Thursday, June 17, 2010

Video Biographies: Father's Day

So just around the corner is Father's Day. I would like to be equal opportunity and say that just as my mother got a special early delivery of her video biography DVD for Mother's Day, so will my father get his on June 20th but that would not be quite true. For the simple reason that he refused to sit in front of the camera the last time I visited them.

Don't get me wrong. He's all in favor of the idea of documenting personal histories and is quite generous with suggestions on how one can improve the experience for the people being interviewed, but when it came to be his turn, he suddenly became very busy. Knowing him as long as I have, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise but it was a little one nonetheless. This is a man who has visited 54 countries. Received an award by the prime minister. Earned his MBA by going to night school so that he wouldn't have to quit his day job. And who, 40 years later, left a lucrative international assignment to start a small business at age 60. How could he possibly feel that he had no stories to tell?

The truth hit me when I was taping my mother's interview. She was looking beautiful that day - all dressed up in a new outfit, matching pearl earrings; she had even sprayed her favorite perfume seconds before the interview began. And as soon as I pressed the red button to start, she was charming, smiling, articulate and emotional. I noticed my father slipping in to the room at several times during the interview; presumably looking for odd things but all the time, glancing at my mother from the corner of his eye. Leaning in a little closer to hear what was being said. And that's when I realized he was nervous of the camera. That this man who had given interviews to journalists about the expansion plans of his company and made presentations to investors and decision makers, was a little unsure of what to do when it came to speaking about himself.

Of course once he saw the finished product of the interview, and realized that my mother had quite enjoyed the experience instead of being scarred by it, he was more open to the idea. And I made an effort to point out to him that he wasn't expected to give a speech about his life for two hours during the taping of the video biography... instead, I hoped to gently lead him down memory lane with my questions. To draw his attention to events and memories that he may have forgotten he had. And revisit his life alongside with him. Not to interrogate or question. But to observe and learn. Well, when you put it that way, you're not going to get much opposition, his eyes twinkled at me in response. But it took a while to get him feeling this way. And that's why my Father's Day present to him might end up being made on his birthday or during the holidays which is when I'll see him next... but he got the gift certificate in the mail today and he's got 6 months to choose which suit he's going to wear for the occasion. There's no wiggling out of this one, Dad!


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