It has been an enormous privilege for me to have been involved with my father in writing his memoirs.
He mentioned some time ago that he was trying to get some of his memories down on paper, but that it did not often get priority in his busy life, especially as he found it difficult to write or type at the same time as assembling his thoughts. I suggested a dictaphone, and offered to lend him one, but on the appointed day I dropped it and couldn’t cajole it to work again! Because we didn’t want to lose the moment, the impulse to get more of his thoughts down on paper, I offered to type to his dictation for that morning, and it was such a successful session that we have continued to work together like that.
My presence allows my father to recount incidents to someone rather than have to write them out for an unseen and abstract reader: this is particularly advantageous as the intended audience is his children, grand-children, and great-grand-children, and our way of working really allows his voice and personality to come through. For me, it has meant that I have heard these events and stories at first hand, and that I have shared my father’s company as we worked on them.
On many occasions we have arranged to meet up, intending to spend the whole day working on the memoirs, but telling and typing an incident has led to questions from me, or a discussion about someone neither of us has seen since I was a child, or an absorbing comparison of our impressions and memories of a particular event. I have relived much of my own life as we have worked, and I have gained a unique insight into my father’s life from before my own birth. It has been fascinating to get to know him as a young man, and to recognise in my own memories that I shared many of his feelings and aspirations.
For many of our sessions, my brother has joined us, a silent support while we work, and a third viewpoint on precious memories when we discuss family holidays, outings, and routines. When these meetings took place at my home, my brother would slip out to the kitchen at the end of the morning and prepare lunch for us while my father continued to dictate and I went on typing. More recently, our sessions have been at my father’s home, and my stepmother has cooked for us. Other members of the family have suggested questions that they would like to see answered in the memoirs, or facets of life in years gone by that they would like to read about, or have reminded us of events that they hope will be included. In these ways, the process of retrieving and expressing my father’s past has created its own set of memories that we will each carry into our futures.
My father and I are both busy people, and, although there have been periods when we have worked on this project every week, it has been more usual for a month or more to go by between sessions. We started working on it around three years ago, expecting to prepare a file of stories or memories: we now find that we have around 65,000 words! Apart from checking some dates and identifying the last few people in some photos, we are done. It has been a journey that has taken us back into the past, where it has given me a personal understanding of a time I never knew at first hand, and has also moved us towards the future, as we work towards passing these memories on to younger generations.
As I said, it has been an enormous privilege to be involved in this writing project. And if I hadn’t dropped that dictaphone three years ago, I would never have had this experience!