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Believe In You: A Family’s Journey of Life, Love, And Loss

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Worth reading 😎

Conversation starters and points to contemplate from a mother and son's oral history and present-day lives; be encouraged, believe in you!

Synopsis

In this intimate and revealing conversation between a mother and son, Jared Milrad and Jan West take a fascinating look at the experiences, moments, and people that have shaped their lives - both together and apart. From Childhood to Marriage to Family, Animals, Activism, Movies, Politics and just about everything in between, Jared and Jan hold no punches as they explore how life, love, and loss shaped their lives and fueled their connections with others. A former staffer for President Barack Obama and a filmmaker who has worked with leaders across Hollywood and beyond, Jared reflects on growing up in a single parent household, coming out as a gay man, pursuing multiple creative passions, and working at the highest levels of politics, nonprofit advocacy, and entertainment. In a free-flowing interview style, Jared explores his mom's remarkable life: growing up in a dysfunctional household, marching for civil rights, working through a divorce and difficult relationships, and raising two kids as a single mother on a secretary's salary. It's a conversation rarely had - and even less often recorded - between a parent and child, particularly with such honesty, thoughtful reflection, and considered insight into what makes a family's bond truly eternal.

Family relationships are important and shape you for the rest of your life. It's imperative to revisit the past for the purpose of picking and choosing what you would like to replicate within your own life and those things you want to change the trajectory of in the future. The people who are older than you hold the keys to understanding those things you have yet to live through; no matter how progressive the times, certain things within the human experience remain the same.


I gravitate towards stories being told within books more so than transcriptions of recorded conversations. However, in regard to certain topics discussed I'm certainly glad they were presented in this fashion rather than story form. For instance, when discussing dating history, reading intimate conversation is far better than gratuitous sex scenes of one night stands. An edited version of a person's coming of age and into their own comes through polite conversation and it's this polite conversation style that I appreciated the most.


The biggest take-away from reading this book is found in relation to its title: Believe in You! You might not always have the support of people in your life that you should, and abandonment takes its toll; however, ultimately you can't allow others to stop you from being you. You have to make choices that ring true to who you are. Sometimes it won't make sense financially but finances aren't everything. Being true to yourself is the only way to live your life with no regrets.


The bottom lines: You should be close to your family. Life is finite. Your body ages but your spirit remains youthful. Those you grew-up with, even when incredibly different, still know you better than anyone else ever will. There is love, respect, and understanding that exists between siblings even if/when it goes unspoken.


Take time to speak with you parents, to record their stories and their thoughts, to learn from their triumphs and from their mistakes. Believe in yourself and may you find that when you reflect back upon your life that you have accomplished and experienced more than you ever thought possible for one person to achieve and do.


Life isn't over until your last breath may you live each breath to its fullest!



Reviewed by

Reading books and writing reviews brings with it every emotion under the sun; forever changing, forever changed, and I wouldn't have it any other way. May my words not only help fellow readers but also the authors of the books we read.

Synopsis

In this intimate and revealing conversation between a mother and son, Jared Milrad and Jan West take a fascinating look at the experiences, moments, and people that have shaped their lives - both together and apart. From Childhood to Marriage to Family, Animals, Activism, Movies, Politics and just about everything in between, Jared and Jan hold no punches as they explore how life, love, and loss shaped their lives and fueled their connections with others. A former staffer for President Barack Obama and a filmmaker who has worked with leaders across Hollywood and beyond, Jared reflects on growing up in a single parent household, coming out as a gay man, pursuing multiple creative passions, and working at the highest levels of politics, nonprofit advocacy, and entertainment. In a free-flowing interview style, Jared explores his mom's remarkable life: growing up in a dysfunctional household, marching for civil rights, working through a divorce and difficult relationships, and raising two kids as a single mother on a secretary's salary. It's a conversation rarely had - and even less often recorded - between a parent and child, particularly with such honesty, thoughtful reflection, and considered insight into what makes a family's bond truly eternal.

Childhood

Jan:

Okay. My childhood, I guess we'll start there since I was born before you. (laughs)

My childhood was very difficult because my parents were two people who didn't basically like one another. Maybe they did in the beginning, but that was before I was around.

