Podcast Episode 1 - My Dad Grew Up Without Books

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Amelia Lin: Hi, I'm Amelia and you're listening to Keep Life Stories, a podcast about the incredible stories hiding in everyday families like yours and mine. With Father's Day coming up, I thought it would be appropriate to go find stories in my own family, with my own 65 year old dad. And we have a really, really eye opening conversation.

Lisan Lin: When we grew up, there were no books, basically zero. As you're reading books, so any book that conduct whole off is such as a big thing.

Amelia: Yes, that's right. There were no books when he was growing up. We'll get to that in a minute, but how did I end up having this conversation with my dad in the first place? Well, a week ago, I asked him to do something quirky with me. I emailed him and I said, "Hey, I have a question that I want to know about your life. As a father, what was most important to you to teach us as kids?"

I told him I wanted him to think about his answer to my question and then record it on audio for me. Then I told him I wanted to listen to his recording together with him for the first time. What you are about to hear is me on a call with my dad about to listen to his recorded answer to my question together for the very first time.

Lisan (Recording): Both of you started to read very early. I learnt, when I was a kid, I read quite a bit when I was a kid. In my teenagers years in a young age, I enjoyed reading significantly and I learnt as much as I could. I thought that reading is probably one of the most important parts of a child or even an adult. It broadens up the horizon of your mind to let you really see lots of things in life and make you think and make you realize the beauty of life and the beauty of nature.

Amelia: I really remember those trips to the library and we would always bring this suitcase, a really big suitcase. Sometimes it was a carry on and it was so loud when we pulled into the library because the floor had tiles and so it would go, "Click, click, click, click, click", as you were rolling it across the tiles and it was really loud in a quiet library so you would attract all these attention, but we really would check out so many books each time that we needed it. We'd checked out 20 books, 30 books at a time.

Amelia: It's at this point in our call that the conversation really takes an unexpected turn. I'd always known that our family was big on reading, I mean, you can stand in any spot in our house. Within view, there will be a pile of books somewhere on some tabletop or window sill. It had actually never occurred to me where that must have come from for my own dad. He grew up during the Chinese cultural revolution in the 1960s in China, and it was the time of extreme poverty, both for him and his family.

I'd always heard stories about from him growing up, but it was only now after asking him this question that I realized how my childhood had really been shaped by his own.

Lisan: The matter of fact is that during those days, my parents actually discouraged that. My father didn't even have a chance to talk about it and he knew it was probably in his detention check. But my mother always says that, "Oh, you don't do that, these are books are forbidden. You will be in trouble." She always think that the education was actually brought the important needs to the family. At least in those days later she changed her mind, but in those days, she didn't encourage me at all. I just pointed myself.

Amelia: At this point, I'm already learning some pretty incredible things but my dad goes on.

Lisan: My best friend in childhood, happen somehow has the essays to close library. There's a teachers training college in China in my hometown at the library and all the books there were sealed. They say that these are the books not supposed to be read anymore, and they sealed it. Somehow he got the key and then get access into it. He sneak into to that room. Then we found all kinds of books in that room. We stole the book and we use it, we read it ourselves and we use it sometimes, we use it as a way to trade for other people's book.

Then in the end, we always return the book to the closed room but that's how we try to get books. Lots of the books, we have to finish overnight, and we got three people, three kids of my same age wanting to read that book, and we only have one night. Even at one time we even unbound the book so that you take the first part I take the second part, you take third part, you make into to assembly line.

I read the first quarter of the books, and I go into the second one that you read the first quarter, and so we are concurrently reading the book by doing that, and at the end, we put the book back, we bound the book and then return it. It's how difficult that the situation, how difficult for us to read a book. These were books that were so mind blowing. When you read it, your mind was so full with imagination, cheers and joy.

Especially in those days the life in China was so miserable and so suffocating. When you read those books, you kind of forgot the reality for one night and that's the greatest joy that you could have in those days.

Amelia: At this point my dad starts to talk about what it's actually meant for him as a father to see me and my sister grow up reading in a way that he couldn't read when he was a kid.

Lisan: Because we basically did not have any chance to physically be in touch with these things that are read in the books. Here at least, you and Elisa, we traveled, we brought you to see other places. We went to Europe when you were very young but that was absolutely out of question when we we grew up.

Without books we were just basically so ignorant [laughs] and so ill informed. For us reading is so important, so important in our growing up. When you read thousand books, you learn a lot and you learn a lot more than walking 1,000 miles basically because each book can cover millions of miles.

It's not only a very beneficial thing when you grow up as a kid, it's probably more important and more far reaching when that becomes a habit of your life because of the benefit it is for you all through your life. Not very many people especially today, lots of people are so acquainted to this online information and so picking up a book and reading a book is no longer as common as what it used to be. It is a shame.

Amelia: How does it make you feel that I asked you this question of, "Hey dad, looking back on your time as a parent, what would you like us to learn from your experience?" Like even just the fact that I asked you for that advice and that I want to have that saved. How does that make you feel?

Lisan: I do feel that just a simple fact of my kids wants to know more about family, know more about what we think. Know more about our old life and all these are very very important and very very encouraging to me. That you got to an age where you are mature enough that you want to know more about your parents, and more about their life, and more about our life and your life together and for better or for worse it's suddenly very rewarding to me to know that you want to know about this.

Amelia: Thanks so much for listening to Keep Life Stories. If you would love to have something like this for your own family, I actually do this for a living. I run a service called Keep Life Stories to help families record and capture memories of their loved ones on audio. You can learn more at keeplifestories.com and if you're looking for a special gift maybe for Father's Day, go to our website at keeplifestories.com, say you heard about us on our podcast and we'll give you a discount. Really, it's an amazing way to reconnect with family and we promise you'll learn things you never knew about the people that you care about most like I did with my dad. Thanks so much again for listening and I will see you next time.