Things My Father Taught Me: Jamie Yuenger

I met Jamie Yuenger at work. We both worked on the floor of a shop in New York. From the moment I met her, I adored her. She’s so full of life, seemingly recording all of life’s little moments, celebrating each in her own special way. She brings so much of her intelligence to every conversation, and she willingly gives everyone a chance to do the same. I was so excited for her when she started StoryKeep, a multimedia storytelling platform. There’s no one better suited to tell the types of stories found at StoryKeep — deep, caring, meaningful ones — than Jamie.

I’m thrilled she was willing to put her talents to work for this ongoing series.

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When you grow up with your parents, their life lessons come to you with second helpings at dinner. Their memories are often relayed to you when you are young and self-absorbed. It’s not until you see your parents aging that you wake up. In an instant, you realize you don’t know their lives as well as you thought.

I met my biological father when I was nine years old and only started to get to know him when I was fourteen. I never shared a weeknight dinner with him but we talked on the phone a lot. As a high schooler, I reflected an abnormal amount on how we “come from” someone, some family. While getting to know him, that fact seemed cosmic and mind-blowing.

I flew to the Pacific Northwest this spring to visit my dad. When I brought up the idea of recording his life stories to Lisa, my friend and business partner, she was delighted. Lisa and I started StoryKeep because we believe in the paramount importance of stories and how the documentation of them becomes a gift to both the storyteller and the recipients. Watching my dad, I saw that he wasn’t so young anymore.

Before I took out the camera, the act of recording him overwhelmed me. His significance in my life can not be overstated. I had twice heard his friends say to each other, “You know, she worships him.” And they were right. It was my late reunion with him that made his life so meaningful. After all, so much could be unknown to me. Who would I be if I didn’t know that my father was a survival instructor in the Air Force, that he taught military students how to build fires and igloos, to skin rabbits and porcupines, and after the Air Force, that he worked as a loadmaster on C-141 planes, not because he enjoyed calculating the weight and balance of aircraft, but because he knew C-141s flew to the most interesting places on the planet. He was a Dead Head who rollerbladed inside bombers after the tanks and supplies were unloaded. His telling of these stories made me braver, bolder. They opened the world up to me. They instilled in me a ruggedness that is equally necessary for making it in New York City as it is when your plane is shot down in the woods. DNA particles make us who we are, and then there are the stories we are told.

After several days of sitting in front of a camera, my dad shared something with me that he could have never said over dinner if I had grown up under his wing. He had to live the life he did without me to find it out. He said, despite all the seemingly incredible things he’s done, he knew that the “biggest mistake” he ever made, having an affair with my mom, ended up being the best thing he ever did. Looking through the camera lens, I caught his eye, which was tearing. “Each moment brings us to this one. We can’t stop in despair or guilt. We just never know what’s around the bend.”

Jamie Yuenger

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