Albert grew up in an Amish community in Ohio but left when he was 18 and was shunned by his family. Despite having only an eighth-grade education, he became a medical doctor and eventually started a family of his own.
After his father passed away, he knew it was time to write his memoir. Liz, his daughter and a writer with GetSetUp, offered to write the book for him, but they decided on collaborative authorship as a daddy-daughter team. The memoir they've written, You Can't Do That!: The Story of an Amish Deacon's Son Who Left the Fold and Became a Doctor, is a poignant account of Albert's life, told uniquely through both of their perspectives.
Albert was a naturally curious child, a personality trait that wasn't encouraged in his home.
"I was always an inquisitive person and always asked questions. Things didn't make sense. In the Amish culture, you live by the rules, and you don't ask questions.
I had questions like, Why can we not have a car? But we ride in the neighbor's car to go see the doctor. Why can we not have a phone? But we go to the neighbor's and call the vet. Does God not see me on the phone when I'm calling the vet over there?
I tried to get a lot of those answers, but in my family, you did what you were told, and that's the way it was. So I decided that I was just going to have to go sort things out on my own accord.”
After leaving the community, it took eleven years before his parents would say hello to him when he came home.
Growing up between two worlds
Because Liz’s dad didn’t have a typical American childhood, she was caught between two cultures growing up. Liz says,
“People talk a lot about first-generation kids who come from a different country. And, I think in some ways, my siblings and I are very similar because my dad didn't grow up in the American culture. I remember that I didn't understand why he didn't know certain things, especially when I was a teenager. To my dad's credit, he worked very hard to learn.”
There were also differences in the expectations of the role of a father in the Amish culture versus American culture. Liz explains,
“In my dad’s culture, the most important role for the father was to be a provider. So, for example, I always had a swimsuit and other equipment I needed for the swim team. But, he didn't always understand that it was equally important that he showed up to my swim meets. It just wasn't something that entered his head the same way that it did for me.”
Despite his lack of exposure to pop culture, Albert wanted to learn along with his children but ran into roadblocks,
“I wanted to grow up with my kids and learn Disney movies and things like that with them. Unfortunately, I got divorced when my youngest daughter was two and Liz was seven.”
In spite of the divorce, Liz and Albert have a close relationship. When she was legally able at the age of 13, she chose to live full-time with her dad. And over the years, their relationship has evolved into one of mutual respect.
“My dad's strengths are math and science. My strengths are much more creative - literature, marketing, and writing. It was unique to be able to join those skill sets, especially as adults, and learn a bit more about my dad’s perspectives."
Just as she’s willing to learn from him, he’s willing to learn from her.
Long-distance labor of love
Liz lives in Brazil, and her dad lives in Alabama, so they knew they'd have to be innovative when writing the book. Liz says,
“Initially, we did it by voice messages. My dad used to use a transcriber for all of his notes as a doctor. I taught him how to use WhatsApp to record his thoughts. We created a channel where he would share voice messages, and I would transcribe them.”
Albert visits Liz in Brazil every year, and that’s when they were able to get into the nitty-gritty of the book. Liz says it was also a time to have some fun and bond with her dad,
“We’d try to go someplace new each time. We got to explore the country, eat some nice food, and then in between, we’d work on the book for a couple of hours.”
Their hard work paid off, and after four years of writing, they published their book.
A shared love of adventure
Liz believes she and her dad are a lot alike - he left the only world he knew and found a different community and a different culture. And, she thinks to some extent, she did the same when she moved to Brazil.
“I think I get a lot of my adventurous spirit, my questioning, and perhaps my stubbornness from my dad. We share a lot of similar characteristics, which I'm proud of.”
Perhaps the biggest adventure of all was writing a book together. When asked if they would do it all over again knowing what they know now, they both say the answer is yes. Albert says,
“It's fun and rewarding to do a project with your daughter. I think you learn about yourself, and you learn about your daughter, and you grow closer.”
And Liz agrees,
“It was wonderful to not only learn more about my dad but about the Amish culture and how he grew up. It’s a unique experience to work on a project with my dad as an adult. It was really special.”
On June 15th, attend their session A Daddy-Daughter Memoir Writing Experience. Learn more about their writing process, surprises they encountered along the way, and how he became a medical doctor despite having only an eighth-grade education.