Choose to Be Happy by Melissa Francis, Author of “Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter”
As a journalist, I have built a career around asking other people questions. But answering them? That is another story altogether.
When the topic turned to my life growing up, I was the master of skirting the issue. Even with my closest friends.
“Are your parents coming for Christmas?” someone would ask.
“Not this year,” I’d reply.
“Do you have brothers or sisters?” they’d wonder.
“It’s just me,” I would say.
I hadn’t lied, but I hadn’t told the truth either.
The fact that I grew up on dozens of Hollywood sets — the fictional daughter of Michael Landon, Martin Sheen, Ted Danson, Glenn Close and others, hawking baby shampoo, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and Campbell’s soup — made the topic of my past even more attractive. And I didn’t mind talking about that part. But then diverting the conversation when it inevitably turned to my real family proved almost impossible.
I didn’t want to share the fact that my flesh and blood family had exploded and disintegrated in spectacular fashion. That behind the scenes, my magical childhood was fueled by the Hollywood version of a Tiger Mom – a Stage Mother whose wildly ambitious and often cruel ways ultimately destroyed my sister. Rather than explain, I preferred to just avoid the whole topic.
After years of skirting the issue, it was my four-year-old who was the one person I could no longer hide my past from.
“Where’s your Mommy?” he asked. This was not the first time he’d gone down this road. After all, his other grandmother – my husband’s mother – is a vibrant character in our family portrait, constantly abounding with energy and creative ideas for how to spend the day. Next to her, the hole where my mother should be is even more gaping.
I knew I had to come up with an answer that I could stand behind, not a diversionary technical-truth. So I dared to put my history on paper, in Diary of Stage Mother’s Daughter. And finally, in putting words to my story and sharing my life with the world, I have relieved the pain, largely because of the support showered on me by complete strangers.
Turns out, I was far from alone in having a troubled past. Judging from the letter, emails and Tweets I have received, I now realize that nearly every family has a dramatic, heart-wrenching story, that every person has suffered through their own trials. We could all write a book!
What counts is what we do now – how we move forward.
Rather than carrying past pain around and allowing it to paralyze us, I suggest that raw, aching memory can be harnessed as a richness of experience to draw upon. For me, I know how not to raise my sons. I took control of my history, stopped the cycle in its deadly tracks, and chose to take a different path into the future. I demanded a different relationship with my mother, and when she refused, I moved on to a new life. It was both a terrifying and a liberating choice. But it changed my life.
I’d love for anyone who reads the book to feel that they can learn from a challenged past and move forward positively towards a joyful future. You can choose to be happy – your very best person. It’s never too late.
© 2013 Melissa Francis
Melissa Francis grew up in southern California. As a broadcast journalist, she has anchored CNBC’s Power Lunch, The Call, and On The Money, and served as a regular contributor to the Today show and Weekend Today. Currently she hosts two daily business shows on the Fox Business Network, including Money with Melissa Francis. Francis holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Harvard University. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons. If your book club would like to schedule a phone or Skype interview with her, click here.