An Interview With The Man Who Inspired Big Love
The most obvious hurdle for polygamist fathers is the extra handful that comes with additional partners and children. And few would be handling more than Joe Darger. The 42 year old is currently married to Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger, on top of being a Dad to a bewildering 25 children. The Dargers have been featured on a number of polygamist documentaries, and they’re also ardent activists for decriminalising polygamy. Needless to say, I was astounded he had time to answer my questions.
Joe explained how his family came about as: “Firstly, it was the culture we grew up in. Secondly, it was about love, and all of us falling in love together. My first two wives, Vicki and Alina, developed a strong bond. When they shared their feelings for me, that led to us all getting married. Polygamy, at least in our culture, is about family. If it were about sex, I would just get mistresses and avoid the hardships of family.”
When I asked Joe what sets polygamist families apart from their monogamous counterparts, he said: “The obvious thing is we have more mothers. We have intrinsic babysitters and we have a lot of love to spread around. Since polygamy is stigmatized in mainstream America, it bonds us together even more.”
I asked him how his children, who come from numerous families, have gotten along.“People often wonder how couples can blend children from separate families together as one. The only way it can work is with an abundance of love and commitment. I’ve learned to delegate and to be a great listener. Oftentimes, it takes an ability to be selfless.”
“It’s definitely not for someone that thinks they want another wife and that will make them happy. If you are not happy with what you have, another one will probably make it worse. We don’t advocate this for everyone. But we certainly make it work.”
No doubt you have your own questions about how the Dargers manage bedroom time. Joe explained that they have created a routine in order to minimize envy; “We rotate the rooms I stay in each night. My wives each have their own room in the one house.”
I decided to get some background on the broader topic. A number of events have recently placed polygamy on a worldwide podium. Namely, an American federal judge has ruled the anti Polygamy law to be unconstitutional, the Kenyan parliament has passed a bill to legalise the tradition, and there’s the Australian Polygamy Action Lobby which are hoping to see this country follow suit.
The word Polygamy translates as “often married” in ancient Greece, though it traces back further to classical Hebrew and Chinese cultures. It’s also a tradition in the land down under, where Indigenous communities consider it a badge of honour. As in most Western cultures, Polygamy is outlawed in mainstream Australia, however marriages conducted overseas are recognized for the purposes of family settlements.
There are many who hope to decriminalise the act, and they bring rational arguments to the table. President of the Islamic friendship association of Australia, Keysar Trad, argued that monogamy is all well and good, but “studies consistently show most men admit to having affairs…it clearly isn’t for everyone.”
Nonetheless, there are studies that indicate it can damage society. One element which is often overlooked is that of parenting. In a recent article from the NY times, W. Bradford Wilcox argued that “children from polygymous families are less likely to get attention, affection and financial support from their fathers.” On the other hand, advocates have argued that extra parents equate to a more prosperous family, and one with a stronger support base.
And then there’s the elephant in the room; how one goes about raising 25 children. “People think we have 25 kids running around like a preschool,” Joe says.
“In reality there are four at home and the rest are at school. All of our kids have moved out by 18 as we raise them to be independent. At home, they have responsibilities for the younger ones. I see my children more than many of my divorced friends see their own kids”.
He admitted “our older children suffered from bullying a lot. It has changed a lot since we have been public. I think the general public is getting more tolerant, and we have learned to be proud, which emboldens our kids.”
As to dividing household tasks, they: “they have a weekly meeting with the parents where we coordinate our schedules. The children all have rotating responsibilities, even the little ones. Sometimes we take big trips with the entire family, but usually each mom runs errands with her kids. We also raise them to to be self-sufficient. We don’t “put our kids to bed.” They manage this themselves.”
I asked Joe how he deals with the haters.
“We get criticized a lot. It’s a lot harder when you see the kids getting it. Typically what people judge in others is something they fear in their own lives. We get conservatives belittling us because of we are “untraditional” and yet ours is the oldest and most traditional family in the bible. Then we get the liberals, who say they value choice and yet they demonize our choice of lifestyle.”
Lastly, I asked him if there was enough love to go around for every Darger.
“There’s only so much time in a day and so many places one can be at once, but love transcends time and space. This is the love we strive for in our family and I think there is more love in ours than most others.”
It occurred to me afterwards that the Dargers had largely inspired the high grossing HBO show Big Love. Apart from the fact they can stay together with a family of their size, the name of the show could have answered my final query.