by Troy Williams
They are the family that inspired the HBO series Big Love; a polygamous Mormon family that defy many fundamentalist stereotypes. They grew up in Salt Lake County suburbs, their kids now go to public schools and the wives are about as hip and modern as you get.
Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger have written a new memoir: Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage.
Listen to the entire interview here:
Troy Williams: When I first met you several years ago you were all very nervous about being public. But now you’ve been on Oprah, Larry King and Dr. Phil. You’ve all gotten braver.
Alina: Well, yeah, I was one of the most reluctant to do media in the first place. It’s a risk for us. I didn’t want to put our family at risk. But we realized that if there is no dialogue and only one view of a story is being told — then the rest of the story isn’t being told. That wasn’t working for us.
Troy: You didn’t see yourself represented in the media?
Alina: Exactly. And after a few years talking to different police groups and DCFS workers we realized that we needed to write this book and tell our own story.
Troy: There have been many ‘escape from polygamy’ books hitting the shelves — but to my knowledge this is the first pro-polygamy memoir to be released.
Joe: I wouldn’t call it a pro-polygamy memoir. It’s certainly the first memoir from someone within the culture that has elected to stay within it. It’s also the first one with a male voice. And it also includes our children. From that perspective it’s certainly unique.
Troy: The first to have a male voice? What’s the deal with that?
Joe: Let’s face it. White religious males are not always looked upon in favorable terms. Certainly not a polygamous white male. The stereotype is that we are the perpetrator and everyone else is the victim. It can be uncomfortable. If I would have written it myself it wouldn’t have had any credibility.
Alina: Traditionally it’s been a risk for the men because they are the ones who end up in prison.
Joe: And the other issue is the economic persecution. As the main provider and bread winner the economic risks are much greater if a man is exposed.
Troy: Right. You could potentially lose your job and you have lots of kids to take care of.
Joe: Yes, there was a point when I ran a business and the owner was good about it. He knew my lifestyle and he specifically said don’t be public about it. Keep it low-key. I respected that, even though at times I felt like we had to get a different voice out there. So this has kind of evolved. We didn’t set out to be the “Big Love family”. We hate that moniker actually. We really want to testify of our own experience. There are certainly people who have had terrible experiences in polygamy. We don’t want to take away their voice. But we don’t want our voices taken away either.
Troy: How is your job now that you’ve gone public?
Joe: I don’t know. We’re still dealing with it. It’s a concern. Who knows what ramifications will happen. People have accused us of doing this for economic gain. But this book was more of a deliberate and dignified way to tell a story and to institute a proper change. Hopefully economically we don’t come out on the short end. I hope when my clients find out who we really are they’ll treat us like anyone else. I still have a faith in the dignity of the human experience.
Troy: Who else here is working outside the home?
Alina: Valerie and Alina.
Troy: How are your employers treating you?
Valerie: Good. For the most part we’ve tried to be up front. We didn’t want them to be blind-sided. However they knew us before we ever spoke about our lifestyle. That helped so they could go, “okay, your nice.” They could accept that about us.
Alina: We told everyone ahead and they’ve been really great.
Troy: Has Big Love made your lives easier or more difficult?
Valerie: I think Big Love opened polygamy up to the public perception. There really are polygamists living in suburban neighborhoods. They drive cars like everybody else. They’re more integrated into society more than maybe what the public thinks. For that it’s been really good. It’s definitely opened up conversations and questions.
Troy: In the first season of Big Love Barb Henrickson was nominated as “The Beehive Mother of the Year” and then she was outed as a polygamist. Joe that story comes directly from your family?
Joe: Yeah, that’s where we started wondering where all this research was coming from.
Troy: You had never spoken with the writers?
Joe: No, never. That story hit home because it was an example of what we face. I had nominated my mom for ‘Mother of the Year’ naively at the time. She was trying to support our family after my father had passed away. I nominated her and there we were about to receive the award. We were whisked away into the bathroom of the Governor’s mansion and they asked us if we were polygamists. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that little detail. (laughs) They were in a bind. This was about celebrating motherhood and we didn’t want it to blow up in a negative way. We declined the award and we gracefully tried to exit out the back. Reporters were following us and I remember saying “no comment, no comment”. We were afraid of what the ramifications would be. That was ten years ago. The environment has certainly changed for the better.
Troy: You all grew up in suburban Salt Lake County. Did you try to keep your lifestyle secret as kids.
Vickie: we tried to keep it low-profile. If people found out then we’d talk about it. We did have many friends who were okay with it. Others were more antagonistic.
Troy: do you remember that moment when you first realized when you family was different?
Vickie: The thing that was hard was that we had a certain pride in our family. We felt good about it. But we were made to feel that it was something that we had to be apologetic for.
Troy: It must be strange to live in a culture that reveres Joseph Smith, Brigham Young all of these great historical figures — and they were all polygamists. But you have to live as polygamist on the down-low.
Joe: There is an irony to it. I hope this book will be embraced by this culture. We go to great length to distance ourselves from the mainstream LDS Church. There is a certain defensive from members of the Church because they don’t embrace their history or past. From the anti-Mormon perspective people use polygamy as a way to shame the Church. And they fall into that. They cower. No matter where we come from we should all be able to embrace our past. But they have pushed a whole culture on the margins where abuses (that happen among any culture) can be kept in the darkness. We’re different but we don’t have to be ashamed of it. Our family shows that polygamy can be lived without abuse. Polygamy does not equal abuse. Abuse equals abuse. Our family is one of love.
Troy: Talk about your reaction to the Warren Jeff’s trial.
Vickie: One of the things that had a big impact was when they took all the FLDS children away in Texas. We never know if that was around the corner for us. And secondly, we felt that we were still being defined by somebody else. This was a big turning point for all us. This was one more reason why we had to get our story out. We felt that Warren Jeffs and all that we’ve heard was awful. That had nothing to do with our lives.
Alina: When all of this news was coming out I was horrified. It turned my stomach. It made me sick to think that was a representation of us. It was another reason why we wanted to tell our story. It was really a hard thing. It was also nice to see justice be done.
Valerie: I have a twelve year old daughter now. So it truly makes my heart ache.
Troy: Do you have any contact with members of the FLDS Church?
Joe: My grandfather was in prison for plural marriage. He had 40 children. There are a few who are still part of the FLDS. I do have some distant relatives there. But since Warren took over we lost contact. He cut off all communication. It’s hard to speak intelligently abut the FLDS because we’ve lost contact. Growing up I remember my first experience going down there. It was like going to a foreign land. I came to know some of my distant cousins as people. Even as we saw the media portrayal it was difficult to know what was real and what was not. We didn’t know where the Warren Jeffs saga would end. Thankfully there is some closure and he’s in jail. It’s been difficult to see him highjack religion and to use it for evil purposes.
Troy: Is there the hope that with Jeffs locked away there might be some opportunity to reach out to the FLDS community?
Joe: I hope so. The problem is we tend to have people who want to rescue people. When people want to save them without giving them the tools to help themselves and without respecting the culture that they come from, we do them a great disservice. I’ve seen that. I’ve been involved with different agencies and it’s one of the things that people need to understand. Respect the culture, respect the history. There are still good people there. Many of them are still in unbelief that Jeffs really did those things. They wouldn’t let that happen to their daughters. I think he himself kept himself aloof as a lot of men do who want to control. I sincerely hope that bridges can be built in that community. I don’t know where it will go from here.
Follow the Darger Family blog at www.lovetimesthree.com