We are currently on holiday (well, a long weekend) in Groningen. We’re camping – an important first time for the kids – with Gert & José Datema, whose farm, campsite and B&B I first visited in 1993 and which I would definitely recommend. We made the classic mistake of going there on Friday evening after work, setting off to arrive around 9pm, just in time to put up the tent by the last daylight. This obviously didn’t work – a tent we didn’t know well, rapid nightfall, exhausted but non-sleeping kids, incessant unsolicited advice from fellow campers – all circumstances that were to be expected but hadn’t been, and which together led us to give up after two hours, and stay in the farm house. One thing I’m always really proud of (indeed smug about) in such adversity is: we never argue in those events.
I’m currently deeply immersed in the Roosevelts and their marriage, which was no doubt troubled, but I think that like us, they were not the types to fight in the stress of beginning to relax (certainly not openly, but my guess would be not at all). For one thing they didn’t go camping on a field with five to ten other families like we do. They had their own vacation island off the coast of Canada – Campobello – with their own cottage, yacht, and personnel who would travel ahead to prepare these for their arrival. So the circumstances were easier, at least so they seem from my vantage point (although admittedly, there were five children to be reckoned with…).
More importantly, however, like most families in those days (broadly: the 1910s to 1940s) they did not usually go there together. ER and the children would spend weeks or even months there during the summer, while FDR came over on (some) weekends. Like most men, he couldn’t (or in his case rather: didn’t want to) take weeks off from work and that also simply just wasn’t part of his role description as a husband or father.
Generally speaking their marriage was organized according to a different interpretation of what marriage meant. Of course having an affair with someone else – as FDR had – wasn’t part of their deal either, but once that had happened and a degree of estrangement between them had set in (I don’t know in which order) there was a great deal of leeway for both of them to stay together without having to be in each other’s way. In fact, in the aftermath of FDR’s affair (1916-1918) and his polio attack (1921), which actually happened on Campobello Island, they learned to work incredibly well together in a way that was an odd mixture between public and private, official and officious, political and depoliticizing. But more about that soon.