Kamala Harris Will Make History. So Will Her ‘Big, Blended’ Family.

16HARRISEMHOFFS print1 facebookJumbo v2

When Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, she will represent many firsts: First woman vice president. First Black woman. First woman of Indian descent. But there is another milestone that will be on display: that of her family.

As Ms. Harris ascends to this barrier-breaking role, with her loved ones looking on, millions of Americans will see a more expansive version of the American family staring back at them — one that could broaden rigid ideas of politically palatable family dynamics or gender roles.

Her family is ready for the moment. Ms. Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, has been sporting a “Vice President Aunty” T-shirt in the lead-up. Her stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, an art student in New York, planned to knit a suit for the occasion (she opted for a dress). Kerstin Emhoff, the mother of Ms. Harris’s stepchildren — yes, Ms. Harris and her husband’s ex are friends — may tuck a sprig of sage in her purse; she is quite sure the Capitol could use a smudging.

And, of course, Ms. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, will be there — proud husband, supportive vice-presidential spouse, likely to be snapping photos of his wife as he begins his own history-making role as the nation’s first Second Gentleman (and now with the Twitter handle to prove it).

Which, of course, she shouldn’t have to do. But such expectations can mean there is not much room to stray from a narrow definition of family — which makes the Harris-Emhoff family all the more significant.

“It’s striking,” said Ralph Richard Banks, a law professor at Stanford who has written about race, gender and family patterns. “In some ways they are at the frontier of different aspects of American families and how they’re changing.”

Some might say they are reflective of where Americans already are. Today, the number of couples who are in an interracial marriage is around one in six, a figure that, along with the number of interfaith marriages, has been increasing since 1967, according to Pew.

Ms. Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, was raised with both Christian and Hindu practices, while her husband, who is white, grew up attending Jewish summer camp. (At their wedding, Ms. Harris took part in the Jewish ritual of smashing a glass.)

She was in her 40s when they married; older than the median age of first marriage for women in this country, though that number continues to rise.

Mr. Emhoff was divorced, with two children from his previous marriage, making his kids among the one in four who do not live with both biological parents, according to the Census Bureau. Ms. Harris did not have children. Many Americans do not, as fertility rates have reached a record low. She has often said that being “Momala” to her stepchildren is the role “that means the most” to her.

“People have more choices,” Professor Banks said. “That’s a society-wide change, but it’s often not as visible in positions of power.”

In that speech, Ms. Harris noted that family is not only blood, but “the family you choose.” Hers includes her best friend, Chrisette Hudlin, to whose children she is godmother. It was Ms. Hudlin who introduced Ms. Harris to the “funny, self-deprecating” entertainment lawyer who’d become her husband.

Mr. Emhoff was born in New York and raised in New Jersey and suburban Los Angeles, the son of Barb and Mike, a stay-at-home mom and a shoe designer who, more recently, were the founders of a “Grandparents for Biden” Facebook group.

For 16 years, he was married to Kerstin Emhoff, with whom he shares Cole, 26, and Ella, 21, named for John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald.

As Kerstin tells it, the Emhoffs had a pretty traditional marriage: Doug handled the finances, she did the domestic stuff. Both worked full-time. “That was part of our connection — we were both passionate career people,” said Ms. Emhoff.

The children were in elementary and middle school when their parents split, and Doug moved into an apartment nearby. They alternated weeks at their dad’s house — calling themselves the “Palazzo Crew” after the name of his apartment complex, learning to manage for themselves the things that their mother had long taken care of.

Like dinner.

Most nights they would head to the deli counter at Whole Foods for sandwiches — until Mr. Emhoff decided that the family needed to eat better. They tried cooking, at first, but quickly came up with a better solution, Cole explained: home-cooked meals that somebody else would bring to your door.

This was before delivery apps were widely available. Blue Apron didn’t exist yet. So it was basically “a Craigslist-type situation,” Cole said. “We would just have these Tupperwares of, like, random spaghetti that were, like, stained red, that someone would bring to the house — and he’d be like, ‘Homemade dinner, guys!’”

