While no two humans share the exact same life story, there are certain beats that nearly all of us can relate to—the rush to grow up, the awkward adolescent years and a relationship with our parents that’s…complicated, to say the least. In Trent Preszler’s debut memoir, Little and Often, he unpacks his incredible journey of fleeing his childhood home in South Dakota, finding community and a career in New York, being invited back into his father’s life in his final days and inheriting a gift that would alter the course of his life in a profound way.
Raised as a cattle rancher, today, Preszler is the CEO of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, though some may be more familiar with his work in the Preszler Workshop, where he crafts bespoke wooden canoes that fetch as much as $100,000. The first canoe he ever crafted, however, was worth far more because it was made using the tools from his father’s old toolbox, bequeathed to him upon the death of his long-estranged parent.
“Until writing the book, building the canoe was the hardest thing I had ever done,” Preszler says, noting that he crafted the boat “little and often” from a Mattituck home overlooking Peconic Bay. “Any time in my life that I’ve dedicated myself to a task little and often, by doing small amounts of work every day over a period of time, it adds up to something bigger. It’s a lesson for life that my father taught me while we were working on a project on the ranch.”
He continues, “I was able to achieve reconciliation with my father and his memory and spoke through his tools by using them to build this boat. It wasn’t something that I thought I was going to do when I started to build it—I wasn’t clear on what the outcome would be—but I knew I wanted to build something with his tools because he had given them to me and they were his. I wanted to honor him and also my sister who had passed away before my father. I do feel like I gained a lot of peace.”
Preszler admits that he “resisted” writing this story for several years until the burning urge to share it became too hot to ignore. “Not telling it would be the worst thing of all, and I kind of had to get to that point because I started to realize that not only would it be helpful for me as almost therapy to write all of this out and everything that happened, but then I had an opportunity and a platform, possibly, to help people,” he says. “The writing process itself was very therapeutic. You can talk about life until you’re blue in the face, but until you write stuff down, it doesn’t really sink in.”
Of all his journals and records, Preszler’s most invaluable source of memory-jogging material was actually his iPhone camera roll time stamps, which allowed him to create a timeline of the major events he wanted to include in his memoir—both great and small moments he may not have realized the significance of before looking at his story as a whole. “When you’re in the middle of life and you’re just going along every day and doing your thing, you don’t really understand the bigger significance of every moment of every day—you’re just living,” he says. “So when I built the canoe, I was just building a canoe and fumbling my way through it haphazardly, and I didn’t really see the big picture back then.”
Preszler describes his first finished memoir as a “love letter to the North Fork” for the role it played in his personal story. “It’s kind of a place that’s taylor-made for all of my interests, and in a roundabout way, I found myself living here at a time in my life when some really profound changes happened,” he says. “The North Fork was the crucible for all of it.”
When reading Little and Often for the first time, readers may be surprised when Preszler reveals himself to be gay several chapters in, but he never actually hides the fact—it’s just not the focus of the story.
“It’s just one part of who I am—I’m the CEO of Bedell Cellars; I have a PhD in botany from Cornell; I have an interest in the outdoors and nature. There are a lot of things that sort of define me as a person and being gay is just one of them,” Preszler says, noting that he considers his memoir to be “post-gay” in a sense. “I want gay men in this country to get past the point where we have to write coming out stories anymore. I don’t want us to have to write coming out stories; I don’t want us to have to write books about how awkward we are and wishing we fit in with society. I want us to get to a place where people can just see us as people first.”
Though Preszler’s sexuality is not the driving force of his story, there are certain insights he hopes readers will gain from that fact. “As gay men, we have to learn how to define ourselves to ourselves and stop letting society say, ‘Well, you’re gay, so you shouldn’t really be building a boat or you shouldn’t be riding a horse in a rodeo; you shouldn’t be doing these things that we don’t normally perceive gay men to do,'” he says. “But I want people to read about those things and then be shocked when they realize, and hopefully that’ll change some minds along the way.”
At its core, Little and Often is a book about a son’s complicated relationship with his father, in life and after death, and that’s in no way a gay-exclusive experience. “I think that men in general—and I have many straight friends who have told me the same thing—no matter how old you are, gay or straight, most men have some degree of conflict or discomfort with their dad,” Preszler explains. “It’s sort of an underlying question of masculinity in our culture and how it affects the way people raise boys. For my story specifically, yes, it’s related to my being gay and my father being a fundamentalist Christian, but for others, it could be something else.”
The greatest lesson Preszler learned through the memoir-writing process was how strongly the parent-child relationship colors our perception and expectations of our parents. “We don’t see them as people like us, just humans… A lot of the struggles that my dad faced in his life, he faced around the age that I am now,” Preszler says, adding that he remembers how eye-opening it was the first time he called his father Leon instead of Dad. “It led to a much greater sense of empathy. I had harbored a lot of bitterness about my father and the church for many years, and being gay obviously doesn’t mesh with a lot of religious teachings in this country, especially. I had run away from it when I moved to New York.”
Writing this memoir helped Preszler realize that he didn’t need to run, he could face his identity as a gay man and as his father’s son head on. “I think the more honest you are and the more human you reveal yourself to be, the more you give yourself a chance for someone to relate to your story or to learn from it or to be inspired,” he says, adding that many readers have already shared how much they relate to the many emotional moments found within Little and Often. “I’m no longer the storyteller, now I’m the story listener, and I can appreciate how people’s lives intersected with my own in ways that I never knew.”
Little and Often: A Memoir releases on Tuesday, April 27. On the night of release, BookHampton will host a virtual conversation between Trent Preszler and actor Nick Offerman, one of the book’s early reviewers, who described it as “an impressive memoir and a richly rendered tale.” Admission is complimentary with purchase of the book. Visit bookhampton.com for more info.