StoryCorps 522: Honestly Now
Michael Garofalo (MG): There’s this thing that happens in StoryCorps interviews. And we noticed it right away when we opened our very first recording booth back in 2003.
It’s the result of some mysterious chemistry. Something about the space… a darkened soundproofed room that shuts out the rest of the world, the fact that you turn off your phone, and that you’re looking another person in the eye.
This turns out to be a recipe for honesty–a kind of public media truth serum–and people end up being candid in ways that we don’t always allow ourselves in our daily lives.
And another thing we’ve noticed over the years is that this happens a lot between parents and their children. It can be lighthearted.
Sarah Avant (SA): And so what do you think it would be like to be in a family if I got married again?
Anand Hernandez (AH): I want you to get married, you know, because you’re not getting any younger.
AH: Well I’m just saying.
MG: But it can also lead to some pretty big revelations. Here’s what I mean. Take a listen to Bob Chase, Sr. speaking with his son, Bob Chase, Jr.
Bob Chase, Sr. (BCS): One of the greatest failings in my life involved you. Constantly in my mind is the fact that I mistreated you over a very stupid incident that occurred when you were young. And I’m sure you know the incident, your not wearing a raincoat to going to a guitar lesson. And, uh, I was for some reason incensed and I beat you. And, uh, that um incident has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I know it happened 50 years ago but – the memory – I can’t erase it. It’s still there, still present in my mind.
Bob Chase, Jr. (BCJ): Of course I remember that incident. But I wish you wouldn’t think of that constantly. I’ve said – and maybe I’ve never said it to you – but I’ve said this to many people: If I am good in what I do, no one in the world deserves more credit than you.
BCS: That means a great deal. And I know that – I really do.
BCJ: I’m glad you do. Because it’s true.
MG: It’s the StoryCorps podcast from NPR. And in this episode, parents and kids giving it to each other straight. We’re sharing some of the frankest exchanges we’ve heard over the years, coming up after this short break. I’m Michael Garofalo. Stay with us.
MG: Welcome back. For this episode we dove into the StoryCorps archive and pulled out some conversations that feature really striking honesty. Specifically, the kind of candor we often hear between parents and kids.
Let’s start with an interview recorded when our mobile tour stopped in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. Anand Hernandez was 11 when he spoke with his mom, Sarah Avant. They didn’t get much one-on-one time before this. His parents were recently divorced, and Sarah’s attention was often divided between Anand and his younger siblings. But they recorded this interview at the end of a week they spent together, just the two of them. Here’s how it went.
Sarah Avant (SA): How do you think you are different because your dad and I got divorced?
Anand Hernandez (AH): Well, I’m hoping to recover from the time of just stress. There was a lot of yelling around the house between you and Dad. And, I’m not happy that you guys are divorced, but I mean, I guess there’s kind of a convenience there, because I remember feeling really, like, I don’t want to make somebody look like a favorite. Now I spend one week with Dad, one week with you.
SA: And how do you think that will affect you in the long run?
AH: I don’t know. I mean I don’t see a life as a criminal. I mean, I just don’t want to be one. I guess after you guys got divorced, you know it was hard, but it was just a lot better. Fifth grade was a lot better this year too, so I’m hoping sixth grade to be the diamond year and to be perfect.
SA: So do you think the hard time that you had in school had a lot to do with what the environment was like at home–that we fought a lot?
AH: Yeah. I mean, I’m not trying to say, ”Oh, it’s all your guys’ fault.” But I definitely think that was a lot of the influence.
SA: And so what do you think it would be like to be in a family if I got married again?
AH: I want you to get married, you know, because you’re not getting any younger.
AH: Well I’m just saying. But then again, I don’t know, it would be kind of weird. I mean, no offense, but it’s already hard enough dealing with you, so, having a stepdad to worry about, that would be harder.
SA: What do you mean when you say worry about?
AH: Well, I mean, I have to worry about I’m meeting up to your standards.
SA: Well, I don’t want you to always feel like you have to make me happy.
SA: So if I were to remarry, what do you think the ideal situation would be like for you?
AH: Well I know this wouldn’t happen, but you getting remarried with Dad. But if it were to be somebody else than Dad–the ideal situation you being happy.
SA: If you had one thing that you want me to remember forever, what would it be?
AH: After spending the week with you and just you–probably this week. It would be really awesome if you could remember that.
