Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I slept from 9pm last night until 8am this morning. Exhausted physically and emotionally drained. Editing my father's memoir has not been easy, neither in the routine and practical sense that encompasses endless tiny corrections made in the MS-Word file containing the memoir nor in the less-tangible but equally real sense of confronting a number of demons that I had conveniently stashed away, out of sight and out of mind, to secure my own peace. The task of editing the file and then converting the text into HTML format, as well as splitting up the text into (it turned out) 35 separate chapters so as to enhance the document's readbility and make it suitable for web publishing, took the better part of three days.

Yesterday, I finished adding the final touches to the web pages and writing two additional pages in order to complete the task in a definitive manner. One of these new pages is a note from the editor explaining the provenance of the memoir and how grammatical and punctuation changes had been made to the text. Providing an explanation of this nature is, I thought, important for two reasons. First, it helps those family members who take the time to have a look at the memoir understand the quality of the text. This is relevant because dad basically finished his English schooling at age 14. Secondly, the note gives readers a bit of background about how the memoir came to be written, even going so far as to tell them where it was written. The note also tells readers about my mother's involvement in one of my father's final major projects.

The other major project he undertook after retirement and before he succumbed to the debilitating consequences of contracting Alzheimer's Disease was an extensive family tree. I have not decided to publish these files and, in fact, doubt that I will. This is because they contain a fair whack of personal information including the dates of birth of thousands of individuals still living in a number of global communities.

My mother agrees with publishing my father's memoir and we have discussed the reasons why it is a good idea. Of primary importance is that the number of people who are unrelated to the family and who visit the relevant pages on my website is very small, indeed negligible. But the benefits are numerous. Not least of them is the fact that family members we are unacquainted with will be in a better position to find me by searching on the internet. This has already happened a number of times, and the additional links to extended family enriches our lives.

I am not able to unequivocally say that the intimate knowledge of my father's life afforded to me by means of reading, in minute detail, his memoir has enriched my life. In the short term, it has troubled me. A man who writes a memoir automatically engages in a process of editing. Memory is unstable from the point of view of the person writing, for a start. The other thing that qualifies the reader's understanding of the memoir is the way in which the author has chosen to frame events. What purpose did he have in writing it?

In his preface, my father explains that he wrote the memoir for several reasons. One is because he felt regret, himself when, in the process of compiling the family tree, he came across holes in the narrative. For a man as meticulous and curious as my father these hiatuses must have been frustrating. My father also says he "felt a need" to write about those parts of his life that his children and grandchildren did not already know about. The third reason is more troubling.

He says that he was troubled by comments from my brother and I during our lives together. And this makes me look askance at the title he chose for the memoir: 'Growing'. In the light of his complaint about things my brother and I said, at various times in our early lives, this title appears to presage a wash-job. From things that happened in the recent past it is clear that, in terms of family, my father never actually "grew" much at all. In fact, I'd say that his behaviour indicates that from the earliest times to the most recent his attitude toward family was all of a piece.

Anger can motivate people to do extraordinary things. I hope that the anger I feel at things that my father, who is 80 years old this year, did at various times in my life can be converted into something useful and beneficial to me and those close to me. At least in the long term. In the short term, the best I can do is to communicate the link to the finished pages to family members and await their feedback. My mother says she has taken steps to organise my father's funeral in case she is unable to function properly when he dies. We will see how many people manage to find time to attend the service, when that event finally comes to pass in this world of sorrows.


Neil said...

Very honest post' I can relate to much that is there.

Matt da Silva said...

Thanks mate. I've finished the work, but the residue of his writing lingers and for some reason I feel guilty about something. I meant it when I said 'wash job'. I also feel slightly uncomfortable about his turning, in retirement, to scoping out all those rellies he never cared about when we were kids. Both me and my brother were living overseas with our families by then. Ah well.