It’s hard for anyone to truly know everything about their parents’ past, but San Francisco-based writer Sara Faith Alterman had a revelation about her dad that would make anyone blush.
Her father, Ira Alterman, a goofy, wordplay-loving dad who would skip through the kissing scenes in any movie he watched with his family, had authored several adult humour books before she was born. With titles such as How to Pick Up Girls and The Jewish Sexual Manual, the bawdy illustrated paperbacks were safely out of reach for Sara and her brother.
But one Saturday afternoon, Sara found she could reach the top of the bookshelf in the “Duck Room” — her family’s themed rec room — and noticed the stack of books, written by her father, starting with one that suggested it was about games she could play with her “pet cat.”
“There weren’t any games in this book. And the how-to chapters didn’t contain any actual grooming or feeding information,” she writes.
It was the illustrations in Bridget’s Sexual Fantasies that made her realize the books were something she wasn’t meant to see.
“My parents… were straitlaced squares who wouldn’t let me or Daniel anywhere near a book with a naked lady in it.”
Through her adolescence, she dealt with what she saw as her father’s hypocrisy, as he forbade her from watching PG films like Back to the Future or read Judy Blume’s classic coming-of-age story, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Bon Jovi’s album Slippery When Wet album was definitely out of the question.
Alterman’s charming memoir Let’s Never Talk About This Again is filled with cringeworthy humour, which seems to be her specialty. In addition to writing for the Boston Globe, New York Times and McSweeney’s, she is a producer of Mortified, a storytelling project that allows adults to share their awkward teenage diaries through stage, screen, books, podcasts and even a board game.
The stories from her young dating years are particularly funny, as mom and dad awkwardly try to find ways to tag along with Sara and her boyfriend.
Even more awkward is reading how her dad’s books truly were her sex education.
“I took copious notes on oral sex, bondage, S&M, rape fantasies, tickle fantasies, elevator fantasies, the best way to peel an Irishman’s potato,” she writes.
For the longest time, Alterman never mentioned the books to her family. But in her adulthood, her dad, unemployed and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, called to see if she could help him by editing a series of new books, with titles such as Sex After 40, My Daily Sex Planner and The Clown Kama Sutra.
Because of his declining health, she knew her father’s new books would never be published, but edited them for him anyway. Meanwhile, Ira acted like it wasn’t strange for her to be helping with his sex books at all. This was his way of trying to start a “family business” and leave a legacy.
As she becomes a parent herself and watches her dad’s health decline more quickly than expected, Alterman’s memoir turns from naughty and cringe-funny to poignant and heartwarming.
Let’s Never Talk About This Again is both funny and touching, and a real tearjerker for anyone who’s lost a parent or experienced a loved one’s battle with Alzheimer’s.
Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based writer who misses his parents dearly.