The Perfect Family

The idea of a perfect family fascinates us, even if at some level we know there's no such thing. But by imagining that there are those who seem to have everything right, we are setting ourselves up for perpetual disappointment. Especially if we strive to mimic them.

The Perfect Mormon Family

Mormons may be very straight, or else risk the possibility of going far awry.

The perfect Romney clan
Attention in the current Republican contest to gain the nomination to run for president has shifted to the whiteness, straightness, and Mormonism of Mitt Romney (and, to a lesser extent, his far-back competitor John Huntsman).

Among others, Maureen Dowd has spent a good deal of time recently talking about Romney's personality, family, religion.  In a column titled Mitt's Big Love, Dowd says:

At Harvard, Romney was in a nondrinking, nonsmoking, suburban, uxorious bubble with Ann, revolving around Mormon rituals, Mormon couples and the Mormon credo of strong, heterosexual, traditional families.

I should note that I was on the organizational behavior faculty and taught at the Harvard Business School while Romney was a student there.  And people noted exactly Dowd's description about the many Mormon students who attended HBS -- that they stood apart and remained attached to their "homeland" through the local Mormon community.  They didn't smoke, they didn't drink (there was a beer pub right next to my office), and they didn't fool around.

This same detached other-worldliness of the Mormon personality was a central theme in the breakout Broadway hit Book of Mormon, which I described attending with my brother's widow, Alice, who is descended from the highest levels of the Mormon theocracy.  The show has one number that focuses on the other-worldly out-of-touchness that Mormons like Romney often display, which seemingly has to do with the immediacy of the heaven-on-earth attitudes the religion inculcates.

Rather than capitalistic envy for which Romney derides critics of his involvement in Bain Capital, Dowd (who, as a renegade Catholic has never been married) may be most envious of Mitt's love of his wife: "his world, then as now, centers on his faith, his family and, most of all, Ann. Once while he was at Stanford, he missed Ann so much he auctioned off his camel’s hair coat to pay for a trip home to see her."

But Dowd's was not even the Times opinion piece that most directly confronted the Romney Mormon-family mystique.  That would be the column by Lee Siegel (from which the picture above was taken), entitled, "What's Race Got to Do with It?" which describes a Romney "whiteness [that is] grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America."

There are those five perfect, good-looking sons of Mitt's.  In an interview with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, when O'Donnell called Romney and his family “robots,” Meghan McCain said, “They’re not [robots], they’re just Mormon, which is a little different."  John McCain's daughter then said she had been obsessed with Mitt's five sons, and how "perfect and beautiful" they were compared with her own family.

How do the Mormon candidates (including John Huntsman) produce such perfect, beautiful, well-behaved and overall successful families?  And don't we all envy them?

That's up to each individual reader to decide for him or herself.  But, when Mormon families go wrong, mayhem may ensue.  Readers may recall that the Osmonds were the perfect Mormon entertainment family -- until things blew up there, most notably with Marie Osmond.  Marie has been married three times, including remarrying her first husband.  She has reported her own emotional traumas in her revelatory memoir, Behind the Smile.

Since that book appeared, Osmond revealed that her oldest daughter, Jessica, is a lesbian who lives with her girlfriend in Los Angeles.  More distressingly, Osmond's son Michael committed suicide in 2010 by jumping from his Los Angeles apartment building.

There are indications that, when people from well-ordered religious and social backgrounds get off that track, they have a tendency to be especially reckless or disoriented.  There is evidence for this in the case of drinking and alcoholism.  Conservative Christian (Protestant) sects are often abstemious -- like the Mormons.  But when they do drink, they then often do so excessively.  As I wrote about different groups' approaches to alcohol,

Within the United States, proscriptive groups include conservative Protestant sects and, often corresponding to such religious groupings, dry political regions. If those in such groups drink, they are at high risk for drinking excessively, because there are no norms to prescribe moderate consumption. This same phenomenon is seen in national drinking surveys, in which groups with high abstinence rates also display higher-than-average problem-drinking rates, at least among those who are exposed to alcohol.

So, it may be that trying to maintain a pristine family in contemporary society requires either the strictest adherence to isolating the family from broader societal influences, or else risking the possibility of things going very much awry -- or does that merely mean facing the risks of being human?

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The Perfect Family