By Joan Larsen
Back in those long-ago teenage years – when dreaming seemed to be a major pre-occupation –the newspapers were filled with the lives of the rich and famous. “Oh,” I am sure I must have thought, “oh, to live the life of a Rockefeller!!” The grainy black-and-white newspaper photos of their mansions, their travel, their stunning looks in a continuing succession of formal dress, was a world we would not know. But the images seemed to remain, tantalizingly beyond our reach.
For those of us who now have actually acknowledged that we are in what is nicely called “mid-life”, we long have realized that the Rockefeller name has largely disappeared from the front page. The Rockefeller “profile” has all but disappeared in the public eye. A little research has shown that each member of the family seems to have an important cause or causes that they (and their wealth) stand behind. It is quite impressive, in fact. But the times of openly flaunting their wealth for now seems to be over.
But, in the most revealing memoir, the youngest of David Rockefeller’s six children, and great-granddaughter of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, Eileen Rockefeller opens wide the French doors of her life, shedding light on what it was like growing up in one of America’s wealthiest and most powerful families.
Being A Rockefeller, Becoming Myself is a powerful “read,” bursting any bubbles I had had of the glories of life as a Rockefeller. What does any child need more than anything else as the years go on? Love and caring from her parents would be my answer. But Eileen’s father David was not around – busy in the boardroom. Her mother had severe depression and mercurial mood swings in an era when those things were not discussed or understood, heavily impacting the mother-child relationship. There was tremendous competition among all the children. The impact on a child who could not understand why she was so much alone was enormous.
At school she did not want her last name used… but of course it was. Young children, knowing no better, would not ask her to play with them. Instead, they would ask how much money her family had. Adulation, judgment, envy, and constant curiosity were harbored over the Rockefeller name she carried. She was pulled from more than one school to find her niche. But she never really did. Her personal self-esteem was miniscule.
We hear of the good moments – the memorable moments – the stories when life was good in those growing-up years. There were compensating times, of course, in her life. That was to be expected no matter what. But, to me, those moments could never make up for the absence of love from family that eventually made her seek help.
From a young age, she was seeing what was to be one of many therapists. I am guessing that journal writing – spilling out all that lay within her – was the seed that became Eileen’s memoir of today. I have found that writing it out can become the catharsis needed to be able to move on.
Now, at age 61, she remains married to Paul Growald, the outstanding man she had found much earlier in life. Her two boys are now grown. But it is so obvious that her married adult life was to be far different than the life she had grown up with. I believe that bringing up her children with that same love of nature that seems embedded in Eileen… and filled with a family life of love and caring hopefully assures that the next generation of Rockefellers — her children — will be far more attuned to what should be the balance of work and love… all part and parcel of what most of us would consider a warm and stable adult life.
Eileen Rockefeller, I find, is a lovely person, a woman – who after years of self-discovery – has found herself, become confident within her own skin. I believe she is looking forward to the next chapter in life, feeling that it just might be wonderful!
It is evident to me that Eileen is dedicated to her family’s legacy… but, to me — more importantly, has now found her own balance and peace of mind.
Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself was open and honest. But her final words seemed to sum up her looking back at her own life:
It doesn’t matter if we have money or don’t have money; we still suffer in our own ways. And the net worth of our bank account is not nearly so important, ultimately, as our own self-worth.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”