Of Wes, the NY Times, and “The Hiccupping Fluidity of the Family in the Modern World”

Today’s NYT-Wesleyan connection (okay, fine, this article appeared in yesterday’s paper) is the first in “an occasional series profiling individual New York families.” Its subject, you may have gathered, is not the traditional American family.

Meet Caroline Einhorn ’84, a nonprofit fund-raiser, formerly a singer and songwriter, presently a 48-year-old single mother in Brooklyn whose 18-month-old son, Griffin, was conceived in 2008 via in vitro fertilization. The sperm donor and part-time babysitter but not-quite-father is George Russel ’83, a good friend and chiropractor whom Einhorn met after graduating from Wesleyan, where he majored in Dance and COL. Add to the mix David, Russel’s domestic partner of a few years, and you’ve got an overview of this family’s dizzying, and exciting, experiment beyond the boundaries of the conventional nuclear family:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday nights, Mr. Russell stays in the spare room of Ms. Einhorn’s apartment. The other three days he lives on President Street with his domestic partner, David Nimmons, 54, an administrator at a nonprofit. Most Sundays, they all have dinner together.

Two addresses, three adults, a winsome toddler and a mixed-breed dog officially named Buck the Dog. None of this was the familial configuration any of them had imagined, but it was, for the moment, their family. It was something they had stumbled into, yet had a certain revisionist logic.

Such is the hiccupping fluidity of the family in the modern world. [ . . . ] And so here on Plaza Street, four people are testing the fuzzy boundaries of an age-old institution, knowing there is no single answer to what defines family or what defines love.

N. R. Kleinfield’s sprawling 4,000-word portrait—appropriately subtitled  “Mom, Sperm Donor, Lover, Child”—discusses everything from Russel’s view of the arrangement (“he saw the sperm donation as a favor to a friend . . . ‘I certainly don’t want to be the child’s parent,’ he said”) to Einhorn’s mother’s judgment (“‘though I recognize that male companionship is important to Carol, I think he’s a little bit taking advantage of it'”), with a bit about the Middletown (where else?) roots of Einhorn and Russel’s unique relationship:

Mr. Russell had been a year ahead at Wesleyan. They bumped into each other after graduation and became great friends. She thinks of him as a brother, especially since her actual brother is a troubled recluse she has no contact with.

[ . . . ]

He came out in college, and afterward was a modern dancer, with a side job as a legal secretary. At 34, he returned to school, and four years later became a chiropractor.

And, too, some fascinating vignettes about what makes that relationship tick well outside the contours of traditional parenthood or dating or marriage or what-have-you:

They were soul mates, that was for sure. She remembered that first time she visited her father’s grave, in the icy rain, and he came along. The name on the tombstone was obscured by an overgrown bush. Mr. Russell knelt down and pruned it, making it right.

“I’ve ended up in an unconventional setup, and it’s a setup that agrees with me,” she said. “Sure I want love, I want intimacy, I want romance, but is this desire to get married a beautiful dress that just doesn’t fit? I look at my married friends and there aren’t many I’m jealous of. Some of them say they’re jealous of me.”

Here’s the full six-page article, well worth (at least) the skim.

[New York Times]

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