University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Examining the value of family

     Variety is the spice of Ben Yagoda's writing life. The UD
associate professor of English, who teaches journalism, has
written a successful biography of Will Rogers and magazine
articles for publications ranging from the Saturday Review and
The New York Times Magazine to Playboy. Currently, he is working
with Kevin Kerrane, professor of English at the University, on an
anthology of literary journalism, to be used as a text for
journalism courses, and he is researching a book on the history
of The New Yorker magazine.
     Add to these projects that he has coauthored a series of
books with Ruth Westheimer, a well-known sex therapist, better
known to a wide TV and radio audience as Dr. Ruth. Their latest
collaboration is The Value of Family: A Blueprint for the 21st
     Yagoda first met Dr. Ruth through his agent when she was
seeking an author to help her write her life story. "We met about
10 years ago, hit it off and have been collaborating ever since,
although, at this time, we have no plans for a further book,"
Yagoda says.
     For her autobiography, All in a Lifetime, Yagoda turned on a
tape recorder, asked Dr. Ruth a few questions and they were off
and running. When talking to some people, it's hard to get more
than a monosyllable in reply, but the opposite holds true for Dr.
Ruth, Yagoda says.
     Subsequent books they coauthored are Dr. Ruth's Guide to
Safer Sex and Dr. Ruth Talks to Kids About Sex and Growing Up.
     Dr. Ruth is qualified to write a book on families, not only
because of her professional qualifications but because of her own
life experiences, Yagoda says. An only child born to a close
family in Germany, she lost her parents and grandmother in the
Holocaust and spent World War II in a home for German-Jewish
children in Switzerland. She moved to Israel, lived in a kibbutz,
and eventually came to the United States for a visit with an
uncle and decided to remain. She was married and divorced twice
and struggled as a single parent to raise her daughter, before
remarrying and having a son. Now, she is enthusiastically
enjoying the role of grandmother, he says.
     "She looks upon all these experiences as different kinds of
family life, from the traditional nuclear family to the communal
family, where children help to raise each other. She knows
firsthand about being a single parent and about step-parenting,"
Yagoda says.
     Professionally, Dr. Ruth is an educator. She was teaching
education at the college level when sex education in the schools
became an important issue. Always a volunteer, Yagoda says, she
agreed to become knowledgeable about sex education, later
becoming a licensed sex therapist. A public radio station was
looking for a sex therapist for an after midnight slot, and again
she volunteered, became an early-morning celebrity and found a
new career.
     For The Value of Family, Yagoda and Dr. Ruth had
brainstorming sessions on what constitutes a family today and on
family issues-from teenage pregnancy and increased divorce rate
to mothers in the workplace and the role of fathers. The book is
written as a first-person narrative by Dr. Ruth, but the concepts
are mutual. Yagoda did most of the research for the book,
interviewing experts, reading background material and collecting
demographic information on which much of the book is based.
     "Today, there are many kinds of families-not just Ozzie and
Harriet and 2.3 children-and there is no turning back the clock,"
Yagoda says. "A large segment of the population consists of
single, unmarried or widowed people without children, some
involved in relationships, and then there are single parents,
grandparents, step-parents, homosexual couples and teenagers
raising children. These families are under many pressures and
need support, not isolation, from society, friends and other
family members."
     The last chapters of the book deal with how the government,
business and schools can help strengthen families. Economics play
a major role in family stability, according to the authors, so
that job training and opportunities, education, private and
public innovative programs are vital in helping families.
     The last chapter is entitled, "What You Can Do For Your
Family," because as the authors point out, "ultimately, each
family is on its own." The chapter does not "contain a foolproof
recipe for making your clan loving, harmonious, loyal, steadfast
and true." However, the authors suggest that the two "most vital
qualities" for nurturing a family are "love and commitment."
     Some of the activities for strengthening family ties include
meals (without TV or other distractions), vacations, reunions
("with plenty of food, drink and ample photo opportunities") and
using e-mail to communicate with distant relatives.
     Returning to Ozzie and Harriet, the authors contend that the
"little white house in the suburbs where nobody dies and nobody
gets sick beyond a case of the sniffles is a lie. In every
family, there will be storms to be weathered. With any luck, the
family will emerge from the crisis or hard times more closely
tied together than it was before."
                                            -Sue Swyers Moncure