That tired old “apple never falls far from the tree” narrative is incredibly damaging – something which I know better than anyone…
I always, always used to dread parents evening at school. Not because I was a bad student with shoddy grades – far from it. No, it was because my parents (or, to be fair to my mum, my father) had a habit of causing trouble. The sort of trouble that sticks to you, lingers like a bad smell, and makes people see you in a different light.
There was the time he walked into the school assembly hall with a lit cigarette in his mouth, and refused to put it out when asked by my head-teacher. When she asked him for a second time, he purposefully bent towards her and blew a cloud of acrid blue-grey smoke into her face. Then there was the time he mocked one of my teachers for being overweight, making grunting noises like a pig whenever she looked down at her notes. And let’s not forget the day he was called into the head’s office after he “intervened” in a bullying incident he spotted outside the school grounds. I learned, after eavesdropping on shocked parents, that dad had terrified the young ‘bully’ involved, and left him with a mark on his arm when he’d grabbed him away from the girl he’d been speaking to. The ‘victim’, meanwhile, had denied that any act of bullying had taken place – and insisted that my hot-headed father was beyond crazy.
I believed her. Everyone believed her. This was, after all, the same man who’d told the school receptionist that I was sick when she phoned home to ask why I was missing from school – despite the fact that it was an admin error and I was sat in my English Literature class at that very moment. The man who’d made me travel home from a choir concert in the boot of his overcrowded car, despite the fact there was room on the specially-arranged school bus. And the man who’d noisily mocked my gait when I was presented with an award at the school’s end-of-year assembly, his voice cutting through the applause like a knife.
I grew older, but nothing changed. He insisted on teaching me to drive himself, but absolutely lost his s**t during my first lesson – causing me to panic and veer our car off the road and into a lamppost at full speed (to this day, I have yet to summon up the courage to tackle a driving test). My graduation was a nightmare, resulting in a full-blown shouting match and a lot of tears. My first proper job ended in as disastrous a fashion as you could possibly imagine (my own fault for telling dad about the inappropriate text messages I’d received from my boss, I suppose). And my earliest relationships were crushed in their fledgling status, albeit understandably so. After all, the Girlfriend’s Dad is a classically terrifying trope. I imagine it’s far worse when he nicknames you “c**tface” and refuses to even so much as shake your hand when you offer it up at your first meeting.
Thankfully, though, I’m not Meghan Markle. If my dad gets arrested for “forgetting” he left a machete in his hand luggage, nobody publishes photos of the incident underneath my name. Journalists don’t spend hours digging into every little detail of my mum and dad’s age-old divorce, emblazoning it across newsstands for all the world to see. And my sister doesn’t fill social media with impassioned pleas to my partner, begging him to leave me before it’s too late.
Of course, I’m not famous – but, in my circles, my dad’s exploits certainly are. Rather than blame me for them, though, people tend to view him as an entirely separate entity to myself. Which makes sense as, you know, that is what he absolutely is.
Meghan’s family, on the other hand, have decorated the tabloids for the past few days, weeks and months. The media – and the world – is positively obsessed with her father, Thomas, as well as her half-siblings and cousins (many of whom are reportedly estranged from the Suits star). They have hounded them, berated them and goaded them into giving interviews. They’ve penned countless articles, pretty much all of which tend to go along the lines of “the apple never falls far from the tree” – and trolls have used these stories to support their claims that Meghan isn’t good enough for the royal family. That her marriage is doomed. That she will “bring down” the monarchy. That she will undoubtedly break Prince Harry’s heart. And that she’s a “fame-hungry w***e, just like the rest of her family”.
Of course, it goes without saying that it is absolute nonsense to hold Meghan accountable for her family’s behaviour – or imply that she is in any way to blame for their actions. Every single one of us has a dysfunctional family, and we all have skeletons in our closets. Imagine if, at your next job interview, your potential employer decided to bring up your parents’ divorce as a reason not to hire you. Or the person you loved more than anything in the world decided to leave you, solely because your mother was a Daily Mail reader. Or your best friend terminated your relationship, because your dad made a scene at a bar on the other side of the world.
You’d think it was unfair – and rightly so. You are your own person: you’ve made different choices on how you will face the good times and bad, plus everything in between. And, yes, these experiences leave lasting marks that help you hone certain skills that wouldn’t naturally appear in a vacuum.
Yes, your parents are a big part of your past, but they don’t determine your future. Meghan, much like myself, will have walked her own path, forging the rituals, traditions, habits, and values that make her utterly unique. She will have undergone her own process of growing and learning and processing. And she 100% deserves to be accepted on her own merits – rather than having her personality raked over the coals by thousands of people who don’t know her, solely because her dad did something embarrassing.
After all, whose bloody hasn’t?