This I Believe

Jennifer - Newbury Park, California
Entered on March 12, 2007

I believe in telling stories.

My father, who passed away 8 years ago, was a great storyteller. He used to weave amazing tales for my brothers and me—stories he made up, fairy tales he remembered, respectful plagiary of his favorite books. I knew the plots of the Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia, as retold by my dad, long before I encountered them on the page.

At night he would sit at the foot of our beds and in his low voice tell about the wicked old hag who lived on the mountain behind our house, or the tale of an angry little man with the ability to spin straw into gold. He made up a serial bedtime story that continued for years about the adventures of a princess named Golden-eyes and her brother, Prince Goody-Goody.

Dad enjoyed telling stories, it was obvious. The skin around his eyes would soften and his gaze would grow distant, looking off into space, as if he wasn’t making the story up at all, but pulling it, fully formed, out of the ether. His voice was intimate and unhurried.

As we grew older his stories grew with us. The onset of my teen years marked the end of the bedtime story, and the beginning of a story exchange. During long car rides he would spontaneously relate crazy and dangerous things he and his five siblings did during their childhoods. Sharing these secrets of his past invited me to confide misdeeds of my own. I found that my dad was not only a talented storyteller, but a sensitive listener as well.

I loved sharing these personal stories. They helped me see my dad as more than just my dad, but as a person in his own right. I don’t mean to idealize my childhood. I had many adolescent fights with my Dad, and got into plenty of trouble. But through it all we were always able to communicate. We were never strangers to each other. And these memories I have, my own and those he related to me, are pieces of him that I hold onto with both hands now that he’s gone.

I have two daughters of my own now, and I tell them stories often. I have taken a leaf from my father’s book and made-up a fantastical bedtime serial for them. I tell them my favorite fairy tales, or ancient myths. I recount interesting historical events. But their favorites by far are the stories I tell them of my own childhood. I hope that as they grow they will continue to listen to what little wisdom I have to share, and feel comfortable sharing stories of their own.

I believe in telling stories. Stories educate, enlighten, entertain, reveal our personal histories and sharpen our memories. They prove the infinite reaches of our imaginations. But most importantly, they open our hearts to each other. They keep us from becoming strangers with those closest to us. This is what I believe.