When I tell people what — or rather, whom– I am working on, I sometimes get (usually after the “Nazi” question– more on that another time) questions about the relatively recent (beginning in 2003) revelations about Charles Lindbergh’s clandestine extra-marital affairs (three) and the sizable brood of children (seven) he fathered in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Questions like: “How are you going to deal with THAT?!” The answer: “I don’t really know yet.” Since my focus is on Lindbergh as a writer, primarily, and secondarily as a figure in the larger popular culture, it’s possible I won’t deal extensively with the scandal of the “European families,” except insofar as it–once again–shifted the tectonic plates of Lindbergh’s reputation, nationally and internationally. And also how such revelations should probably be situated within a broader framework of “secret lives exposed,” and the insatiable appetite for salacious stories of the private lives of public figures.
Meanwhile– that is, until I get to that– I do have a guide to one way of looking at this most recent addition to the Lindbergh Narrative, and that is this book, Reeve Lindbergh’s Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age–And Other Unexpected Adventures (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008). Reeve is the last child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, born in 1945, when her father was 43, and her mother 39. Like her parents, she is a writer, and in addition to numerous children’s books, has written two previous works of memoir–Under a Wing, about “growing up Lindbergh,” and No More Words, about her mother’s last years. Both books (as well as Scott Berg’s definitive Lindbergh biography, which appeared in 1998) were published before the “European families” revelations. But in the last essay in this lovely book, Reeve Lindbergh describes her reactions to these revelations, and her subsequent visits to Europe to meet her newly-revealed siblings and their families, visits that turned out to be joyous occasions.
When the story about the secret families turned out to be true, I became furiously angry, as angry as I have ever been in my life. I was not angry with my ‘new,’ living relatives, no more to blame for the circumstances of their birth than I am, but with my long dead father. I raged against his duplicitous character, his personal conduct, the years of deception and hypocrisy.
The story of the secret families had me raging, thinking, writing, and trying to be honest for about a month. Then something changed. On September 4, 2003, I wrote only one sentence in my journal: “God help me, I’m beginning to get used to this!” …. I still can’t come to a satisfactory conclusion about my father’s secret life; I still feel surges of anger and pain, but not often. Over the months and years, familiarity overcame shock, and what was once an outrage became another condition of life. By now, if I’m not “over” the discovery that my father had another life, I am at least used to it.
I am watching so many of my long-held assumptions dissolve into a new reality, like dreams in daylight: the assumption that my parents had a complex but traditionally “faithful” marriage; the assumption that my father always wandered the world alone and unloved, a kind of roving monk, until he came home to us; the assumption that my father was by his very nature unable to deceive.
I still miss him, sometimes, and still remember him in detail, but the detail is less sharp now. Of all the people I have known and loved, my father is the one I found most impenetrable.