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.
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.