If you place any faith at all in birth order as a predictor of personality traits, then perhaps it was inevitable that I would be the one to attempt to write the story of my father’s life?
In our family it’s more difficult than some families to assign birth order because we’re a combined family.
Dad had two children from his first marriage and Mum had one. Together, they had four more children during a marriage that spanned more than 40 years until Dad died in 2010.
Dad’s eldest and Mum’s eldest could each take eldest child status in the households in which they were raised.
When I think about the kids who grew up in the house with me, it’s Mum’s eldest daughter who takes that position, with four of us coming in behind her.
Where does that leave me? One of a number of middle children, I suppose.
If you look at the characteristics of the middle child, we’re apparently ‘negotiators’ and ‘mediators’ who are capable of seeing different sides of a situation.
This might well be a useful skill as I navigate writing a book about Dad, his life and the stories he told about his experiences before, during and after World War II.
As I’ve chatted to my siblings – with just a couple remaining with whom I’m yet to discuss the book – there are diverse views about what’s important to Dad’s story and how it should be retold.
It does seem to be a common experience in families that parents get less strict and more ‘mellow’ with the arrival of each successive child. The times, fashions and social rules also evolve.
The differences in the views of Dad’s eldest child and his youngest is fascinating.
There’s a two-decade age difference between them during which, when you consider their two accounts, Dad had clearly grown as a person and a parent.
It feels like a negotiator will be needed to reconcile these different views on Dad’s life.
Standing in the middle, I can see far enough back and forward to understand both perspectives. Yet my perspective is also different.
It’s had me grappling with some of the big question you face when you start to write a memoir.
What do you include? What do you leave out? How do you cover the pieces where there are gaps in your own knowledge? Should you rely on the perspectives of others? How do you deal with different points of view? Should you try?
Everything I read about writing biographies and memoirs, suggests that there is no single true story of someone’s life. Even with autobiography, there are many ways of looking at, and telling, the same life story.
We all have a different perspectives on experiences and the people we encounter based on our own experiences and mindset. For the writer, this includes how you were thinking and feeling both at the time of the encounter and at the time when you sit down to write.
What has become clear to me is that I should tell my own version of Dad’s story. And I want to do that with the greatest of love and respect for both my Dad and for the different perspectives within my family.
I’m now approaching 20,000 words in my first draft. It will need a lot of rewriting and editing.
I can already see parts that I would approach differently now compared to when I started writing a few months ago. However, I’m resisting the urge to tinker with it while I focus on getting a full first draft out of my memory and down in words.
The wonderful thing about the process of writing this book is that it has opened up new conversations with my siblings and my Mum. That’s giving me a better understanding of them.
It’s also given me new understandings about my Dad. The remembering and the writing feels like it’s bringing him back closer to me and regardless of your perspective, that’s a wonderful thing.