Joe Pisani (opinion): Prince Harry reminds us that families can be a royal pain

Copies of the new book by Prince Harry called "Spare" are displayed at a book store in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. 

Copies of the new book by Prince Harry called "Spare" are displayed at a book store in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. 

Michael Sohn/Associated Press

I hate to admit this, but I can’t stop reading the stories about Prince Harry and the terrible things his father, his brother, the butler, the gardener and everyone else allegedly did to him. It’s all laid bare in his recently published memoir, “Spare.”

The book is 418 pages of resentment. Ben Franklin’s autobiography was only 104 pages and Frederick Douglass’ was 232, but they didn’t have to contend with the royal family. Harry’s memoir follows up on the tell-all Netflix docuseries and the infamous Oprah interview. He’s turned whining about his family into a profitable career.

All of us have our own firsthand experiences of how families can go off the rails. As a kid, I grew up watching “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver,” and was convinced we were like them even though my extended family had more than its fair share of addictions, animosities, betrayals and rivalries.

When I read Harry’s revelations, I started thinking, “Heck, every family I know is like his.” The only difference is they don’t parade around in a military uniforms with medals pinned to their chests.

In his memoir, Prince Harry dishes the dirt and paints a tawdry picture of the royal family. He was assaulted by his brother Prince William (nothing unusual about that). He lost his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a gin mill. He took cocaine and drank heavily. He smoked weed in a bathroom at Eton College. Sadly, his father didn’t hug him when he was told his mother was killed in a car crash. And he later learned that Charles told Princess Diana, “Wonderful. You have given me an heir and a spare. You have done your job.”

The revelations, whether they’re true, untrue or partially true, are going to give the women on “The View” a lot to talk about for the next two years, and Twitter will be buzzing or twittering a long time.

Who knows why Harry did what he did. Anger, resentment, revenge, poor cash flow, vindication for himself, vindication for his wife, humiliation of the royal family … or was it a plea for help from a lonely, hurting man?

Let me start by saying I love my extended family, the sum total of them. I mean I try to love them. Most of the time. The rest of the time I scratch my head in amazement or anger or discouragement. There have been betrayals, grudges, infidelities, addictions, feuds over business deals and contested wills.

Truth be told, there’s nothing extraordinary about Harry’s situation. We could all be the royal family.

In “Anna Karenina,” the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy said: “Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.” Which means, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Quite honestly, I don’t think Tolstoy knew what he was talking about. That sentence, which begins the novel, may sound profound but it makes no sense. I think Tolstoy had it backward. Unhappy families are all alike. And happy families have to work at it … and it’s seldom a team effort.

Families should be a source of joy and comfort, but more often they’re a source of sadness and pain. However, no matter how much misery your family causes, let me leave you with this thought: Before you start trashing them, even if they deserve it, spend a few minutes looking for the good and cling to it when you find it.

It may be too late for the royal family, although I hope not. As for the rest of us, let me offer an insight from psychologist Mary Pipher, author of “The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families.”

“I’ve seen hate-filled, violent families, families with addictions, families in which the parents were not grown-ups and the children had no childhoods, and families in which the children were starving for moral nourishment. I know how destructive families can be, how stifling and riddled with pain. But I also know that this is not the whole, or even the most interesting part, of the story …

“We need our families, but we don’t always behave well in them. We love and hate them, yearn for them deep in our bones and feel so disgusted with them that we want to spit. Families are sad and happy, complicated and simple, and full of victories and failures. Families remind me of what folk musician Greg Brown wrote about life, that sometimes it seems as if we should be grateful for every breath and other times it’s a miracle that we don’t all drink ourselves to death.”

On that cheerful note, let me add one last thought. Try to be hopeful as you endure this messy business called family life … and look hard for the good, which is usually buried beneath the rubble.

Former Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Editor Joe Pisani can be reached at