Review of “Global Mom: A Memoir”

Global Mom: A Memoir, by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

Global Mom: A Memoir, by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

Years ago J. Stapley sat in my office at my Salt Lake City law firm and we discussed Mormon history. We agreed that our richest and most faith-affirming history is often — virtually always — found in memoirs or journals, in the lives and experiences of our own ancestors or other Mormons who have gone before.

My favorite “Mormon” book of 2013 (the Joseph Smith Papers Project releases notwithstanding) was Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s Global Mom: A Memoir. The book wasn’t written as a specifically Mormon memoir or as a piece of historical writing about Mormonism — it is skilfully written for a general audience. The narrative contains a few isolated specific references to her Mormon faith, culture, and religious life. Otherwise, Dalton-Bradford’s Mormonism is in the background as a constant anchor steadying her life through good and (very) bad times — it is simply the religious framework of her life discussed in general terms that make it meaningful to a general audience who will be able to relate to the peace available in their own lives through their own religious faith.

Dalton-Bradford began her career singing in musicals in New York City while also raising two children in New Jersey. In this memoir, she describes her experiences leaving that career behind as she becomes a “trailing spouse” to a husband whose jet-setting international career takes them around the world, from Norway to Singapore and many places in between, as part of his executive grooming for an eventual C-level position in his corporation(s) (which remain unnamed). This globe-trotting family add two more children to the fold in the process. As such, this book makes a valuable contribution to literature about the “trailing spouse” phenomenon in expatriate life. Since publication of this memoir, Dalton-Bradford appears to have added Speaker on Trailing Spouses and Third Culture Children to her impressive resume of musical theater, global motherhood, Norwegian television commercial acting, embassy singing, and engaging memoir writing. In fact, she will be speaking tonight (Thursday, February 6) on the topic at the Harvard Business School, from 8pm to 10pm in the Spangler Auditorium, in a talk styled “What Does it Take To Succeed as a Globally Mobile Family?” as she kicks off a whirlwind book tour ranging from New England to Utah.[1]

I learned of the book when a Facebook friend “liked” the book’s Facebook page, and the idea of it immediately caught my attention since I had very recently moved to the United States after a number of years living abroad with my family. Dalton-Bradford’s prose is conversational and witty, easy to read and fun to follow. As a wanna-be polyglot myself, I greatly enjoyed the Norwegian, French, German, and Mandarin Chinese sprinkled throughout the narrative — languages that Dalton-Bradford learned fluently on her (still continuing) expatriate adventure, aside from German which she already spoke fluently from experience in the home as a child and a German-speaking LDS mission. She writes compellingly about both the joy and pain of expatriate life, pulling no punches in explaining her own encounters with crippling anxiety, bordering on clinical depression, as the prospect of moving yet again to another different country and language comes into view (and after landing in the new location facing the prospect of setting up home and family life with a husband constantly traveling for business). And to her credit, she does not shy away from plumbing the absolute depths of a truly life-altering tragedy that would shake the foundation of any family. This latter aspect of the book — the focus of much of the second half on an almost surreal family tragedy — significantly raises the value of the book for any audience. This is where the importance of memoir or diary in Mormon history, as J. Stapley and I had discussed years before in my law office, comes into stark and edifying relief.

Dalton-Bradford astutely achieves one of her goals in writing this book, which, as she wrote in an email to me, was to explain that “what is lost in this peripatetic lifestyle . . . [is] a certain sense of self. And time. And traction. And ease. And deep, unfractured connections. And human help. And trusted community.” Despite articulating this aspect of expatriate life very convincingly, a redeeming irony simultaneously surfaces early in the book and remains visible throughout as it quickly becomes obvious that precisely these transient experiences have shaped Dalton-Bradford into the person she is today. These experiences have given her a stable sense of self, a broadened perception of time, the skill to gain traction on uncertain footing, the ability to be at ease in trying circumstances and to zero in on those people who will be able to provide desperately needed human help (be they caretakers in Norwegian outdoor preschools, French headmistresses, German hairstylists, or other expat moms in Singapore, to name a few), and the resulting deep connections with soul-mates the world over. In doing so, the narrative also highlights undeniable gifts of the Spirit surrounding the family’s relationships and their decisions to move where and when they moved, each time confirming that they were on a path approved by the Lord. These spiritual interludes are very moving without any of the trite, rote, or kitsch attributes that have unfortunately become characteristic of Mormon “testimony” culture in many circles and areas. For this reason, I believe they will be moving for the general audience as well, and not just for Mormon readers.

