Author, radio personality and columnist Richard Glover had an unusual upbringing and his portrayal of his eccentric parents couldn’t be stranger if he made it up. Flesh Wounds is a highly entertaining memoir that manages to be both laugh-out-loud-funny and deeply moving. Richard Glover tells Better Reading why he chose to open up about his early life.
Better Reading: The story of your parents is very funny but equally very sad. Was it a painful story to write?
Richard Glover: I had fun writing the more comic passages and, yes, felt quite sad writing the tougher parts. While I didn’t write the book as self-therapy, I do think it can be quite helpful to put things down in writing. By doing so you turn these sometimes chaotic feelings into an object that you can can polish and buff and then, to some extent, put on the shelf to see if it’s useful to others.
BR: Many people have strange families as shown by the game you played with friends, ‘Whose got the weirdest parents?’ However your descriptions of your parents’ eccentricities really are hilarious. Was there much embellishment or did you tell it exactly as you remember it?
RG: I think it’s fair to say that I use comic exaggeration in some of my other books, such as George Clooney’s Haircut, but not here. It’s all as I remember it, with Debra, my partner, often able to confirm my memory of the scene. While sometimes the wording is my best attempt, some phrases burn themselves into the memory with a fierceness which means I’m happy to claim them as an exact transcript. My mother furiously denying that she held me as a child in New Guinea – “the natives did it” – is one example.
BR: We’re still intrigued by the fact that your mother and father may have conceived you without actually having sex… You never really get to the bottom of this do you?
RG: My mother and father had similar, but slightly different, versions of this. They both told me their marriage was unconsummated for its first 12 years. Wanting to have a child, they travelled to Sydney from Port Moresby and attempted some old-school artificial insemination with the help of a gynaecologist. According to my mother it worked: she was both pregnant and a version (so if you want to call me Jesus….). According to my father, it didn’t work, they travelled back to New Guinea, and she was forced to sleep with him just the once, in order to have me. Either way, I find it hard to think of myself as a love child!
BR: Despite your parents’ poor parenting skills, you report being generally satisfied with your own parenting of two sons, though you do sometimes express self doubt about this in Flesh Wounds?
RG: The book is very fierce on the idea that you can be a good parent, even if you haven’t had good parenting yourself. We talk as if nearly everyone had a mother and father who loved them, but I think there’s a very large minority who didn’t get the love they would want to give a child of their own. And yet we are not all mad and dysfunctional. We find the love elsewhere and go on to live healthy lives. And we also go on to be good parents. It’s all part of the amazing resilience of human beings.
BR: In Flesh Wounds you sometimes sound surprised that you’re not dysfunctional despite your dysfunctional upbringing. How much do think this is due to the constant love and affection you received as a very young child raised by a loving nanny in PNG and later in life, the strong relationship with your partner Debra?
RG: Yes, I mentioned our ability to find the love we need elsewhere, and I think that’s what happened to me. We stich a quilt of love from what we are offered. In this book you do meet some pretty bad people, but also some very good people. Hopefully the good people have the loudest voice.
BR: Despite its humour, this book would be an excellent read for anyone coming to terms with strange or neglectful parents. Do you hope that will be the case?
RG: Already, that’s been the reaction to the book. Even though I tell my own eccentric stories, the book seems to immediately take people for a journey into their own story. One reader emailed me just a few days ago talking about how the book had caused her to “cut away some bandages that had been there a long time”. She said there was “much blood and much healing”. I’m not sure that was the response I planned, but I’m delighted to hear that it’s working that way for at least some readers.
BR: In Flesh Wounds you say that despite being openly emotional in many other areas of your life – your writing and your family – when it came to your parents you would shut down. What changed that you were able to start researching their background in detail and writing honestly about it?
RG: The book is really a long debate about how to deal with poor parents. Some pop psychology says that you can’t hold them at arm’s length; that you must “resolve things” with your parents before they die. That may sound sensible, but not all parents are designed for this purpose; some are inadequate to that project. I don’t know if the book resolves the question of how to deal with them in a black and white way. I still hold the memory of my parents at a distance, but I do now know more about the truth in a way that makes more sense of my own story, and theirs.
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