I was born in 1942. I think they were married in ‘40, because they were together when Pearl Harbor happened. They were always fighting. I don't remember in my early childhood anytime when they were not fighting. I think I recall them being more civil to one another as they went along. And my brother Barry, who was born in 1946, he and I were very close because of the fact we had unstable parents.

My mother was quite pretty and vivacious. She was controlling, demanding. You knew she loved you, but she loved you only if you really behaved; you had to do what she wanted you to do. My father, he was a pharmacist. I never quite felt his love because I think he had such a bad background. His father was a traveling salesman. And so he was never around. And his mother, I think early on she had, and in those years they didn't acknowledge it, menopausal problems. So the whole family was kind of nutty. And my brother and I were close like twins because of it.

This is early, early, early on, and until later on, then things started to happen. My maternal grandfather was tall and a nice-looking man and a successful businessman. He came over from Russia in 1904. And he ended up having a big, wet wash laundry in the ‘30s. He became a father figure to me because I spent every weekend with him and my grandmother. For my parents, I think it took some of the pressure off. Maybe my mother realized that in some strange way their constant arguments were affecting my brother and I. She once asked me about something that had come up (when she was divorcing my father) and wanted to know what I thought about it.

By then I was in my late teens and I didn't think much about it. I saw my father crying on the couch and I thought, "Why is daddy crying?" I was maybe five. We went to Florida, we lived there for a number of years in a hotel, which was fun. And it just was my mother, because he didn't come down. My mother, at that point, had a fair amount of boyfriends. So I had this unreal childhood. The only stability were my grandparents and the Jewish holidays. I am very much proud of being a Jew. I'm not religious because I can't accept this deity thing (laughs) but I do like the idea of being Jewish.


Jan:

Of course, when my grandparents died, that ended the ritual thing because my mother never made anything. The only thing she would do was on Shabbos. She used to light candles and say some prayer. She did speak Yiddish, but became less and less religious after my grandparents died in the '60s and '70s. So my mother was tough to figure out. I think, honestly, I never quite knew my mother and my father.

As I grew up, in my teen years, it was just very hard to constantly hear the non-stop arguing. Yet somehow, I didn't think that marriage was a bad thing because I had other girlfriends who didn't quite fit in either.

I had friends of other ethnic backgrounds. I had a Mexican girlfriend and a Thai girlfriend. So I wasn't a popular teenager. I had friends like that who weren't the norm of what was expected of a nice little Jewish girl. I just liked people. And I found early on also that I developed a sense of empathy for others, and the other passion, even when I was very young, was the movies. I used to watch the late shows, sneak in and watch it because my father would watch it.

And that was probably the only time that I really sat next to my father for a while.

My mother used to drop me off at the movies. I was seven or eight and they had a matron on Saturdays. They usually had a little show and then they showed a movie and I'd take my brother along as he got older. Movies and books were my outlet as a very little girl. I was a very good reader early on. And I think that was probably even deliberate on my part because it removed me from the constant bickering at home. And I don't know if I worded it as hatred, I can't dissect that. And I think it's fair to say that my childhood was radically different than your childhood.


Jared:

Well, I think there are some similarities and differences between your childhood and mine. We're both products of a divorce. Your parents' divorce was different and maybe it was never fully a divorce. But for me, my early childhood memories are punctuated by that for sure. That experience of the separation between you and Dad. Like you, as a child, I definitely was always in my head. I was always imagining things - stories or connecting to animals. I suppose I was a dreamer similar to you as a child. I certainly enjoyed books. I enjoyed movies. I remember seeing Beauty and The Beast with Shawn and Florence, our babysitter. And my brother and I were very young. So I remember certain experiences like that probably because they were meaningful to me.


Jared:

Do you think your childhood is a part of your life that still very much affects you?


Jan:

It definitely affected me, throughout my teen years and my twenties, very much so. I was always looking for my mother to love me. My mother could shut down, she wouldn't speak to me or as I got older, she would literally walk right past me and not look at me. So that parental - I guess today you'd call it abuse, right? That type of thing. Always. That stayed with me my whole life.


