the face of her private nightmare being publicized, with her bright smile that seems to say, I may not come from a perfect family, but I know I still deserve what I have.
Since my estrangement from my father, I’ve graduated college, gotten married, and seen 21 states with my husband. I get paid to write, my husband makes me full-body laugh on a daily basis, and my favorite hobby is getting drunk and shopping for vintage jewelry on Etsy. My in-laws are thoughtful, kind people, who mail us gifts for our dogs and remember the names of my whole extended family. At my in-law’s home, I’ll often survey the frame photographs—holidays, vacations, always smiling, never hiding in a closet—and I’ll feel like a foreigner trespassing on the private property of a happy family. I’m afraid they’ll realize just how broken I am and kick me out. Guilt sometimes trickles down my back if I get caught up in thinking that our in-law exchange wasn’t even.
That specific feeling—that I wasn’t enough for my husband due to my upbringing—is my ugliest, most private one—and this is at the heart of every story about Meghan’s relationship with her father. That is the narrative, but Meghan refuses to be a character. And as for my refusing this role myself, I’m trying. I understand that I’ve worked hard to build the life I have, so logic would dictate that I deserve it. But the emotional glue trap of my childhood still occasionally influences my sense of worth no matter how vigorously I shake my limbs. When I read about Meghan and Thomas, I read about a version of myself who is completely unstuck, and that’s a narrative I like.