Subject: Nachum asked some questions
9 Jan 2003
A] You asked about when the family breakup occurred, and how long I stayed with the commune. I have several very clear memories of how all this happened, but am not exactly sure about the dates. I have written these here, and am sending a copy to your brothers, although they did not requested this, and who may, or, may not, be content to receive it. [This is by way or notifying them, that this contains unsolicited information.]
As for the larger picture, I am very, very sorry that your Mom and I could not have gotten along better, because such splits work serious difficulties on everybody, most of all, the children. I am also very sad that I did not, or, could not have discussed these things at the time, or, closer to the time with you: but you and your brothers have always shown a deep reluctance to open up this issue, perhaps with good reason.
So, I will try to answer Nachum's question as to the dates, but I have some very specific recollections that go deeper. These memories, incidently, do NOT justify my actions, but do show the great divide that existed. I can recall these, if anybody wishes to know more, at this time.
I also wrote up a public account ["Fatherhood and My Rebirth as a Man"] of how I started to become from scratch, 'a custodial parent.' Since this was published in a book [entitled, "Men in Difficult Times: 1981] I will mail, by separate 'snail mail,' a copy of this short article.
I have consulted my brain, Susan and Elliott, and some records, and the best dates I come up with is this:
My Dad died in February, 1974, and Allan separated from Naomi that year. I came to see that Allen could never have left while Bib was alive.. ..
I was unhappy in my marriage, too, but I did not know how to change [improve] it. I tried many avenues, such as therapy. One weekend your Mom and I went to New York and stayed in a hotel, with little success. But I had never faced making the 'Big Change.' So Allan's separation seems, in retrospect, to have emboldened me: the whole world had not ended with his divorce.
I was into the Men's Movement [suggested by Myrna] which was also emboldening; plus couple's therapy with Carl Drobness, in Montclair [that's where I met Annette Evans and Harold]. And then, one day, Myrna suggested that we join a commune. I agreed, thinking, if she had problems with me [too many outside civic committees, not enough helping out at home] then the others would help to shape me up ! and, living with others would take her 'off my case.' These others could act as a buffer.
So sometime in 1974 we joined up with the commune people: it was a way to hold on to the marriage. The planning went on for many, many months. Myrna and I also traveled, hopefully, to France and Spain in the summer of 1974. But I found some aspects of that trip unbearable.
Finally, probably in 1975, the commune planning went into its last phases: Susan asked everyone to 'put up or shut up.' That is, bring a deposit on a house to the next meeting, or, don't come. Our friends, Arthur and Judy Goldberg [from the 'Jewish Group'] backed out, as did another dozen people, leaving a core. [The Berkowitzes, Jill and Justin plus Steve and the Danzigs.]
Near the end of planning, as we were looking for a place to rent, Myrna told me she was not going to join up. Stunned, I paused a moment, then said, "Well, I am going..." The exchange was as simple, opaque and uncommunicative, as that.
Of course nobody at the commune believed me, but I persisted. [I have a vivid memory of how I announced this change to the commune members.] I insisted that the commune find a house within walking distance of Edgemont Road and, over the next six weeks, we did. Myrna became quite upset [of course] and you [Nick] were with me on one occasion when I was loading up the car, as she asked me NOT to have the commune move so close to the Goldberg's, on Midland Avenue. I told her that that was a decision for the commune to make, and this discussion became heated, and physical. You may have some memory of that.
The deal, as I recall, was this: Myrna would have custodial responsibility for the boys at home, and I would have you just for the weekends [Friday, Saturday and Sunday] and Wednesday. I paid child-support: this arrangement lasted about six months.
Then, sometime later in 1975, or possibly 1976, Myrna said that it was impossible for a woman to make it alone with three kids in the suburbs, and she wanted to move to NYC. She would take over custodial payments to me, and I acceeded to her wishes. Rather than have you-all move into the commune [which was already experiencing difficulties] I moved out, and back into Edgemont Road. I thought it wise NOT to break up your continuity of living at home.
I checked these dates out with Susan and Elliott [they think the commune started early in 1996]. Susan stayed there about a full year, when finally, it fell apart. She remembers that when the commune started, Genna was two years old, and Genna is now 29: so this was 27 years ago. I remember that Nick was 6 and Gabriel 14 years old.
I also found some notes of conversations between Myrna and me, and between David Berkowitz and me in my datebook of 1974, relating to this period. If you want to see these, I can sent them on. They show an unhappy couple trying, unsuccessfully, to work things out. I also have a memory of how the 'news' was broken to the boys, and how upset you became.
B] Regarding your second question, when did Myrna stop teaching and travel to Mexico, I am less certain. I had tried to stay in touch with her, but she joined up with a group of women [some quite noteable, such as the feminist author, Susan Warhoftig, from Cornell]. She wished to have very little to do with me, although she continued to see you boys every other weekend, plus dinner on Wednesdays. Her custodial payments to me were no longer forthcoming.
Wednesdays, of course, Myrna visited Montclair, teaching at State College. I knew little about her, but learned that she was starting her dissertation on, "Runaway Mothers," for her Ph. D., at Rutgers, The State University, and interviewing women who were pursuing that option. She moved from New York and moved to that lakeside community in northern New Jersey, around this time, if memory serves. It was kind of primitive, and I think she lived there several summers, and one winter.
One September day, perhaps in 1977, or, 1978, I received a phone call from 'Thunder' Haas, formerly Ron, a member of the Education Department at Montclair, and serving as the Chair. I knew him as a special friend of your Mom's and listened as he told me that Myrna had missed the Registration and several classes, and, if she did not return to teaching 'next week,' she would be referred for dismissal or suspension. I had little or nothing to answer, and memory fails to reveal how I eventually found out that she was with a group ['convoy,' I was told] of women driving station wagons and vans, who were driving down to Mexico. Sounded pretty adventuresome to me ! and therefore unlike the woman I had known. But I did not know how to get in touch with her.
In fact, I never learned how she was reinstated at the College.
C] I am now 67 years old, and have bittersweet memories of my life. Perhaps foremost among the things I wish I could have done differently would be having had some open discussions of these events with my kids, so that these disruptive events could have been understood better. My meager, and clumsy, efforts were always met with understandable resistance, however. I believe, and learned, largely from Susan, that almost any difficulty or emotional ache can be softened, if not made to disappear, in time, by talking it over.
Therefore, I am taking this opportunity of being asked for some dates by Nachum, to elaborate a little, and to send this response on to Gavriel and Henry, as well. I hope this does not cause any increased agita, now, after all these years.
I also found some notes from 1974, as I mentioned, which have the merit of having been written down at the time, should anyone want to see these.
Basically, I am very pleased and proud of what each of you, our sons, are doing with your lives: firmly in chosen fields, with families and/or friends and finding respect in your chosen communities. That is about all any parents can hope for. As your Mom said to me several years ago: "We must have done something right.. .. .."
I am always open to hear the thoughts of each of you, on this or any subject, now, or in the future.
With much love, many wishes for your continued happiness and health, and accomplishments in your work, now and in the years ahead .. .. ... Dad