Jared:

And that's interesting because I remember when Shawn and I were kids, you were very intentional about not replicating what your mother did to you in terms of that sense of perfection or that sense of high expectation that you can never meet. So I remember my childhood was a lot more free-flowing perhaps than yours, because I had the benefit of your experience with your mother. Perhaps you were rebelling against that.


Jan:

Right. And I made a very concerted effort not to be like my mother in that way because it had a serious effect upon me. And then my brother turned out to have schizophrenia starting around age 9.


Jan:

The best part of my childhood was when my parents were divorced and we lived in Florida in the landmark Cardozo Hotel. And that was the best time because my mother was kind of happy.


Jan:

She was happy, she was free. She was working as a cosmetician, which later came back to haunt me. And she was free of the arguing. We were able to play on the patio there. They had little lizards running around and everything, and my brother used to cut off their tails. Good kid. (laughs) Then I went to a school that I thought was beautiful. It was all open and they'd give classes out in the lawn and everything. So I was just enchanted with Florida. And I remember the movie that I saw was the Mario Lanza movie, "Be My Love." And I think I made my mother take me to see it three or four times. So I was very romantically inclined because of the escapism. To dream about some romantic figure that when I grow up, a person will fall in love with me and all will be wonderful.


Jared:

Yeah. And I think that dreamer aspect is interesting. For me, growing up in New York City, seeing the movie billboards coming from Roosevelt Island on the tram to Manhattan is something I never forgot. You know, there's that huge billboard you see with all of these movies and I still remember how it would change every week or two. That always intrigued me. So I think that idea of having an imagination, of having a dream of what your life could be and maybe even escaping, like you said, into other realms as a child is a similarity that we share.


Jan:

Yeah. The thing is, I was so fearful of what was going on that I think I just tried to survive because children need to be cared for. You know, they need to be sheltered and be loved. And they need to feel they're safe. And I never felt I had a safety net because there was so much bad feeling. So in a sense, in a way, I lived out a lot of my escapism when I got older. It's kind of never left me because it was the only time I felt I was happy.


Jared:

Did you feel you were happy as a child?


Jan:

I was happy when my mother was happy. I felt strange around my father because I didn't feel he liked me. He was just there. We didn't see him very much. We only went away on a family vacation once, to Atlantic City, which turned out to be a disaster. I know that my mother loved me, but I know she loved me more when I did exactly what she wanted me to do. I was happy on the weekends when I spent time with my grandparents because my grandmother would buy me a doll every weekend, and she'd make cookies and cakes and stuff. You know, in those years, I think in all ethnic groups, women did the cooking.


Jan:

The love that I felt from the both of them saved me, particularly from my grandfather. I was the only granddaughter of all the grandchildren. My grandfather only reprimanded me once and I never forgot that and I never misbehaved again. So I always felt good about spending the weekends with my grandparents. That was my safety net. That was where I was going to get unconditional love. I couldn't verbalize that then, but they were it for me.


Jared:

I had some similar experiences with Dad, because he would take us Shawn and I on the weekends and I had to New Jersey. We would play games at an arcade and get burgers and fries (before I was vegan). And that was a nice memory because of the bonding time it gave us with him. And I think it also was a time to escape the city, which I as a child wasn't too fond of. I think I was fonder of Roosevelt Island, but New Jersey felt like a greenery to me. Having a green space, like kind of an oasis in a funny way coming from New York City. So those are my happy weekend memories with Dad.


Jan:

That's funny about the city because I always felt that I wanted to get out of the city. I wanted you and Shawn to see something more besides New York City. And your father was a devout New York City person. He just was. And I just felt that I didn't want the both of you to grow up in New York. I really wanted you to see so much more in other places. So that's funny that you felt that way.


