Jennifer Grant, author of a profound new memoir about her movie star dad, explains why facing her past helped reveal her future
Over the years, my girlfriends and I have occasionally lost ourselves pining for relationships gone awry. We yield to the self-deluded process of yearning for a new man, a happy romance, great sex, or something better than donuts and bacon to fill the void that the last intimate wreck left behind. In these moments I remind myself that we must let go of the last love to move on to the next.
This emotional truism applies to more than just romantic relationships. To make space for the new, we must relinquish our attachment to long held stuff (as I regularly do in my closet). In my family life, I needed to unlock the repressed grief of losing my father in order realize my desire to be a mother.
Writing “Good Stuff,” a book about my relationship with my father, Cary Grant, helped me to realize that goal. I finished the book twenty-five years after his death. Throughout my life I‘ve been asked to speak out about my father, but it took me more than two decades to consider the prospect.
Why so long? I had rote answers, which were all true enough. My father was an extremely private man. We were an extremely private family. When I was born, Dad retired from the acting business and all its attendant details. We never went to Hollywood parties, never discussed show business, and only once did we actually go to a theater to see a movie. When Dad stopped — just as he had with smoking many years before my birth (“It’s terrible stuff, darling, stains your teeth, makes your clothes smell terrible, your breath stink, and one looks utterly ridiculous doing it”) — he really stopped. Dad was out of the public realm. He never exposed his life to the press, so why would I? With the general nature of memoirs being ugly, tawdry exposes, what could I possibly write about? I’ve had a basically happy life. So the answer to the request to write about Dad was always a simple, unequivocal “no”.
The decision to do this book took hold after two close friends, unknown to each other, encouraged me to write about Dad during the same week. Maybe there was something to it. Opening up my personal treasure chest was a slow process. My dearest friends have, until now, never heard the stories I’ve written about or my point of view on them. These are women who I have known for 20 plus years – the ones I turn to for advice on everything from lip gloss to gynecologists. Have I been totally closed off? As far as Dad goes, apparently so. I was emotionally stuck, and I had no idea of the wealth of emotion that lay beneath the surface.
Once I found the courage to invest myself in writing about Dad, I went through the archives of our life together. Dad kept every scrap of paper; he made Super 8 films, saved photographs, and even made audio recordings of the day-to-day goings on around the house. I was able to have those days back — cathartic to say the least. Revisiting our life flushed the wound, until finally, I caught up with myself emotionally.
Then one day, Sophia Loren (we’ve never met, but I knew instantly why Dad loved her) put it to me bluntly over the phone: “Why haven’t you had a child? You simply must! You’re missing something wonderful.” Clearly I had put off my desire to be a mother and I couldn’t articulate why. It just hadn’t happened … I hadn’t met the guy … I had a happy life, perhaps this was enough … I was meant to be childless. My answers skimmed the surface. My own mother, Dyan Cannon — likely turning her prayers to a higher source — had blessedly stopped asking for a grandchild.
Sophia Loren certainly wasn’t the first person to share this sentiment with me. But having cleared my emotional closets, the question had room to resonate within me. A year into my writing “Good Stuff,” at the age of 41, I conceived my now almost 3 year old son. I was pregnant with Cary Benjamin as I wrote about life with my father.
Prior to writing, I simply hadn’t been ready to open my heart to another deep familial love. My vessel was too blocked with pain to welcome it. However, I believe there are no coincidences. As I wrote, I processed enough to let go of the pain of losing my father and let myself welcome the joy of having a baby.
How is it possible to be so paralyzed and not know it? How can we recognize when we’ve fallen into the trap of silence? One possible answer is looking for the doors we refuse to walk through. I’d been asked countless times to write a book or do some sort of television special on Dad, but I never truly examined the reasoning behind my knee-jerk no. Well, tickets to freedom aren’t cheap. Now, when life comes knocking, I’ll be certain to investigate a little deeper.
It’s worth it.
Jennifer Grant is the author of the new memoir “Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant.” Born and raised in Los Angeles, she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in history. Before becoming an actor, she worked for a law firm and as a chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Her first acting role was in Aaron Spelling’s “Beverly Hills, 90210”, and she later appeared in “Friends,” “Super Dave,” and “CSI,” as well as several feature films. She lives with her son, Cary Benjamin, in Beverly Hills, California.