At the advanced age of ninety, my father is stuck and discouraged. Whenever I visit him, the litany of grievances about his physical health, medications, and the condition of his home must be rehashed. He sees them as obstacles that keep him from moving forward. At least once a month, I make the 200 mile round trip to listen attentively, empathize with him, and stay connected. In the past year my priority during our chats has changed from trying to influence him to proceed in a direction his children believe is best for him, to encouraging him to tell me his stories. My goal now is to get as much of his personal history written as is possible in the ever narrowing window of time we have left to be together.
Yesterday, I put my mini recorder on the table beside him, demonstrating that we did not need to speak into it, just talk normally and forget it was there. In an earlier email I had included five starter questions that Storycorps suggests on their website. We both had copies of them. Dad teared up at the first one, “What was the happiest moment of your life?” After a long pause, he said he had given the second question some thought. For close to an hour he told me of his young life, revealing events he had never before told any of his four children.