Ever since I was a kid, I liked to pretend that I was interviewing people. Seriously, I remember walking around with a camera and just asking people random questions. Maybe you never imagined interviewing celebrities like me. I would like to tell you about my experiences with interviewing my dad over the past few months before he died.
It’s said that every time an older person dies, it’s like a library burning down. By telling you about my experience, I am hoping that you are inspired to consider doing what I did, and collect some of that vast wealth of experience before it disappears.
Before the interview began, I shared the “why” with my dad. I told him that I wanted to capture things on tape so that the rest of his descendants and I could know a little more about him. I let him know that I wanted to ask him some questions about “details”—like places he lived. I also wanted to ask him about special memories. Lessons learned along the way that he would be willing to share to help us on our life path. He was more than willing to help. I got the feeling he saw the value of our work even more than I did.
There was a more personal reason I had to interview him that was too hard to put into words at the time. It continues to be imperative for me as a man to get a picture of my dad as a fellow man; what made him tick, what was he about, what helped him excel in some areas and contributed to his weaknesses in other areas? In short, I still feel the need to understand my dad from a somewhat impartial interviewer position—as an adult who contributed quite a bit to who I am—both in my DNA and in shared experiences.
In the beginning, at his request, I shared a list of questions with him. This turned out to be not a great strategy. He became more concerned with giving the “right” answers rather than only sharing from his heart. I wasn’t trying to trick him into sounding like a jerk like some TV interviewers do, but it was important to me that he share from his heart without a script.
Rather than creating one marathon session, we took the interview process in 30 or 45-minute installments. That helped both of us stay fresh and energetic about the project. I prepared 10 or 12 questions per session, but always gave myself—and him—permission to go down any “bunny trails” that seemed important at the time. The essential part was giving him time and an opportunity to share what he felt was important.
Interviewing my dad gave him an opportunity to reflect on the amazing things he did through his life in a focused way. In some small way, I feel the experience helped him to see the things he did well and the lessons he learned along the path. It helped me to see him as a real man; flawed and imperfect, warts and all, who took on many challenging assignments to give me the chance to stand on his shoulders.
The best questions will be the ones that you come up with yourself. Here are some good ones to help give you a jumpstart, provided by the Legacy Project.
Tim Truesdale – honoryourfathertoday.com.