The family likes to talk about how Ms. Harris — known for her cooking skill — changed that. Over the years, Cole said, he has seen his dad transform “into, like, actually a good cook.”

Mr. Emhoff is poised to become the first male member of the very small group of White House spouses — a role that has no job description, no salary and no formal duties.

Traditionally, first and second ladies have played the role of hostess: decorating for the holidays, presiding over luncheons, submitting family recipes to a magazine’s annual “First Lady Cookie Contest.”

There have been plenty of first and second ladies who have focused on more robust work, and specific policy, too: In recent years, they have turned their attention to childhood literacy (Laura Bush), healthy eating (Michelle Obama), and military families (Jill Biden). Melania Trump started a“Be Best” campaign aimed at tackling bullying.

But unspoken rules have remained. Namely: Stay in your lane. Eleanor Roosevelt, instrumental to brokering New Deal policy, was famously told she should “stick to her knitting,” and that sentiment has endured.

Professor Elder, a professor of political science at Hartwick College and co-author of the book “American Presidential Candidate Spouses,” called it the “new traditionalism”: the idea that Americans prefer spouses who are active and visible in support of their partners (the new part), but who don’t veer outside of their supporting roles (the traditional part).“Even though women are now doing everything, people’s expectations for presidential and vice-presidential spouses are very traditional,” she said. “Americans are very split on whether they should even have a career — and they really don’t want them being a policy adviser.”

Both Jill Biden and Karen Pence continued to teach while their husbands served as vice president — and as first lady, Dr. Biden will become the first one to maintain a full-time job. Her vice-presidential counterpart, Mr. Emhoff, has given up his professional work — taking a permanent leave from his job as an entertainment lawyer. It’s slightly more complicated than a purely feminist act — there were questions about whether his job might present a conflict of interest — but it can simultaneously be read as either utterly conformist or absolutely radical, Professor Elder said.

“To see a man take on the role is surprising, thrilling, and a little bit disorienting since it challenges long-held assumptions,” she said.

And while he has not yet announced what his focus in Washington will be — though he is planning to teach a class at Georgetown Law — he recently met with a historian at the Library of Congress to better understand the role of second partners over time.

His daughter hopes he might consider taking up knitting.

When their “big, blended” family, as Ella has described them, gathers this week in Washington, it will be the first time they’ve all seen each other in more than two months.

The last time was the week of the election, gathered at a house in Delaware, where the news was on every screen, and Ms. Harris kept saying — at least in the beginning: “This is great, right? Don’t you love being here? Don’t you love all being together?”

They passed the time with games, karaoke, food — and waited, anxiously, for the official results of an election that would catapult this family unit to a greater level of visibility. “There was one night that just turned into a dance party,” Cole said.

In other words, just a family hanging out — hoping for history to be made.

Before then, siblings Cole and Ella had pretty much managed to go about their normal lives without mentioning to many people who their family was, or who they were about to become.

“It’s not one of those things you can bring up casually,” Ella said. “Like how do I normally say, ‘Yeah, my dad’s a lawyer. My mom’s a producer. My stepmom’s … the vice president.’”

Now that the bubble has burst, there are certain things they’re still trying to get used to.

Doug will remain “Doug” to his kids — a habit they picked up when they were young and has gone on too long to stop now.

Ms. Harris is still “Momala” to her stepchildren and “Auntie” to her nieces, nephews and godchildren. And Meena Harris has learned not to experiment with calling her aunt “Kamala.”

“She will whip her head around. She’s like, ‘My name is Auntie, and I will not have you calling me Kamala!’”

She’s got a new name, anyway, Meena said: Madam V.P. Auntie.

Author: desi123

Desi123.com is an online news portal that aims to provide the latest trendy news for Asians living in Asia and around the World.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *