Scott Berkun launches his new book today, the Ghost of My Father, a thoughtful memoir of family and reflection.
I first came to know Scott Berkun’s writing while I was at a communication seminar on campus where I work. One of the required books to read was Confessions of a Public Speaker. I got myself my own copy and was drawn to someone with years of public speaking experience who openly showed what was behind the curtain.
As a person immersed in web, social media, writing and speaking, I hear much about experts who know secrets they would be happy to reveal for a price. Not the case with Berkun.
Generous with his process and materials, he engages his readers with questions and curiosity. I don’t know him personally, but he has been a great help to me in my professional development as a writer and speaker. I use his Speaker Checklist at each conference where I speak.
He’s a clear and graceful writer, his skills honed from years of putting thoughts to paper. He opens up mysteries using his considerable intellect, much as Houdini exposed spiritualists of his day.
He’s recommended books to me that I have relished and showed all his readers the process of making this memoir. I voted on the cover (my bench choice won!) and read the raw excerpts on his blog. I’ve learned from him as he’s gone along, seeing how he markets this memoir and rallies his fans to support it.
Celebrity often comes with condescension. Again, not the case with Berkun. Honest with his readership, he doesn’t shy away from confessing he doesn’t know everything.
In his heart, he is a learner.
I read a lot of memoirs so I was interested to see how a writer I know in other contexts would approach this genre.
With this personal story, Berkun turns his intellectual power of careful examination to his own family. In Berkun’s memoir, you won’t find extreme drama like in Liar’s Club or Hope’s Boy. Instead, we read a story of difficulties most people will recognize.
The effects of his father’s affairs are described in poignant detail. We learn of Berkun’s personal transformation from a kid eager for his father’s attention to a man who sees his father as “a fool”.
As hard as he looks at his family dynamics, he looks at himself even harder. He seeks to connect the events of the past with his current outlook. How many times has he reached out to his father? Why does he repeat what didn’t work?
In the end, being a best-selling author who has studied business processes and the cognitive aspects of creativity doesn’t change Berkun’s role as son.
That is the truth for all of us. No matter how many accomplishments and experiences we add to our lives, we will always remain sons and daughters who long for our parents’ acceptance, acknowledgement and affection.
We want our parents to be people we understand and respect.
I had great compassion for his father as I read. I could see parts of my own father and parts of myself. As parents, we underestimate our influence. His father, whether unable to feel or unable to express himself, lashes out in short bursts and retreats in silence for long periods, leaving everyone stranded in their own interpretations of what the silence means.
In that silence, the seed of this memoir was planted.
With vulnerability and reflection, Berkun wrestles with the question, why can’t my father love my family the way we need to be loved?
He writes, “Art is how you find yourself.”
He can’t make what he wants to: a stable, close family. He makes the next best thing: art.
The pain, the confusion, the frustrated desire to connect but be unable to: all this becomes material for art in the form of this memoir where growth still seems possible. We see a tentative peace in his family. Optimism for his nieces and nephews. An offering of his own family story in hopes of helping others.
Ghost of My Father is available now (read an excerpt: bit.ly/ghost-excerpt). Fifty percent of the profits will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.