This is a blog about family law and, candidly the Chris Wallace interview with Jane Fonda on Sunday did not touch directly on family law. But the interview resonated with this writer because of a dialogue I am having with a woman who recently asked me whether she should divorce her husband.
I told the prospective client that her question was beyond my grasp. I did have opinions but in my view it is not the place of any lawyer to opine on something as intimate as a marital relationship. The prospective client was devoting a lot of energy to proving to me that she was entitled to terminate the relationship. I kept saying that these were her facts and this was her choice. In a no-fault world, she did not need to convince any judge or lawyer of her right to call her marriage “quits.”
What made the CNN interview so fascinating to me is that Jane Fonda is the epitome of the empowered woman. Seven academy award nominations and an AFI Lifetime award. In 1972 she appalled most of America by going to North Vietnam and condemning the war while it was in progress. Ten years later, she launched an exercise video business that sold 17 million copies. Along the way she was married to such disparate men as director Roger Vadim, political activist Tom Hayden and media mogul Ted Turner.
Yet the Wallace interview allowed Fonda to reveal how fragile all of her relationships were and how her inability to ever really connect with her father affected how she viewed the men she married and her relationships with her own children. At age 85 she is at peace with that now while still harboring regrets about her own skills as a parent.
In 40 years of counseling clients, I cannot count how many times a client has said that what the client wanted was not a divorce but “change.” As time has passed, I have come to realize that often their spouse may not have either the capacity or the power to change. If that is the case, there is only Yogi Berra’s aptly put “fork in the road.” You need to take it and carve a new life or accept that change is probably beyond your power.
The televised interview reveals that Jane never connected with her famous father even when the two were cast as father and child in 1981’s “On Golden Pond.” Here was a screenplay written explicitly about life relationships and Jane Fonda concludes her father saw it as just another movie. She adds that this lack of connection informed how she treated her own marriages and her own parenting.
To some degree we come to all relationships including marriage as “cooked cakes.” And much as we like to profess that we will avoid the pitfalls of parenting we observed in our parents, many of us can’t help replicating some of that conduct. What was fascinating to see was an active, self-actuated, politically involved woman, approaching the end of life while assessing the choices she made and how those choices were affected by her childhood. Empowerment begins with a candid assessment of what you perceive you can and cannot do and awareness of how your life experience speaks to those perceptions. Then it comes time to chart a course so that you can try to negotiate a life “without regrets.”
Here it is: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=jane+fonda+wallace+interview&&view=detail&mid=62644F7FE3AD96436C2D62644F7FE3AD96436C2D&&FORM=VRDGAR&ru=%2Fvideos%2Fsearch%3Fq%3Djane%2520fonda%2520wallace%2520interview%26qs%3Dn%26form%3DQBVR%26%3D%2525eManage%2520Your%2520Search%2520History%2525E%26sp%3D-1%26pq%3Djane%2520fonda%2520wallace%2520interview%26sc%3D10-28%26sk%3D%26cvid%3D69673B206D7D460A9AB280C1E2CF2192%26ghsh%3D0%26ghacc%3D0%26ghpl%3D
A couple notes to add. These issues are not unique to women, but men seem to struggle less with the matter of whether they are “entitled” to end a marriage. Meanwhile, in editing this I noted that in using the word “quits” when discussing the prospective end of a marriage I find that both men and women struggle with the concept that divorce is a sign of failure.