Jared:

I think I certainly got some of that from you. I also think that we share a love of nature and the joy of the outdoors - and New York City can be quite claustrophobic. Also, I think just because of my childhood in New York was at times traumatic. Seeing the divorce and also just seeing you struggle, rushing to work and taking me to school. I remember being in Cornell (at your job) while you were working and watching your experience as a single mother I was closer to your struggles in New York even though when we moved to New Jersey, you were still doing it. I think that plus the divorce and the claustrophobia of New York, the city to me felt that it was a traumatic place.


Jan:

Well it was, because of what happened with your father and I breaking up. When you were a baby, we got back together again. The whole year I knew I was going to leave him and it was just crazy. I drove away with you and your brother and your father was driving towards the house. And I went back to the apartment. But he and I got back together again. You know, life repeats itself because we repeat some of the patterns that we've been through.


Jan:

We try not to, if they're bad patterns, but I think we just do, we fall into a way of thinking. I hated being apart from him, but I hated more not being with you and Shawn. I think I told you when our babysitter called me and said that you'd gotten in your first tooth and I just burst into tears because I hadn't been there because I was working. You know, I always wanted to be a stay at home mother because in those years I was considered late. I had Shawn at 38 and you at 41 and that was considered late in those years. Today, it's a little more fashionable. You can have children at 110 or something. (laughs)


Jared:

Yeah. And I always felt that absence. You were obviously doing your best to be present, but you were there when I fractured my elbow, you were there when I needed my tonsils out, you were there when you dropped me off at first grade at P.S. 6 in Manhattan, and you were there at key moments. But there were a lot of times when Shawn and I were just either alone or with Florence because I think it was a lot for you to be there. I'm sure it's the same for a lot of single mothers and parents in general.


Jan:

It's very hard. And I remember one time you were in nursery school and I was saying goodbye to you and you were standing outside in the nursery school. And just after I said goodbye, I gave you a kiss and a smile, I walked away and began crying that I had to walk away from you. It just really broke my heart. That was one of the reasons why I went back to your father because after that tooth thing, I couldn't do it. He was trying to reconcile with me. He had a job that was in the IBM building, which was near where I worked in the Seagram's building. And he kept calling me and we'd get together for lunch and then decided to get back together.


Jared:

I'm sure Shawn and I obviously picked up on those struggles, and it affected us.


Jan:

How could you not? I think you also have a different idea of your parents. Like you get to see them separately in a way when people are not together. It's very strange. You know them in a different way. I mean I kind of early on labeled my parents as one entity, even though they were fighting, but then when they were divorced and then when they got back together again, which was a huge mistake for my brother and I, I saw them very separately. I didn't let on because by that point I had become a fairly good actress. I knew how to get through my childhood. That's all I ever wanted to do was get through my childhood. I just wanted to get out of there.


Jared:

That's interesting. I didn't feel that way. I was just more interested in bonding with my parents. And I had some friends before the age of 10 that I was able to connect with, but they weren't extraordinary. I didn't feel that rush to grow up. I was probably in some ways more able to live my childhood more than you were, although it was still punctuated by the separation.


Jan:

Yeah. I think my impression was that you and Shawn were happy. I mean both your father and I tried to make it that way.


Jared:

We always had unconditional love from our parents, even when you were apart.


Jan:

Did you remember us fighting much in front of you?


Jared:

I remember that he had packed his boxes in the living room on Roosevelt Island, if I remember correctly, unless I'm imagining that, but I remember hearing some arguing.

Jan:

Yes. That's when we were about to be separated. I think that was in '91 or '92. In fact, what happened was he got so angry that he threw me against the wall. He had never been violent with me in any way. And, you know, I started to cry and was just a mess. And he took what he could and he left. The divorce lawyer wanted me to claim that he beat me. And I declined, because he did not mean it. He just got upset and I don't think he expected to have me pack his stuff. Perfectly natural reaction.


Jared:

Yes. Well, the divorce certainly punctured my childhood. I think that just made me more of an insular child, it made me become very reflective and it pushed me a little more inward.

 




About the author

Jared Milrad is an award-winning entrepreneur, filmmaker, and lifelong advocate for social change who has been featured on the global stage. Jared previously worked for President Barack Obama and served in The White House during the Obama Administration. view profile

Published on November 08, 2020

60000 words

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

Reviewed by