Families are complicated. Modern families are, often, substantially more complicated. And, as media coverage of Meghan Markle’s new appointment into the royal family maintains torrential levels, there’s arguably no one more aware of this right now than Meghan Markle herself.
“Meghan Markle’s father Thomas says he will consider flying to England to make amends with his daughter,” the Evening Standard said this week. The Daily Mail pontificated that her father would “travel to Britain” to see Meghan “whether [he is] invited or not”. The headlines are the take-outs of a widely criticised interview Thomas Markle gave to The Sun On Sunday this weekend, in which he said that Meghan appeared “terrified” while fulfilling royal protocol, remarking that she had a “pained smile”. He told the newspaper that he wanted to make amends with his daughter. “I had a heart attack, doesn’t anybody care?” Markle asked. “I could actually die soon. Does she want this to be the last thing we’ve said to each other?”
Markle, who was originally positioned to walk Meghan down the aisle during her May wedding to Prince Harry, says he has been “shunned” by the royal family since he failed to attend the event. Markle called off his trip due to health reasons just as a royal minder was preparing to take him to the airport – yet onlookers speculated that his absence was certainly complicated by the fact that he profited from a staged photoshoot set up by the media days before his daughter’s wedding. According to his latest interview, Thomas Markle is baffled that he has since been ex-communicated.
While the particulars of this situation are hardly relatable, to anyone who has a modern family the situation is significantly less baffling. And to anyone who has spent their life dodging emotional bullets fired by a badly behaving father, it’s textbook. While we don’t (and, quite frankly, shouldn’t) know the history of Meghan and Thomas Markle’s relationship, it’s not difficult to spot the tell-tale signs of a fraught parental relationship.
Adult daughters make their own decisions about how much time and how much effort they give to people who have shown themselves to be undeserving of their attention
Of course, the media don’t want to leave it alone. It would, perhaps, at this point, be naive to suggest that they should. Family rifts and royals are heartland tabloid fodder and, besides, Thomas Markle is making it easy for them, isn’t he? But, beyond the daily headlines, an all-too-familiar story is playing out: the idea that a daughter owes her father time or love or forgiveness, regardless of his behaviour.
It’s simply not the case any more. Harking back to days of yore, a woman relied on her father, and then her husband, in a very literal sense. During a time when women weren’t allowed to work or to make decisions about their own lives, male familial figures owned the power; there were very few real terms repercussions to their actions back then. Now, divorce is the norm and plenty of families don’t fit the traditional mould. Moreover, women are not beholden. Daughters are not beholden. And adult daughters make their own decisions about how much time and how much effort they give to people who have shown themselves to be undeserving of their attention.
For Meghan Markle, the situation is, of course, endlessly complicated – more so than we will ever know. But, what is clear – no matter how much the public speculate over Thomas Markle’s attempts to emotionally blackmail his daughter, or his apparent disregard for whether she wants to make amends or not – is that Meghan is not responsible for his behaviour. Daughters of absent fathers make up their own minds on when to forgive. Even when they’re royal daughters.