Monday, March 23, 2015

The Story of Your Life Is Your Legacy

Dear Mr. Dad: My father died when he was 48. He was a great dad, affectionate, playful, and a fine role model. And he had life insurance so the family was provided for. But when my brother and sister and I were going through his stuff after the funeral, we realized that we barely knew him. He was always interested in our lives, but almost never told us anything about his own—the things he did as a kid, what he liked, or anything. I’m 47 now — just a year younger than my dad’s age when he died—and I’m very involved in my children’s life. But I don’t want to make the same mistake my father did. How can I be sure my kids will know me after I’m gone?

That was the question to the syndicated columnist "Mr. Dad." I’ll let you read how he answered on his website. The question itself illustrates the most to me. After a father’s funeral, his kids realize “that we barely knew him.”

Think about that. And consider how true it is in so many families. It was in mine. We know our parents as “Mom and Dad.” We know their roles in our lives; we know their jobs; we know that they go to dinner parties on Saturdays.

But how well do we know them as people? What do we know of their childhoods? Their high school years? College days? Do you know how your parents met and fell in love?

I knew none of this stuff about my parents. I did not learn about who they were as people until I interviewed them for the documentary I made about their lives.

I learned, for instance, why I had never seen my parents’ wedding photos. They had dated for a year-and-a-half, but the decision to marry came suddenly. One Saturday morning, my mother told her parents that she and my dad were getting married.

And that the wedding would happen later that day.

Whoa! The ceremony that marked the beginning of a marriage that has lasted more than 50 years was not photographed. When does an occasion arise for a parent to tell his or her children about something like that? It never had for me. How many of those stories – stories that tell us about not only who are parents are, but who we are – disappear forever when our parents pass on?

More than anything, your legacy is your story. Your story – not your stuff – is what your kids will want to keep with them long after you’re gone. That’s why I started my business that helps people tell and preserve their life stories. But it’s also why, whether you hire me or not, you need to sit down in front of a camera and have someone interview you about your life, and why, if your parents still live, you need to interview them.

If you can afford to have a highly polished film made, or whether you go with the basic "interview only" package, it will one day be the most valuable thing you and your family own.