MG: That’s Sarah Avant with her 11 year old son, Anand Hernandez. One thing that’s so impressive about that conversation is that Sarah just goes for it — she doesn’t hesitate to ask some pretty tough questions. But the kind of honesty we just heard doesn’t always happen without some coaxing.
Take this next interview, also between a mother and son, who normally have no trouble carrying on a conversation.
Gregory Bess (GB): We could talk about things for like hours. I think I learn more from those conversations than school.
MG: That’s 16 year old Gregory Bess. His mom’s name is April Gibson.
But even though they talk a lot, April knew there was one subject they hadn’t really explored. So she invited him to sit down at StoryCorps, knowing it might come up.
MG: Gregory spent the first half of the interview asking about his grandparents and her childhood, before his mom gave him an opening.
April Gibson (AG): Now you can ask me the hard question.
GB: What did you feel like when I was born?
AG: When you were born, um, I actually didn’t feel anything. I was sixteen and I was a kid. I didn’t know what I was doing. So when I took you home, I didn’t know how to feel. I made a bad choice according to everybody. I was ’just like all the rest of them.’ I don’t know what ’the rest of them’ means, but I know what it felt like. Like I didn’t deserve to feel the way women who do the right things do. Because why would you celebrate someone making such a poor choice? So I didn’t know what to feel. So I felt nothing. And I just took care of you — I did what I was supposed to do. Until one day, I realized that I couldn’t believe what people told me about myself or about ’those people’ like me. This is my baby and I love him and I can feel something. It’s not a fairytale, it’s not a failure. It’s just a process and now we’re here, 16 years later.
GB: What are your dreams for me?
AG: My dream for you, Gregory, is that you become a good person. And not a nice person. That’s not a deep quality to me. Niceness is mediocrity. I want you to not be afraid to be afraid. But mostly, I want you to be better than me.
GB: When I was little I was always looking for someone to look up to, but it’s always been right in front of me. You’re just the greatest person that I ever know. And I just want to be like you.
MG: That’s April Gibson and her son, Gregory Bess, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In the interviews we’ve heard so far, it’s the parents who really initiate these candid discussions. But in this last interview, it works a little differently.
Isaiah Fredericks (IF): I am Isaiah DeAngelo Fredericks, I am 9 years old.
Josiah Fredericks (JF): Hello my name is Josiah, my age is 7 years old.”
These guys interviewed their dad, Kevin Fredericks, in Los Angeles. And they had no problem asking about exactly what was on their minds.
IF: When and where were you born?
Kevin Fredericks (KF): I was born in El Paso, Texas in 1983 on my grandmother Ruthie’s bed.
IF: Interesting to know. I did not know that.
JF: How do you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
KF: I was a very happy, curious child. There was a lot of playing outside in the hot sun and drinking water from hoses.
IF: You drank water out of hoses? Man, I am learning so much new stuff about you.
JF: What’s the hardest thing about being a dad?
KF: The hardest thing about being a dad is having a drink that you want to drink, and small people put their nasty mouth all over it. And then whatever they were eating is now in the drink, and then you don’t want it anymore. Or buying them food and they don’t want their food but they want your food. You’re just never satisfied.
JF: Why can’t I be in charge?
IF: Because then everything would be a nightmare.
KF: Because you are missing four teeth and no one’s going to listen to somebody who doesn’t have teeth in their mouth.
JF: Why can’t I be an animal?
KF: You have to take that up with your creator.
JF: Why can’t we own a roller coaster?
KF: We can own a roller coaster, we just don’t.
JF: Okay, then let’s do.
JF: Why do things rhyme?
IF: How’s he supposed to know that?
JF: Why can’t we have a van?
KF: Why can’t we have a van? Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want a van?
JF: Why can’t I be more like you?
KF: What do you mean?
JF: I know I look like you, but more like you.
KF: Because you’ve got to be yourself, man. Follow your own path and enjoy being a kid. Being an adult is not as fun as it looks. Enjoy having nothing in your pockets, and no keys, and somebody else being responsible for buying all your food. Because one day you’re going to look up and say, ‘Man, I had it so easy.’ Who cut the peanut butter sandwiches in your life? I did! I cut hundreds and hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Any more questions?
JF: Are you proud of me? Me! Not him.
KF: I am very proud of you. You’re both fantastic children and I am happy and proud to be your dad.
MG: That’s Kevin Fredericks with his sons, Isaiah and Josiah, for StoryCorps in Los Angeles.
MG: And that’s it for this episode. These stories were produced by Katie Simon, Liyna Anwar, and Jasmyn Belcher Morris.