Shoot Your Parents
image from www.starpulse.com
Imagine if you had video of your great-great-grandparents, dressed in their period garb and speaking to you from the 19th century. You witness their playful laughter, behold their shy or bold expressions and discover, from their own colloquial mouths, their grade school antics, favorite desserts and the one thing they most regretted in their long-ago lives.
We all have video cameras in our pockets these days. You have the power to perpetuate your family narrative for centuries to come. Use that power.
Do your great-grandchildren a profound favor; sit down with your parents for a few hours and let them ramble about their lives on camera.
Last night, my siblings and I did this with my 80-yr-old father. We sat across from him on a couch, and, with no agenda, he spoke for three hours, prompted by occasional questions such as:
~What did your father do for fun as a little boy in Poland? ~Was he a good dad? (my dad’s mom died when he was six). ~Why did you wait 2 years to call after meeting mom? ~What did it feel like when your first child (me) arrived? ~Do you think you’ve lived a good life?
We learned so much!
I had no idea until yesterday that my scuba-diving, bike riding, handball-loving dad was a poor athlete as a boy and that he loaded boxes for pennies in a Five-&-Dime. That he and his brother fought each night at dinner over who would get to drink from the “God Bless America” glass that came in a box of soap. And that he and my mother had, in his words, a “torrid affair” during their courtship.
Tell Me Again, acrylic, oil pastel, corrugated cardboard, antique map, linen, paper on panel on wood, 60″x48″, 2006, Stuart Sheldon
Many of my ancestors were poor peasants straight out of Fiddler On The Roof, living in one-room, thatched-roof, dirt-floor hovels in Eastern European villages. They bought water from a water-seller, and the big event each week was the chicken they procured for dinner on Friday night. My great-great-grandfather fought for the tsar’s army which is ironic, since that same tsar sent his soldiers to rampage my family’s village in a pogrom, even cutting off my great-great-grandfather’s long beard out of spite. Still, beyond those basics, I know nothing of my ancestors as real people. What magic it would be to see their eyes as they discuss the topics they hold dear. And to notice the pregnant pauses that divulge so much about what is really in one’s heart.
As my dad spoke, I discovered a great deal about him. Who he was. Who he wished to be. And who he became.
Who I really learned about was myself, because your parents are the clay that makes you. To fire that clay for eternity, you must simply push a button and listen.
As to my father’s answers:
~What did your father do for fun as a boy in Poland? Rock fight (I swear). ~Was he a good dad? No. More concerned with the Progressive Party (yes, my grandpa was a coummunist) than his young children. ~Why’d you wait 2 years to call after meeting mom? I don’t know (really dude? … she was hot). ~What did it feel like when your first child (me) arrived? Amazing (of course). ~Do you think you’ve lived a good life? Yes, a very good life.
My father and son, the goal posts of my life
I learned unique things – he played interracial sports in the 1940s which was very rare. And life-altering things – he volunteered for the army due to a lack of direction in college and fear he’d be drafted in 1954. And existential things – he lived a very good life (nuff said). With rare poise, he gave his best self to posterity. Well done, Dad! I love and respect you even more.
If your parents are no longer around, get your aunt or uncle. Or older cousins. Or just get yourself. It’s so easy!
Open a time-machine portal to the ancient past and bestow a priceless gift to your children, your people and all that come after.