Thus hooked by the idea and the prose, I soon realized that this book was important, not just as a well written and interesting memoir, but as valuable — actually essential — insight for me as a husband who had himself dragged his wife and family along on such an expatriate adventure. Dalton-Bradford helped me to see the experience from my wife’s perspective. After I read the book, I corresponded with her about our own short-lived expat experiences (compared to hers), thanking her for sharing her own experiences and how informative they had been for me. Due to her honesty in writing this book, I learned of her round-the-clock anxiety when faced with new cultures and new bureaucratic regimes for managing children and the family (such as applying for schools or visiting doctors, or even banking or grocery shopping) — anxieties not shared by her husband (or by me) in the process. I had a very stressful job as an international securities lawyer, often working late into the night every night for weeks at a time. And her husband was dealing with even greater demands requiring him to travel relentlessly in his management roles, and to work in foreign languages that were new to him. The stress of that (and of some of the securities deals I worked on while living abroad) was considerable. But what I hadn’t realized until reading this memoir was that both he and I, though challenged on a daily basis, were also cheered on by a supportive network at the office who wanted us to succeed and helped us in doing so. Our jobs gave us “an expanding identity, an office, a staff, an assistant, travel and dining budget, cafeteria, a plaque on the door,” as Dalton-Bradford explained in an email to me. This is not the case for the trailing spouse in most instances, and it wasn’t the case for her or for my own wife.

My only discontent with the book was that I longed for pictures of the places, things, and experiences described as I read. This wish accompanied her introductory description of trying to fit a Norwegian farm table through the second story windows of a posh Parisian apartment building just south of the Seine in the Seventh Arrondissement and remained a consistent desire throughout. I have heard that in the just released second edition, such pictures have been added throughout the book, which will please many future readers. My own curiosity was satiated by the book’s Facebook page, linked above, where Dalton-Bradford frequently posts pictures of things and events depicted in the book or other experiences she and her family have had while living abroad. By “liking” that page, these pictures and occasional spiritual or thought-provoking quotes now periodically appear in my newsfeed. It turns out that in addition to being a gifted writer, singer, mom, and public speaker, Dalton-Bradford and others in her family are also talented photographers, and these photographs enrich the experience provided by the book.

Trailer for Global Mom: A Memoir (2013), by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

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[1] The itinerary of her book tour is as follows:

COMPLETE FEBRUARY BOOK TOUR: NEW ENGLAND/UTAH, FEB 6-12

Thursday, 6
8:00pm-10:00pm –– Boston, Harvard Business School, Spangler Auditorium, presentation: “What Does it Take Succeed as a Globally Mobile Family?”

Friday, 7
10:00am-12:00pm –– Belmont book group, presentation: “Global Mom: The Backstory”

3:00pm-5:00pm — Harvard Business School, Aldrich Hall, presentation: “Corporate Partner, Global Partner: Two Women Share Life Stories That Might Change Your Own”

7:30pm-9:00pm — Boston, Cambridge LDS Stake Center, 65 Binney Str., fireside w/music: “Raising a Family in the Vortex of Serial Change: What’s to be Gained from Losing?”

Saturday, 8
6:30pm-8:30pm — Longmeadow Massachusetts, Regional Mormon Women Project, fireside w/ music: “Our Covenant Calling to Mourn and Comfort”

Sunday, 9
7:00pm-9:00pm — Springfield, CT, LDS Stake fireside w/ music: “Spiritual Choke Points”

Monday, 10
7:00pm-9:00pm — Salt Lake City, Kings English Book Store: Reading and Signing

Tuesday, 11
10:00am-11:00am — Cultural Hall podcast, Murray

12:00pm-1:30pm — BYU, Margaret Young literature class, presentation: “How My Faith Informs My Writing”

2:00pm-4pm — Provo, Grandview Stake Center, Grandview Book Club: “Making a Home in the World: The Whats and Whys of Growing a Global Family”

5:00pm-6:00pm — BYU, Darlene Young literature class: Reading of essays and memoir

7:00pm-9:00pm — Pleasant Grove, fireside w/music: “Loss and Living Onward”

Wednesday, 12
9:30am-11:30am — Salt Lake City, roundtable: “Circle of Loss, Cycle of Grief”

6:00pm-7pm — BYU Marriott School of Management: Photo shoot

7:00pm-8:30pm — BYU Marriott School of Management, Women in Business Club presentation with Jacque White: “Forging Your Unique Path”

Thursday, 13
9:00am-12pm — Salt Lake City, filming “Loss and Living Onward” trailer

1:00pm-4pm — Murray, “Chicago” Book Club: “Global Mom: Two Stories in One”

Friday, 14
Valentine’s Day, to be spent with those I love
(Taking Mom and Dad to brunch. . .)

