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Ashley C. Ford Explore Her Relationship With Her Father In 'Somebody's Daughter'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ashley C. Ford's new memoir opens with a letter from her father who was in prison for rape. The letter is warm and moving. We've asked Ashley Ford to read a few lines.

ASHLEY FORD: (Reading) You are right when you say that you are a woman now and not a little girl. So I won't talk to you like you are a little girl. Instead, I will talk to you like you are a woman. However, don't misunderstand me. You will always be my little girl, not to mention my favorite girl. Why God in heaven gave you to me, only he knows. I do not deserve to have you as my daughter, but God gave you to me for a reason. And I am so grateful to be your father. Please, please forgive me for all the pain I caused you in your life.

SIMON: But how does her knowledge of the pain her father caused other women affect the view that she develops of her mother, who was often intermittently tough, loving but unreliable sometimes, and her view of her own pain and love? Her memoir is titled "Somebody's Daughter," and Ashley C. Ford, who's written or guest-edited for Teen Vogue, New York Magazine, Elle and BuzzFeed and co-host the HBO companion podcast "Lovecraft Country Radio," she joins us now from Indianapolis.

Thanks so much for being with us.

FORD: Thank you so much for having me, Scott Simon. It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: Was it hard to put that beautiful, touching letter together with a man who committed two violent crimes against women and crimes you know from your own life?

FORD: It is hard and will always be hard to reconcile the reality that my father was one person to me and another person to other people, not just these women, but also to my mother. I understood the harm that had been caused in a really real way. And yet my love for this person was also still real.

SIMON: What was your mother like growing up?

FORD: So it was a lot of up and down. My friends might come over, and my mom would be fun and dancing and joking and - but once she was angry or exhausted, it was like she just had nothing left to give us in the way of compassion. When she was stressed out, it was just rage, rage, rage. And, you know, she was of her time, not a parent who offered apologies, you know, just kind of forgot, I think, in those moments that we were people, too, having very human experiences, too, and that these moments were going to stay with us forever.

SIMON: However painful it was to learn the truth about your father, what he was in prison for, did it help you see your mother in a different way?

FORD: I think it confirmed something that I already suspected. I wondered why she wouldn't tell us about, you know, our dad or what had happened. And so when my grandmother told me why my dad was in prison, it's like finding that last piece to a puzzle that had been under the couch for a year and popping it in and then seeing the whole picture and realizing like, yeah, this is what it was supposed to look like the whole time.

SIMON: And you also write about the fact how, on a couple of occasions in your adolescence, you were a victim of a violent attack like the one your father committed - very hard to read.

FORD: It was hard to write because in that part of the book, I'm not just writing what happened to me, I'm writing about this moment of separation from myself. And that is really hard to describe. How do you write something that gets people to understand, like having something happen to you physically that is so, so traumatizing that you can't be with yourself anymore? And something breaks. Something splits. It is a really, really, really long, arduous journey finding your way back.

SIMON: But you do find your way back?

FORD: I do.

SIMON: Your father is out now.

FORD: He is.

SIMON: How are you both handling that?

FORD: Better than expected. I think better than either of us could have hoped for. Even though it's really strange to, like, kind of start building a relationship with your parent in your 30s, it's also kind of emboldening because there's not a lot of time to waste. I've found that it's very easy for me to communicate with my dad because I don't have any anxiety or insecurity around whether I'm bothering him or whether or not he wants to hear from me. I know that he wants to hear from me every day, if he could. But he's also so respectful of the boundaries that I put up and me telling him what I need in, you know, the building of this relationship, which is mostly patience. My dad tries. He really tries with me. And that is most important.

SIMON: And I have to ask because, you know, having read and really been very moved by your memoir, I'm in the unusual position of thinking I actually know you...

FORD: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...So - you know, and we didn't just meet a few minutes ago. But I feel moved to ask, why do you want a relationship with him? He committed two terrible crimes that you're in a position to know how terrible they are and, you know, in many ways poisoned the well of your family and concept of love. I could go on, but why do you want a relationship with him?

FORD: I could deny my love for my dad as if it were actually that easy for love to go away. But I think that anybody who has ever loved anybody understands that you can love a person who has done a terrible thing, and it won't ever excuse the terrible thing they did. And it is not an excuse to keep them away from the accountability. But if you love them and you deny it in yourself, if you try to keep that out of yourself, you will keep your ability to love you away from you as well. You can't select to shut down certain parts of your feelings or your emotional processes. You just have to feel that stuff. And I do love my dad, and I don't want to have to deny that even as I refuse to make excuses for anything he's done in his life.

SIMON: Ashley C. Ford - her memoir, "Somebody's Daughter." Thank you so much for being with us.

FORD: Thank you so much, Scott Simon. It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.