Realistically we know no relationship is perfect, especially the relationships we have with our families. They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. My father has not talked to his siblings in years and three out of the five are dead and the rest are in their late 80’s. My father can’t accurately state what it was that drove them apart. The wedge that was forced into the heart of my father’s family was powerful enough to keep the siblings apart forever. I see elements of regret, even remorse when my father speaks about his family, even after so many years, the hurt is still there. Perhaps because it is family. They say blood is thicker than water and a hurt within family hurts deeper than any other. In one sense, you can never walk away from your family, even if the steps you take, take you clear across the country and to a far distant city. Your family is still with you, by way of shared experiences and at some point shared values and a shared intimacy, even if that all ended, when as young person you decided to walk away and never looked back. Blood is blood.
What is it about a family relationship that creates such a hotbed of tension? In the case of my father, he talked about money, jealously and dysfunction that began with his parents. Sometimes it can be a slight or it can be the marriage to a person who will never be accepted into the family fold, which causes the destruction. Whatever the cause, nothing displays this tragic disarray better than Brooke Astor’s family. Plastered all over the papers, from the revered New York Times to the daily rags, we are witnessing the unraveling of Brooke Astor’s family. It is hard to believe that Brooke Astor, truly one of the most beloved philanthropic individuals in New York Society, could have been the catalyst for the manifestation of such vitriol unfolding in the papers.
Anyone who had a chance to meet Brooke Astor, not only felt anointed but also felt the caring and warmth that she shared the littlest of people. Well into her 80’s, Brooke Astor was still at the focal point in the elite social circles of New York Society. Many parties were given in her honor over many years, simply because tagging her name to such an event caused much money to be donated. She knew it and she used her power to generate millions of dollars for charities across the city. She treated New York Public Library as her home and for a long time, when you talked of one, you naturally talked of the other. It was Brooke Astor’s money that helped turn the library around after a very bleak period in the 70’s. Mrs.Astor and New York Public Library were as one. She was like that to a lot of institutions, namely the Metropolitan Museum.
Interestingly the maxim “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family” rings like a clear bell when talking about Brooke Astor. It is her friends who remained loyal to her during her declining years and now even in death. Fiercely, they stand by her symbolic side to protect her integrity and intentions. The fight that is currently taking place in court today, is a brutal one. It pits family against family, severing a bond of familial love that will never be mended. It also pits Brooke Astor’s son Anthony against Brooke Astor’s closest and devoted friend Annette de la Renta. Always one to be the center of attention, it is hard to imagine what Brooke Astor might think of about the legal battle being waged in her name.
Please join Meryl Gordon as she discusses her book Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach on Monday June 1st at 6:30 PM, at the Mid-Manhattan Library.