INTERVIEWER: Ali How did you find out about LifeBook?
Err really just overheard it at a party, some people talking about it. I asked more questions about it and got interested.
INTERVIEWER: You say you got interested, so how long before you decided to go with LifeBook?
I found out about it, in November, right around American Thanksgiving and I was going home to Boston, to see my dad and I told him. My Dad is nearly 80 and he has Parkinson’s disease and I wanted to make sure. I loved the idea of it straight away and though it would be perfect for him but I wanted to make sure that he was happy with it before I bought it.
So I went home and it was really nice actually because our whole family was together and we had loads of cousins, aunts and relatives. And I described the book to him and everyone in the family was like “that sounds really great, you should do that” and then he was happy. So I actually bought it 2 weeks later as a Hanukkah present for my dad.
INTERVIEWER: And how easy was it to buy?
Erm, you just go online and click the yes. Very, very easy!
INTERVIEWER: I’d be very interested to know, how your father actually reacted to the LifeBook process?
Well, it was interesting actually because, my dad had been trying to sort of write his own story for about the last 15 years; I think. He’s had Parkinson’s for a really long time and he’s a doctor as well. So it took him about 3 or 4 years to just write an article that appeared in a medical journal about a doctor having Parkinson’s and so that process was really familiar to him but he was getting very stuck and he was having a sort of hard time putting the story together or was doing the same thing over and over. So when I said someone would come and they would interview him and they would help him write it, his eyes lit up. I mean it was sort of something he needed help doing I think all along, I mean it absolutely perfect for my dad. This was always something he had been trying to do and couldn’t sort of manage by himself.
So he was thrilled with the idea and then he kind of pulled back, I think. I mean I was there for maybe 3 or 4 days with him, he kind of pulled back a little bit, I didn’t know why, and then about 2 hours later he came in with everything he’d written so far and said “do you think we could use this”, “let’s start going through old pictures” and he just seemed like, within a day of hearing about it, his mind was already sort of. How can I start to contribute to the process? What will I say? What will I do? So he seemed very engaged from the beginning.
INTERVIEWER: I can hear the passion in your voice and the joy that LifeBook’s brought to your father and the rest of the family are they experiencing the same?
Yeah, I mean, everybody’s very funny about it, you know. My brother wants to edit it; we just keep saying it’s not your book. You can’t edit it! And my sister and I, well my father said “no, no, you can’t read it, it’s a surprise” and it was just on the last trip that he said OK, well I want you to read it and tell us what you think and my sister’s much younger than me; she’s 15 years younger and I think she was like “well where’s some of the stories about me?” and you know everyone was kind of having fun and contributing with it. With what they remember and I think just also for all of us, seeing my dad engaged, seeing my dad have something he’s always working on, something he can do and like I said because he wanted to write his own memoirs for so long and just kept getting stuck. That we can see him just doing something he always wanted to do as well has been really fulfilling for all of us.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything during the process and your dad doing his LifeBook that’s come out that you didn’t know about before?
No, I think it’s more. Well, it’s funny that you just asked that because, we’re in the middle of moving right now and I’m trying to throw away a bunch of things and I found a big box of letters from my dad and we used to write letters to each other a lot, growing up and older. As I was reading the letters, I was remembering my much younger father and I was thinking I wonder if I should bring these to Boston for the trip next week and show him some of these. That young father that I had was, I remember I used to ask him lots of questions like. What’s the most important thing in life? Or what’s your biggest character trait and he would sort of say. “Enthusiasm”, he would say “ebullience” (he loved to use that word) and he would say it’s that passion that you bring to life. And I haven’t because of the disease; I haven’t seen that as much in my dad in the last few years but when you read the book; I read the book when I was last there. That’s there in it, you know, that spirit, that memory of his life. He was born in 1934 and he starts out with this story about Bonny and Clyde in America and I just think oh dad, what did you know about Bonny and Clyde? But he gets into what was happening in the world and I was born into the world and it’s just really funny and I hadn’t ever thought of Bonny and Clyde and my dad but putting the letters together, reading the book and thinking about the whole thing it’s like. There’s that passion, there’s that spirit and even if we don’t see it every day it’s coming out again, in the book. I know that it’s not about the book; it’s about the process, which has been great but one day when my dad’s gone. I know that I will like hear that, in the book. It’s really great to have that. Sorry.
INTERVIEWER: No no, not at all. That’s why it’s so special. That’s what makes LifeBook special and not just you; it’s sort of a legacy for all the family, for generations to come that your father won’t even have the chance to meet and that’s also beautiful in its own right.
Yeah, well they’ll definitely hear that. They’ll say “who was he”? Because he was just a doctor at Boston medical school. You know his life has been, he’s been just a solid member of the academic community in Boston and a great doctor but when you read his stories, he’s just bursting, you know his personality, through the pages. So if you only knew, like what he’d done in his life it all seems, very good. I mean we’re all very proud of him (his mother was very proud of him but you miss the kind of spirit, that is my dad. That if you know him, you would know and you can read that. It’s there.
INTERVIEWER: Is your mother still living with him?
