I just finished reading Diane Keaton’s recently published autobiography Then Again in which she diligently pays homage to all that was–all that is–her mother, Dorothy Hall. The book prompts plenty of questions:
How does one continue to create art without an audience?
How can someone who resides in the throes of insecurity still have so much to offer to others?
Why do we think we must be happy all the time?
But the question that lingers, the one I can’t seem to shake is one that Keaton may not have intended and one that her mother certainly never asked:
Of my children, who would I choose to be my biographer?
There is an incredible and narcissistic assumption at work in this question, of course. Who’s to say any one of my three children would choose to chronicle my life–either beside theirs or separate from?
But narcissism aside, as a parent, it is a curious intellectual exercise to envision which child would do the “best” job, provide the most ‘accurate” assessment, create the most “flattering” portrait.
Keaton mentions her siblings from time to time in her book and makes a passing comment that each loved their mother in their own way. That prompted me to consider what her siblings would have written had they authored the book, had they the same name recognition as their famous sister.
Keaton’s (auto)biography is a tribute in no uncertain terms; her mother is mythologized despite Keaton’s pointing out her idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. Would Dorrie, Robin, or Randy, Keaton’s siblings, have done the same? Would the love they felt for their mother prompted similar musings?
As I sit here chronicling my children’s lives, I aim to be a reliable narrator, to report accurately what I see and observe. Would my children do the same were the roles reversed? Or would they put me on a pedestal, memorializing me with flattering words that may or may not reflect reality?
I can’t say. If, upon my demise, they discover anything I’ve written that prompts them to write, as was the case with Keaton, then so be it. I trust each of them equally to do the job that makes sense to them, that brings them comfort. Dorothy Hall may not have been perfect, but she gave her children the permission and space to always be themselves. And for that reason alone, perhaps, she deserves her daughter’s lauding.
I hope my children can (and will) say the same of me.