Emmy Rossum and her fiance, Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail (Sidenote: have any of you watched that past the first season? The twist made me mad so much I stopped), were in the audience recently for an interview on Katie Couric’s show with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Sandberg’s cowriter, psychologist Adam Grant. Sandberg is promoting her new book, Plan B, which details how her life changed after the sudden death of her husband, David Goldberg, in 2015. Sandberg became a single mom to two children and that experience profoundly changed the way she viewed opportunities for women, causing her to realize that her first book, Lean In, ignored the role of single parents in the workforce. Rossum, who was raised by a single mom, was moved by Sandberg’s interview and she penned a long essay on Facebook about coming to terms with her childhood. It’s unclear what happened to Rossum’s dad and why he wasn’t in her life, but she writes that she still finds it painful to be without a father and that she’s gone through therapy to try to deal with it. Her openness is refreshing and you can tell she’s still processing her feelings. The essay is long and I’m just going to include some of it but you can read the whole thing here.
As public people, there is struggle with how much to share. How much to hold sacred within ourselves. Also, as actors, we ask ourselves is it better to hold some of ourselves private so that people might forget about the real “us” when watching a character?
If we’re being honest, though… as people, public or not, it’s sometimes hard to share. With anyone. Even those closest to us. The idea of butting up against and sharing our own vulnerabilities — not the ones we can cloak behind a character — is intimidating. What if they don’t really like me anymore? What if they see this as weakness? If I say this, I can’t take it back.
So this morning as I woke up thinking a lot about the talk and how it affected me personally — I cried a few times listening to Sheryl and Adam speak! — and with the strength of Sheryl’s story guiding me, I felt compelled to write this post.
The talk really hit me hard when Sheryl and Katie Couric (who lost her husband Jay to colon cancer when her daughters were 2 and 6) spoke about suddenly becoming single moms. How they never realized how hard it really was, how ostracizing it can feel for children. How hallmark holidays like “Father’s Day” and activities like the school “Father Daughter Dance” which once seemed like happy, easy, fun traditions suddenly became almost suffocatingly painful.
When they talked about this, I reached over and grabbed Sam’s hand and squeezed.
I had a single mom. I have a single mom. This isn’t a secret. Growing up in a school — and a world — filled with mostly two parent units was difficult for me. Father’s Day still is difficult for me. I’m not really sure how to celebrate. In the weeks leading up to it, I sense it coming like a wave approaching. Sometimes I try to ignore it — but the ads in the paper or online banner ads for “Macy’s Fathers Day Cologne Sale!” and restaurants selling “Father’s Day Brunch Mimosas!” can make that pretty tricky. Sometimes, I take my mom to brunch and get her a present, to show her how much I value her. She really was both a mother and a father for me. I don’t like her to know that it still causes me pain — 30 years later — lest she feel somehow that she wasn’t enough. She was always enough. She is enough. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but for me she was the best mom ever.
Katie Couric said after Jay died she tried to get the school to get rid of the title “Father Daughter’ dance, and call it “Friend Dance” or anything else that would feel more inclusive. The school said it was tradition and kept it “Father Daughter Dance.”
Some of these traditions are really hard for those of us who don’t have. Even today, the idea of no father/daughter dance at my wedding. No father to walk me down the aisle. All of these “traditions” are painful reminders that inadvertently re-injure us, causing a feeling of loss, jealously (of others who have what I didn’t), anger and confusion. Usually leading to us feel somehow inadequate.
But if there’s any upside to this widespread loss — it is knowing that there are more kids that are LIKE YOU. And LIKE ME. And now there’s a place to talk about all this stuff. And lots of other stuff…
So I suppose this is a public thank you note of sorts. To my friends, who write me on father’s day and check in to see how I’m doing. To my therapist, who has helped me through things in my life and bolstered my spirit and self-confidence. To my mother, who was and is enough.
There’s a kind of power in being open about your issues and I bet that’s doubly true for famous people. You get the impression that this is a big step for Emmy to put this out there. This is the type of thing I might write on a whim, put on Facebook for my friends and then delete it after I thought about it. Emmy heard Sheryl speak and it touched something in her that she wanted to share. It’s both freeing and scary to be open, but the more I try it, and the more celebrities do it, the more I realize that those deep seated problems only have control over me when I keep them secret. This isn’t an issue I have faced, I was raised by both parents, but I imagine all the people who are nodding as they read this, just as Sheryl’s talk resonated with Emmy. Sharing our secrets and fears can bring us together.
photos credit: Getty