Well, my parents are divorced and they divorced when I was 5, so he’s with my stepmother and they’ve been together for 27 years and she’s much younger and healthier than he is.
She’s so happy for him to have something to do. I mean, I don’t, I mean in a way I feel like that, minimizing it but it’s not. Like it’s so important. If you have anyone who’s failing in health or age, and I think one of the things we say about my dad; now that he’s nearly 80 is that age is the great equalizer. When he had Parkinson’s, when he was in his 60’s, you knew that he had Parkinson’s but in his late 70’s it’s just sort of like he’s just an older guy. Which I think is just a beautiful way of thinking about ageing and as you get on, I mean my dad’s an avid Boston sports fan. If it’s the Celtics, the Red Soxs. And then he’s from Pittsburgh so the Pittsburgh Stealers (these are all American sports). He’s an avid sports fan but as his capacity diminishes the more and more we find he’s just watching sports. Which is a great thing, he’s engaged, I’d rather he’d watch that than but he can’t, you know do a lot in the garden and he just can’t do that anymore so just having a project, having something to do. I think for my family people that are living with him, it’s incredible for him to have a purpose. To have a reason to get up, think about the day, you know to get dressed to see Anna the interviewer comes in and just talk and download the manuscript, print it. It’s meaning. It’s something important to do.
I don’t think it’s something at this point in his life, understate the importance of that. Or overstate its purpose, not sure what the right word is.
INTERVIEWER: Ah, well that’s lovely, so the whole process of an interviewer coming into the home and then seeing the manuscripts. It’s all been part of the LifeBook experience that he’s enjoyed?
There was a book that I read when my dad wanted to write his own story but I forget the name of the doctor but he was a doctor was Parkinson’s, who wrote his own story; that was similar to the story of my Dads which he originally wanted to write. And what I think was interesting is that LifeBook has made my dad’s story, not about Parkinson’s. It’s made my dad’s story about his whole life. About being in the war or about having children, about travelling, about people he’s loved it’s not about Parkinson’s and I think originally when he set out it was all about the disease. And I’m so happy that he’s now writing about life, about the joys in life. That’s made a really big difference.
INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned, on several occasions, what a joy it is for your father. That I’m picking up that the experience of LifeBook is also a joy for you.
I mean on a lot of levels. Number one, it’s hard to give your father something, you know like he gave me everything and you know, sometimes you’re like, one more tie for a present when he doesn’t even wear a tie anymore. What do you get? So one thing was, maybe this was selfish on my part but the idea that I could actually give him a gift that had real meaning, that was just some sort of silly sort of, you know throw away gift for another year on a holiday. So that meant a lot to me.
Two, that I gave him something, that he’s just doing; he’s just engaging his mind, that’s been huge.
And three, just it’s something to talk about too. You know, I tried to call my dad and I tried to see him as much as I can and call him a lot. It’s always, sort of. How’s the book going? You know, what are you working on? What’s the chapter you’re writing right now? So it’s giving us something else to talk about. As well it’s something positive to talk about, so that’s been great.
And I think also, just, I almost fell guilty that I read a bit of it when I was last there but hearing him reflecting back on moments in my childhood that I hadn’t really thought about. You know when my dad when I was in university. You know when I was having a bad day, my dad would say “let’s get sushi together”, that was always his answer to everything. “Let’s go out for sushi” and he wrote this story about meeting me in San Francisco and finding this sushi bar and he really remembered the night. I mean this had to have been 20 plus years ago and he really remembered the night, he remembered the size of the pieces of tuna and I could feel it, I remembered that. I remember that night with him and I was so happy to know that in these moments when it’s hard. He is in a hard stage in life, I know that he’s thinking, that he’s telling this story, he’s got to be happy telling it. You can hear it in the page so I know I’m giving him that gift of remembering, like a really happy time and I think that’s, you can’t give someone more than that. You know it’s brought me a lot of joy to have given it to him.
INTERVIEWER: Just outside, you and your brothers and sisters and the family in general. What about other people who’ve come in contact with your father, such as a career, outside family members have they seen any changes in your father?
So he has two people that care for him. One that lives with him and one who actually comes about four times a week and takes him shopping and out to lunch but she also is very good on the computer. So I’ve asked both of them, the one that lives with him, just thinks he’s doing great and she just says “don’t you think your fathers doing so well?”, you know she just really feels like he’s just got a lot of life in him. I don’t know that she’s connected it but I noticed that the last, every month that I’m home I noticed that she said that. And the one that’s helps him, she just says you know, “we’ve got work to do, we’ve got to print the pages, we’ve got to do some edits” and that’s a big part of what they do now together. They sit at the computer and you know, he reads to her some of the edits he wants to make and she’s. So I think its become (it would be interesting to ask her) but I think it’s become a big part of their time together, this project, which is great because you need something to do, something positive to be doing.
INTERVIEWER: Ali, many people say that they don’t have a story or who want to hear about me, I’m not important and you mentioned your father “being just a doctor”. So how did you and he overcome this?
