Around day 03 I was talking with my girlfriend about the experience of this endeavor, and I mentioned in passing something that was bothering me a little, and now bothers me a little more and more every day I write these posts. My memories of Dad are slipping.
I’ve talked with my mom since starting this and she’s offered me some insight from her perspective. And that’s one of the great things about the community of family, we can share stories and perspectives and keep our memories honest. With how reclusive my father got in his life, it rarifies the number of people who can offer those insights, so I’m seeing more and more value to this series as a way to keep my memories of right now honest. But there’s something worse than that.
I’ve looked at photos of Dad while I’ve been researching this, and I don’t remember him looking the way he did. Usually they are closer to end of life photos, where his appearance changed a lot, and quite quickly, but it still took me back a few steps to see photos of my father that looked foreign to me. I’m glad I have these photos, so I can keep my memories of what Dad looked like honest. But there’s something worse than that.
I’m beginning to forget what Dad sounded like. Well, let me be more specific; I have his voice very clearly in my head. I could pick it out of a crowd of a thousand people. But there is no way to know if my memory of my father’s voice is accurate or not. Dad’s voice as I remember it could be only a piece of what he sounds like, with the rest filled in by some generic, catch-all male voice, like one of six preset character voices in a video game. The scary thing is a voice can be discussed amongst people, but the nuances of it that make it real are specific to the listener and impossible to describe.
I have lots of 8mm film of him, but that has no sound. I’ve got precious little videotape of him (he died before the tapeless formats became the norm), and of that videotape, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a camera to play them.
I know that somewhere in my garage, on either an 8mm or hi-8 tape is at least 2-3 seconds of my father’s voice. And that might be it. There might be some of his voice on the originals from my sister’s wedding, but I don’t have those anymore, I gave them to the couple. I don’t know if they have them. I’ll need to ask. But this is the thing that is most terrifying to me, that I’ll lose what Dad really sounded like forever.
So please, if you have footage of your parents and grandparents, capture it digitally. Save it on a durable drive. You’ll want it someday. Some day you’ll be as thirsty for the sound of someone’s voice that you’ll drink even a syllable over and over again.
And for the love of all that’s holy, if your children or grandchildren want to videotape you, don’t tell them no. Don’t get self-conscious that you have wrinkles, or the twitch of Parkinson’s disease, or less hair than you used to have. The gift of you being you in that moment is something that they will treasure far after you’ve passed on and have no more ego to defend.
I hope I find even a sentence of Dad’s voice.
P.S. This is the photo of Dad I mentioned earlier that gave me pause.