When I first approached my grandfather about doing an interview (before I even conceived of the Eternal Roots concept), I did it with zero tact and little planning. When our lunch tab arrived, I just hit him between the eyes:
Me: Grandpa, I'd like to interview you.
Me: And I'd like to videotape it.
Me: And I'd like to make DVDs to distribute to the family.
Ten minutes later we were in my office with the video camera running. It was surreal. Turning this project into a business occurred to me weeks later. If you want to preserve your family's story, I don't recommend you approach it as clumsily as I did. It could work, but this project is important and you want to employ some tact. You might get some resistance at first, and I suggest a better approach. First, I'll share a couple failures.
I had a networking lunch with a colleague a few months ago. I explained the process involved in creating the documentary, and she asked to see the final product. I proudly produced the transcribed booklet I made for my grandfather (below). After flipping through a few pages she said, "That's it, I'm just going to hire you myself."
Her family was throwing a birthday party for her father in Palm Springs, and she wanted me to travel for the interview. The venue was at my favorite golf course, so I was game! When I followed up she said her father was "pretty anti" about doing the interview. Maybe he wouldn't have been interested regardless, but I could have better equipped her to pitch the concept.
At a recent networking lunch with another colleague, he was sold on interviewing his dad without seeing the book. This time I was marginally more helpful: "Great, show him the website, then let's book a session." It never happened. Dad wasn't interested. This happened a few more times.
The sad thing here isn't lost business for me. The sad thing is these families were denied an opportunity to preserve the life stories of their patriarchs. Just because you understand the value of the custom documentary doesn't mean Mom or Dad will immediately get it. Your parent might think his or her story isn't interesting, that no one wants to hear an old person prattle on about the past, or they might feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about a video recording.
If you approach it the following way, you will get a good feel for whether your parent or grandparent is a good candidate for Eternal Roots. Simply engage Mom or Dad in a conversation about a distant time in their life: "Mom, what was it like growing up during the Depression?" or "Dad, what is the craziest thing you did in college?" Ask them to share a time of their life you don't know about; ask them to re-tell one of their favorite stories. Get them engaged in casual storytelling, then compliment them on their storytelling ability. Express sincere admiration for their accomplishments and resiliency. Say you could never hand down these stories as well as they do. Tell them their grandchildren would have a greater connection with their heritage if they had a recording of your life story. Then mention Eternal Roots.
Be your authentic self, but the point is to get them reflecting on their life, and express how important it is for you to preserve their life story so you can share it with your own children one day.
The picture at the top of this post is me having a casual chat with my Dad over a glass of wine. While this photo was taken long before Eternal Roots began, this is an example of the perfect context to bring it up.
Tonight I'm going to share an intimate story about hypocrisy narrowly averted.
I finally got around to uploading pics from our annual trip to Hume Lake in Sequoia National Park. We returned two weeks ago. I wanted to incorporate the new images into the website and promotional materials, and was marinating some ideas about blog topics and memes. My wife and daughter were out for the evening, and I was home with my six year-old son Dylan. "Letting Dad work" was not high on Dylan's To-Do list tonight.
I was hoping for a quiet evening with devices off (except mine of course, I was working), with my son playing quietly in the next room, while I wrote profound and inspiring words. Six year-old boys don't play quietly, and mine certainly doesn't play alone. Dylan is always challenging me to Nerf gun wars, his favorite thing in the world. My reflexive response was that I had work to do, and he needed to be quiet. I looked over at a picture of him as a toddler, and it gave me pause. I thought how the time from that day to now was a blink of an eye. In another blink he'll be a tween. He'll prefer playing with friends over me. The Nerf gun phase will be over soon (it used to be trains), and something else will take its place.
How many more opportunities will I have for a Nerf battle with Dylan? His tastes evolve, quickly, something could happen to me, something could happen to... him. Do I really want to look back and regret all the times I said No? On my deathbed will I wish I worked more and played with my kids less?
When I interviewed Grandpa John he said one of his regrets was not taking the family on more outings. While money was tight at times, he admits he could have taken the family to the park or the beach. Grandpa John, now 97 years old, regrets not taking trips with the family. He either used that time working or rationalizing that he couldn't spend money. Tonight I was rationalizing that I had work to do. As I've read many times, playing with your kids is never a bad use of time.
A moment after glancing at that toddler photo in our stairwell, I considered the sad irony that as I worked to develop a project devoted to preserving family memories, I was ignoring my own family. How can I credibly blog about family bonds, with any authenticity, after dismissing an ephemeral opportunity to bond with my own son? What a hypocrite.
I stealthily picked up the most dependable dart gun, a basic three shooter with revolving chamber. It's the fist dart gun Dylan owned (he now has about 30). I quietly loaded and cocked the gun, took a few steps away, then spun around and shot Dylan square in the chest. It was on. We lit each other up with darts. That kid got shot many times. No mercy. I don't have to "let" him shoot me back. He has a good aim and efficiently goes for the Dad-kill. When the chambers emptied we would call a truce, collect darts and reload, then resume the bloodbath. For 15 minutes, my home was a real-life multiplayer Call of Duty map.
Dylan is now in bed, I can write with a clear conscience and renewed focus. Tonight I intended to post some pics from our trip and connect them to the Eternal Roots message. I decided instead to share a pic of me and Dylan on the lake. That's what Eternal Roots is really about. If I live to 97, my memoirs will reflect that I did take my kids on trips, and sometimes I did pause working so I could unleash a volley of darts in my son's direction.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.