I’m currently writing the life story for the father of one of my best friends. I’ve known “Mr. Jones” for more than 30 years now, since his son, “Jack,” and I became close in high school. Jack’s father is an exceptionally bright man, and it’s been a joy to work with him, learn more about his history, and discuss his feelings about religion and politics. I knew when we decided to write this book together that I was in for a series of interesting interviews.
What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about my friend.
It’s not so much that we’ve talked in detail about Jack. Mr. Jones hasn’t told me any secrets that I didn’t know about his son. In fact, I can’t point to a single sentence or discovery that, on its own, strengthens my understanding about Jack. But, as we’re closing in on the completion of the first draft, I feel certain that my insight into Jack’s own personal make-up has grown. I see much more clearly, now, how Jack became the person he is.
And while this discovery came as a surprise to me, if you think about it, it really shouldn’t have. In fact, it makes nothing but sense. Mr. Jones is Jack’s father, a hugely influential person in a son’s life. His gestures, speech mannerisms, thought patterns, and philosophies were all passed down to Jack through years and years of father/son engagement. And while I came to know Jack as his own unique individual (which he obviously is), now I see the history behind him. The influences that guided him. The places where his father’s impact was huge (and the places where Jack opted for a different course).
This learning has been profound for now I see yet another benefit of writing one’s life story: to allow our children to understand themselves better. Jack is not his father but he certainly is a product of his father’s upbringing. Equally, I am not my mother (or father or grandparent) but certainly I have been significantly impacted by them. My son, in turn, is being impacted by me.
When we tell our stories, we allow our children to see the roots of their own lives.
The advantages of telling your life story seem to grow at every turn. Please let me know if you’re interesting in joining the adventure.