In a moving essay, executive editor Mimi Swartz reveals her emotional journey as she reconnects with her father after the loss of her mother. As the new matriarch of the family, she’s learning how to balance roles and navigate the best course of action, from giving advice and asserting herself to avoiding tender spots and being there for her dad. Here’s the story behind the story.
What are the main differences between your perception of your childhood and your impression of your son’s childhood?
I think my son had a childhood in which his parents were more involved, for better and for worse. My parents were involved in my life, but they picked and chose what they wanted to be involved in. For example, they didn’t hang out at the elementary school every Friday at lunch, which I did. When I look back, I’m not sure that was a blessing or a curse for my son. Surely there is a happy medium somewhere . . . that maybe the next generation of parents will find.
You mention that you didn’t want to take on your mother’s role. Has it been easier now that more time has gone by?
Has it been easier to take on her role? I think yes, partly because I haven’t taken on all her roles. I don’t have the time or the inclination, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be appreciated by the rest of my family if I did.
You had friends who passed on suggestions and recommended books. Did you ask for advice? Did that kind of support help you as you struggled with your new responsibilities?
I definitely relied on my friends for support. They were great, particularly those who had already been through the death of a parent. Every situation is unique, but there are always some universal experiences, and the sharing of those really helped guide me.
What made you decide to write about something so personal?
The idea came from my editor, Jake Silverstein. I thought it was a good idea, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it, frankly.
What role do your brothers play in your family now? Has their relationship with your father changed as well?
I think everyone is a little closer, because we all sense that time is finite.
Why did you decide to include the corgis in your story?
I couldn’t have written the story without them. They are an integral part of my dad’s life. Also, it probably made the story a little more universal, because so many people take solace from their pets.
Did you tell your dad you were writing about him? If so, what was his reaction?
Yes, and he was fine with the story. I had to give him a heads up that he would be featured.
What are some of the most effective ways to strengthen a relationship between a parent and a child?
Talking, talking, talking. I don’t think it matters what you say, but just keeping the lines of communication open in any way possible, and then building on what you have. I don’t, for example, ask my son about his grades every time I talk to him. That would be a bad idea.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story?
I’m afraid it was all difficult, just because I had to go back to a time when I was really grieving and re-conjure it all.
What do you want people to take away from this piece?
That they should spend time with their loved ones, because we never know when we will lose them.