When I began writing about Dad in My Music Man, I didn’t intend to write about his alcoholism. While it was a big thing, it wasn’t the big thing when he died. Rather, I missed him, his stories, and his connections to our past. It was in my first draft of writing about him when I recognized I could not avoid writing about myself – also not within my earliest writing plans. Eventually, in writing about me and us – the story of his journey with alcohol had to be placed within the covers of my memoir.
My friend Gordon spurred me on with kind yet critical observations following his review of a later manuscript draft. He pointed out what I had not noticed – too close I was to my writing. Gordon noted how he couldn’t fully understand or appreciate the good I write about after Dad gave up drinking, because I hadn’t clearly told the reader how it was once “bad.” I had neglected to share the bad.
Earlier this month our parents’ breakup and remarriage was featured on a podcast by Meredith Goldstein of “Love Letters” at the Boston Globe. Meredith heard about our parents’ story from a friend of my brother’s who had spotted the picture above (from a 1990’s Oregonian article) on social media. I was nervous before it aired, having been interviewed along with my mom, but not allowed to hear the podcast until after it hit cyberspace. It made me wonder whether I would have shared this story – or even published my memoir – if Dad hadn’t stopped drinking? For while writers share those stories – I’m not sure I would have. Or perhaps what it is for me, is that I wouldn’t have felt I had a profound story to share. And while other authors successfully do tell those stories, it takes courage.
I am lucky. I was able to share the difficult part of our family’s story, some of which stirs sadness in my family, but would have pleased Dad. For, as I recanted in my book, Dad was the first to share his apologies and lessons learned in the hope that others too would find their real selves and share it with the people they love while still on this earth. I hope his buddies back at Portland Alano get to hear or read it too. That’s the gift. It is our ability to share stories – including the ones with less than happy memories – with the hope that together we can reduce stigma associated with our personal challenges, and instead, amass love, understanding, and respect for all of us. And perhaps, give a whisper of hope to others.
What about you – have you struggled to write about a “secret” or incident that caused a family member shame? Did you omit or change a story because of concern of causing pain to family or friends? Or did you share it? I’ve love to hear. I am hopeful that we can move to the place where it doesn’t take such courage to share all our stories.
Listen to the Podcast by Love Letters by Meredith Goldstein, Boston Globe: Episode 7: You’ve got to keep living.
Watch My Music Man trailer.
Learn about The Luv U Project.