I just read an incredibly moving passage from Diane Keaton’s new memoir Then Again–it’s a letter written to her daughter Dexter in 1998, when she was still a baby:
“Here’s a bone of contention. More often than not, people come up to me and say, ‘Is that your grand-daughter?’ Dexter, I’m sorry I’m a Granny-aged mother. I know it’ll be a burden. But maybe you can turn it into a plus. I’m sure there will be some serious bumps on the road, but I’ll try to to keep up with your point of view, and I promise to listen. Maybe that way we’ll find a common ground. Aunt Robin and Dorrie are considerably younger, so if anything were to happen to me they’ll take care of you. I regret you don’t have a father, not even a father figure, but who knows, things could and do change. I’m sorry. When I get too long in the tooth to take care of myself, I assure you I will not be a burden. You’ll have your independence, just as Mother gave me mine. In return, let’s cut a deal: promise me you’ll be the kind of woman who has empathy for the plight of others. I’m not asking you to wear your heart on your sleeve. I’m asking you to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what it might feel like. You’ve been given privilege. It’s a responsibility you have to live up to by being even more aware of what it’s like not to be so fortunate. Stay human, sweetie, stay human.”
I used to work for Diane’s production company in my 20s and last night I was lucky enough to attend a small party held in her honor. All the things you might think about her are true– she’s gorgeous and stylish and very funny and grounded and self-aware and extremely curious about people and art and pictures and ideas.
When I was 13 my best friend and I used to wish Diane Keaton was our mother. Looking back, I think we must have seen in her the perfect combination of ambition and nurturing. At 13, womanhood can seem like an encroaching threat but Diane– as we saw her in the Woody Allen movies and Reds and Mrs. Soffel and Shoot The Moon— provided us with a sense of endless possibility. You could be bat-shit goofy and a powerhouse of talent and intellectual curiosity. You could be a dreamy California girl and go to an analyst and wear a tie.
Diane’s new memoir– which I’ve only just started and can’t stop reading– delves into her life as a daughter and a mother. (There’s also some juicy stuff about Warren Beatty.) I’m adding this book to my ever-expanding list of essential, non-instructional parenting books. Sure we need to know the risk factors of room temperature deli meats and the pros and cons of pacifiers, but we also need to give thought to this huge identity shift; the move from daughter to daughter-and-mother. The above passage is just one example of a woman who didn’t shy away from thinking about these shifts and our changing, often utterly confusing roles. It also shows that keeping a journal over the years of parenting is a fine idea. (Maybe I’ll make some notes about my kids now…. before I forget.) Thank you, Diane, for the inspiration. Dexter is a lucky girl.
Learn more about Diane Keaton, one of Hollywood’s Savviest Single Moms!