This month I had the unexpected pleasure of being the interviewee instead of the interviewer for a blog post by Karen Dustman of Clairitage Press. Karen wanted me to share my experience of working with my father on his memoir, “A Sense of Humor,” recently published by Your Stories Written and printed through Amazon. I hope this excerpt encourages you all to get out your recorders.
How was it working together with your dad on his autobiography?
It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I loved the time we had together during the interview process, going through all the photographs and memorabilia (which he still doesn’t know how I found), showing him all the genealogy records about his ancestors, and, of course, sharing laughs about it all.
Did it change your relationship in some way?
It didn’t really change our relationship, but I think it deepened it in some ways. It broadened my perspective and respect for the man that he is outside our family—who he is to his friends and the communities he’s involved with. I discovered how his integrity, sense of humor, work ethic and self-esteem were ingrained in him, and how they remained a firm foundation throughout his life. It brought full circle everything that he instilled in me and my siblings.
Did anything surprise you? Did you hear stories you’d never heard before?
I heard many stories I’d never heard before, especially ones about his parents, friends he grew up with, and other people that were instrumental in his life. What I think surprised me the most was his memory; he could remember not just the events of his life, which were very detailed, but also exactly where we had left off at the previous interview, which had been months before. It was uncanny.
What was the best story you heard—the one you really want the world to know about?
That’s a tough question. My dad is a great narrator and had a lot of fascinating stories about his boyhood, his family, his restaurant days in downtown LA, and being a police officer with the LAPD. But I think my favorite story was one he told with my mother. There were a few times when I set the voice recorder in the middle of the dinner table while we ate, and it captured some great conversations. The one that is dearest to me was when they were talking about an evening before they married. My mom worked in downtown LA and my dad was supposed to pick her up after work, and he forgot to do that because he was at home watching a ball game with his uncle. I won’t go into the whole story, but it was such a perfect example of how they spoke to each other, and it was so funny—and in the end, it was the night my dad proposed to my mom. I had never heard that story before, it was beautiful and so them.
Do you have any advice for others who’d like to get a family member’s story out?
The best advice I can give is to just do it. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for some elusive “convenient time.” There won’t be one. You have to treat the project like you would an important job, especially the interview portion. Make appointments and put them on the calendar and get all those words recorded. I’ll be forever grateful that I was able to present my dad’s completed book to him, and that we can share it with our family and friends. My whole life he’s been the king of my world, and now I can let everyone know why. That makes it a precious gift to me, as well as to him. So just do it—start the ball rolling today. I promise you will reap rewards you never expected. Just remember to listen like you’ve never heard the stories before and keep a sense of humor.