Rahna Reiko Rizzuto is scheduled to be a guest on the ABC television program, The View, on Friday, March 11. Rizzuto, born and raised on Hawaii Island and the daughter of fishing writer Jim Rizzuto and his late wife Shirley, has written two books. But most likely, the four hosts of the program will be less interested in her books than in recent fallout from her candid comments on motherhood.
In the process of writing her most recent book, “Hiroshima in the Morning,” Rizzuto spent six months living in Japan in 2001. Her purpose was to research survivors of the World War II atomic bomb blast and tell their stories in a new way. But in the process of being separated from her husband and two sons, 3 and 5 at the time, Rizzuto did some soul searching about her role as a mother. The book includes not only the very personal and very poignant stories of some of the Hiroshima survivors, but is a very personal and poignant memoir of Rizzuto’s mother and of Rizzuto’s own conflicts about her role as wife and mother.
When Rizzuto got the opportunity for the fellowship to go to Japan, her husband was supportive and encouraging. Leaving the boys and her husband was wrenching, but Jim and Shirley Rizzuto came to New York to help mind them while her husband worked.
Rizzuto was in Japan on September 11, 2001. That changed everything. For the book, and her talk stories with Hiroshima survivors, it meant they opened up much more than they had before. What seemed before like well-rehearsed memories turned into raw stories of survival and loss. And for Rizzuto, it began a process of realizing her marriage was broken. It also opened up for her the reality that she and her sons would be better served by a less-traditional arrangement than most. She is brutally honest in her book, and in a recent article in the online journal, www.salon.com, that she never wanted to be a mother.
When she and her husband divorced, he maintained primary care of the boys. Rizzuto lives just doors away, and sees the boys for several hours many days of the week. The couple shares custody, but the dad, as she says, “does the heavy lifting” of daily care. Rizzuto’s ex husband (who has since remarried) is one of just 4% of fathers in the U. S. who take primary care of the children after divorce.
Although the divorce happened many years ago, it was just ten days ago that her online writing brought her ambivalence about motherhood to the forefront. Two days later, she was a guest on MSNBC, and the next day, she was on “The Today Show” on NBC. Monday, she talked on the radio with Gayle King. But as Rizzuto says, there is a big difference between “I never wanted to be a mother” and “I don’t want my kids.” She says her two sons, now 13 and 15, absolutely understand, and are smarter than most of the adults around them. She says they know they’re loved.
Her acclaimed first novel, “Why She Left Us,” won an American Book Award in 2000 and was named as one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Honolulu Advertiser. “Why She Left Us” is based on her mother’s story of internment during World War II. “Hiroshima in the Morning” is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle 2010 awards. The ceremony is Thursday night.
“The View” airs on KITV4 (Oceanic Cablevision Channel 12) at 9 am. on Friday, March 11.