Putting the Family in Memoir

Flannery O’Connor writes, ‘ … anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.’

If you, like me, write about your family – unavoidable in memoir – how do you do that without hurt? One of my brothers, upon hearing that I was writing about our WW II veteran father, asked when he could sue me. He was joking – sort of. The final draft of my memoir is a long way off yet, so he’ll have to twiddle his thumbs for a while longer before rushing to the courtroom. Inevitably though, my family will come into my story. The tale would be much diminished without my brothers’ whacky anecdotes and differing perspectives.

On writing about others, non-fiction guru Lee Gutkind advises the narrator to present herself with a degree of irony. In this way she may become as much the perpetrator of misdeeds as she is the victim. These days I understand that when my father was dying, I could have simply held his hand. No matter his attitude towards me – asking where Mum was and telling me off (as I saw it) – I could have acted with grace instead of inwardly railing against him. His behaviour had often challenged me, but nowadays it’s my job to comprehend our dynamic and my part in it. Long dead, he can’t change, but I can – at least at the heart level.

You can read about the last day I spent with my father here. The piece was published in Clairitage Press, a US blog curated by Karen Dustman.

With my role as narrator in mind, other family members may become mere ‘bit’ players to the interplay between me and Dad. The function of my brothers (and mother) is to highlight the humour and conflict, and to allow a more spherical approach to family life. In this sense my younger siblings are the support act to the main event. They provide an easeful – if noisy – chorus to the central theme of the see-sawing father and daughter relationship

With thanks to Ms O’Connor for her writerly reminder about the richness of childhood, I write this in the further hope of getting mine – subjectively – right.

13 thoughts on “Putting the Family in Memoir

  1. So interesting to read how your family members fit into your memoir Margaret, the chorus to your central theme. Your extract in Clairitage Press is incredibly poignant – it really is pivotal to your memoir and you have nailed it for me. Changing your emotional response to this last day, as an adult looking back, really strikes a chord. Congratulations on being published and the interview.

    Liked by 1 person

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