Yeah, I think that’s a really funny question because, you know growing up, and my dad was. Well, he does tell this story right, which is that he had grand plans for what he was going to do. And he had a brother and my grandmother was very typical of her generation and she said to her sons. “You’re going to be doctors and that’s it. You can’t be anything else”. “Oh, you could be a dentist” I remember she said to my dad. “You can be a dentist or a doctor and that’s it” and we’ve always said to him it was the best thing that grandma could have done, you know, she gave you a profession that you have made a life out of this profession. And you know in his sort of way, he was sort of like “arghh, I couldn’t even choose what I wanted to be” and I what’s been great about that is just that he’s been able to have this incredibly rich life, even though he feels likes there been a sort of crossroads at sixteen or seventeen when he was told, no you can’t make a choice, you can’t build some incredibly whatever life my dad had imagined or could have had. You know, you’ll have this life and now he looks back he’s and he has so many things to tell. You know he went to Japan, he was drafted at 35 but in America, you could be drafted at 35 if you were a doctor. And they sent him to this place in Texas and they said to him, does anyone know anything about nuclear medicine? This is about 1965, which is now MRI (magnetic). No one knew anything about it then and my dad’s looking around and nobody’s raising his hand. So he raises his hand, “ I know something about nuclear medicine” and his buddy says “why have you put your hand up, nobody ever volunteers for anything in the army”. And said dad, why did you do that (it’s in his book) and he says. “Well I figured If I knew something no one else does they we’re going to put me on the front lines or something like that where they were all fighting”, so they called him in, this sergeant or something and says “great, you’re going into Japan” and he’s just married to my mother then and I think might have been pregnant with my brother and hey moved to Japan, where he set up some you know, some MRI unit and lived there, in Japan for two years. My brother was born there and it’s an amazing story. Like the time they had there, the fact that he went there at all, at this time. So you think, well I just had this whole life, you know my entire career in this one place but when you start to think about, things start to happen. You know the world opened up and there’s so many stories, so many stories. From a guy who almost spent his entire life in the same city working for the same hospital, so many stories.
INTERVIEWER: I understand why you’re doing LifeBook with your father at the moment but, what about your mother?
I just, I mean my mom’s right here just now. She’s actually in Scotland at the moment, she came for the weekend and I was just sitting with her and we were talking about, something, about her own mother and her own story (I can’t remember how it came up) and I, just remember thinking. I wonder if she would do this, but it was a really different question. Because my parents are divorced, I don’t even know that she knows I’m doing this for my dad. You know their kind of pretty separate in my life but in that moment I thought. My mums 67, she’s a young mother; I think 67 is young and she’s full of life and she’s really healthy and really happy and I never thought of LifeBook in that sense because for me, when I heard about it, it was perfect for my dad. I needed the process, I needed structure, I needed meaning, I needed something to keep him present and going and engaged and remembering and my mom doesn’t need any of that. But suddenly I thought, oh her story is so interesting and am I going to lose it? You know am I going to lose it, we’ve got a long history in my family, of no one knows anything about anyone. We were American Jews and a lot of families came from Austria and people just don’t know a lot and people don’t talk a lot and I was like. Well, I could do something about that now, I could capture my mother’s story, while she’s healthy and young and could tell the story, even though she’s a grandparent now to my daughter. It would be a life looking back but I’m still working that one out because I feel like that would be more for the story than for the process. Which I just haven’t thought of LifeBook that way because of how it came to me, you know around my father, so I’m thinking about it that way but I don’t know yet what I’ll do but it’s such an incredible experience, it’s such an incredible gift that again with my parents its always, I have to kind of feel it out, is she open to it? Does she want to share, the story? But if she did, in that case, I’d like the story. In my dad’s case, I wanted meaning and purpose and support for something I felt he needed. With my mom it would be like, would you do this for me? So it would be different, I’m thinking about it.
INTERVIEWER: So we never know what’s going to happen and so many people leave it till it’s too late and have regrets. So it’s about not having regrets.
If this had been around, when my grandmother was living; my dad’s mother. Who was called Annie Levine and when I had a daughter I named her Annie Levine. She was the absolute, love of my life. I would have given anything for her story and we tried so hard and it was always sort of. “Ohh stop baby, I’m not going to talk about it” she just wouldn’t give it up to us. SO I would have given anything for that story.
INTERVIEWER: And do you think that somebody, non-family, coming in, talking and interviewing makes a difference?
Definitely, I don’t how the difference is; I think it’s working really well with my dad. He sees her as a professional interviewer, here to do a job and he’s doing his dutiful part. You know what I mean, like that kind of structure works for my dad. I bet with my grandmother, she would have told more because it would have been enough removed. For my mom, I’d have to work it out, would she open up to a stranger, will she tell the story?
I don’t know I think that very individual, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Well the interviewer coming over a period of six months goes from stranger to friend and sometimes it’s easier to speak to someone, once removed than a family member.
Yeah, I know in my dad’s case, I mean, I have never met Anna, I mean everyone talks about her and, you know and they say what a sweet girl she is and how kind and how patient and she seems to just really get everything, which I find amazing, that she’s getting it all down. For all the joy and all the time and all that it’s brought to our life, just through the process and then we’re going to get ten books. I literally cannot believe the price and product; it’s very inexpensive for what you get.