Saturday, 15
6:30am-8:00am — KUTV TV studios morning show: “Global Mom Shares Her Story”

9:00am-11:00am — Provo, Regional Homeschooling book group: “Global Mom Shares Moving Stories”

7:00pm-9:00pm — Salt Lake City, Meet ‘n Greet: “The Temporal and Spiritual Rewards from Learning Languages”

Comments

  1. Having a son and his family who are about three years into this kind of lifestyle themselves, this sounds like a great read, and a great gift for them. I also am exhausted just reading the itinerary for the next week. Thanks for pointing this one out.

  2. The Other Clark says:

    I read the book several months ago at my wife’s insistence, and thought it was aimed entirely at female readers. The husband figure surfaces only occasionally, and 9 times out of 10, only for a scene with a telephoned message to relocate immediately. He was, I thought, the least fleshed out of the book’s characters. Then again, given the book’s title, maybe I expect too much.

    As someone who once aspired to the expatriate, business executive lifestyle, Dalton-Bradford’s description of the hardships this career imposes on the lifestyle (What? Your American kids have never heard of the Pledge of Allegiance?) made me realize again that sometimes the blessing is in the unanswered prayer.

    JohnF, I would be interested in why you consider this to be a “Mormon Book,” as I thought her religion and religious views were mentioned only in passing. Certainly a smart marketing move to broaden the book’s appeal, and it had strong Christian elements–especially with the [tragedy described in the book, ed.]–but I didn’t see anything there that would make it stand out as a particularly Mormon.

  3. I think its value for the husbands is precisely in its depiction of the wife’s experience.

    Also, I found it to be thoroughly Mormon and can’t really see the angle you’re describing. But as I wrote in the review, the author’s Mormonism is mostly in the background, providing a framework for everything that happens. Whether that was a marketing choice or not I can’t say (though I don’t fault her for it if it was — but my sense is that it simply reflects her character as someone comfortable with honest to goodness pluralism in society). Something doesn’t have to have regular quotes from the Book of Mormon or footnotes to General Conference talks to be thoroughly Mormon.

  4. Thanks, John F.

    I have to disagree with The Other Clark that the book is aimed toward women. It’s the story of a trailing spouse (a term I hate) and trailing spouses are far from being exclusively male. There are many men who would relate to Dalton-Bradford’s expat life even though she happens to be a woman. And the second half of the book is far from being exclusively female in its treatment of suffering and loss.

    I thought Dalton-Bradford did a good job of presenting the realities of one type of expat life- both the good and the bad.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, John. I’ve often thought of that day in your office, and found this review an insightful affirmation of that discussion.

  6. There is something about traveling overseas and making a fool of yourself (calling to order pizza in France at 6:48 only to be told they don’t open until 7pm) that draws you closer and inward, and towards people who will love you as you struggle with language and culture and sometimes loneliness. Many times, those are Mormons.

    Melissa’s book is delightful and tragically beautiful and well worth a read; I read it in one sitting. I only wish she’d included twice as many stories.

  7. John, this is a spectacular review; not that I am particularly drawn to the book, but the interplay of your own life has brought it all to life for me. Thanks.

  8. The plight of trailing spouses is certainly tough. As the trailing spouse, my husband was my dependent, unable to sign legal documents or get assistance from companies on banking or service issues (even though I was frequently unavailable, traveling outside the country). Stories in the Straits Times (the Singapore newspaper) also explored the difficulty in divorce. The trailing spouse may find him/herself being deported as an expat spouse stays in country with the children. It can create a default custody arrangement because once a divorce is finalized, that person is no longer a legitimate dependent, but the children still are.

    Great review, John.

  9. Great review John. I had read Dalton-Bradford’s interview at the Mormon Women Project and found her life and family to be fascinating. One more affirmation that the life of the trailing spouse is difficult but the potential trade-offs for a family are enormous.

  10. What a great review, John- this opens an interesting window and I want to know more. I also love that you appreciated the shift in perspective and were able to apply it to your own life and share that with your wife. Your fondness for and value of the memoir endears you to me- I couldn’t agree more. Our stories are so important.

  11. Thanks for the review, John.

    My family hasn’t been overseas, although it could happen, but we have relocated throughout the United States, and interacted extensively with other members of the Mormon outmigration, and I recognize some of the sentiments you mention in the review. It is a very difficult process for many women who follow their husbands (and for the occasional husband who’s following his wife) and except for one or two who have enjoyed the sense of adventure, it’s almost universally a difficult and emotional process and it takes years learn to live without built-in support networks, and to try and recreate one in an ever-changing community like the Church tends to be in areas of outmigration.

  12. Amy’s comment reminded me of something a high level executive I used to know at American Express said. He was from India but living in NYC. He said he admired the Latter-day Saints because we have such a strong global community, that it frees us up to move anywhere in the world, and we instantly have a family of sorts: people willing to help us move, babysit our kids, give us advice, eat meals with us, provide dating and friendship opportunities for our children within our faith, and so on. I think he recognized this because Indian communities within cities in the US often function the same way.

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