Understanding Dad: Lisa Romeo Explores Love and Loss in Memoir

When I asked Lisa Romeo how long it took her to write her new memoir, “Starting with Goodbye,” she replied, “Would it makes sense to say my whole life?”

Raised in Cedar Grove (where she also lives now), Romeo grew up a privileged child, riding horses, traveling internationally and generally being well provided for. That was thanks to her dad, who made a fortune in the polyester industry just as it took off in the 1960s. But despite her father’s success and generosity, Romeo always felt a distance between them. He was complicated and liked to be alone. After he died in 2006, she began trying to make sense of her grief and of who her father was – a process made all the more poignant when he began appearing in her dreams.

“I was having all these conversations with him in my head,” she said.

To work through her grief, she began writing essays about her father. While she envisioned compiling them into an essay collection one day, friends and family urged her to turn it into a memoir. She resisted.

“I’m stubborn,” she said. But after thinking “really deeply and long about it for about two years” she began to see the book coming together. It wasn’t always easy.

“I was pulling apart from my essays, repurposing and reusing,” she said. “Part of it was a jigsaw puzzle. Where do I put this material and fit it? I had to create a chronological arc knowing where it would start and end.”

The result is a deeply moving memoir that spans five decades from Romeo’s childhood in New Jersey, to her father’s bedside in Las Vegas, where he moved after retiring at the age of 55. It was a distance that was not just physical, but emotional, as Romeo and her husband eked out a living in New Jersey with moderate incomes.

Romeo says she doesn’t know how her father would respond to the book.

“It was very hard for my dad to express emotions,” she said. “I’m not sure he’d say anything but ‘Good for you, kid.'” But, she adds, “I’d often overhear him talk to other people and brag about his kids.”

Romeo, whose essays have been featured on Baristanet, will be discussing her new book with Christina Baker Kline at Watchung Booksellers. Kline and Romeo met when Romeo reviewed a book of Kline’s years ago; since then, Romeo says, Kline “has been a lovely champion of my work.”

The discussion takes place on May 9 at 7:00 p.m.

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