MY FATHER'S GIFT
My father was an enchanting storyteller. When I was a kid, I loved sitting by the fireplace, warming my hands around a cup of hot chocolate, as he told my favorite stories about his life. I never got tired hearing about his mother’s potato latkes; his childhood as a musical prodigy; his lifetime of experiences as a violist. My father was an older parent, and I carried the awareness that he probably wouldn’t be around for many years. I knew on some level that, as his only child, I might someday become a guardian of his stories. I listened, treasuring every word.
Since his death in 2001, I’ve wanted to tell his story. I knew that his life belonged on a screen or in a book. But whenever I thought about weaving this personal history, I hit a wall, and found a hundred ways to change the subject. These were rich years, and I followed my dream of becoming a musician and teacher. I even wrote some of my own stories. But my father’s life story was left untold. I stored his photographs and my memories.
Sometimes it’s the things that matter most that are the scariest to face. Love raises the stakes. I can accept that I might fail at a recipe; there will be more soup in the future, and messing up one bowl isn’t the end of the world. But the thought of failing at honoring my father’s life led to avoidance. A year passed, then ten; the longer I waited, the harder it felt to begin.
I recognized a similar longing when I traveled to Japan two summers ago to see my Obaachan and Ojiichan, my mother’s parents. Their faces were beautiful with age, lines tracing the places and emotions they had traveled. When I sang a concert at the assisted living home where they live, my grandparents and their fellow residents joined me in singing ‘Akatombo,’ a song about memory, home, and resilience. In that moment, we told a story together with our voices. It was a poignant moment of connection, and I was compelled to write down their stories.
A summer later, living in Brooklyn, I heard about the exciting opportunity to join the team at The History Project (THP) as a concierge. As I read about THP and explored examples of personal history projects, I felt called to do this work. Our stories are valuable and sometimes vulnerable. I was thrilled by the idea that I could draw upon my own experiences to support others on their storytelling journey.
As I became familiar with the platform, I had the chance to start building my own project about my father. Using the tools of the platform, I was able to breathe through the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do him justice. I started to see that I had everything I needed. It was like realizing that my kitchen was already filled with the ingredients for the perfect soup: I had memories, stories, photos, and even some beautiful audio recordings of my father playing viola. I realized that I had these ingredients all along.
Once I started, my father’s story seemed to tell itself. The pressure to tell his story perfectly was lifted. Somehow, knowing that I could upload a photo and then change my mind, or continue adding to the project over time, eased my mind. I realized that I needed this sense of fluidity and flexibility. Our lives are not static; why should the storytelling process be? The idea that I had to create a final, definitive version of his life started to melt away, and I started to experience history in a new way. When I saw my father’s history as something that continues to breathe over time, I breathed more easily.
Building my personal history project not only gave me a clear, accessible way to honor my father; it made storytelling feel a place of possibility. As I gather storytelling tools, I look forward to continuing this journey with my father; to recording my grandparents’ stories; and to honoring other stories that matter to me. As a concierge, I look forward to supporting people in creating their own living histories.
Among his many gifts, my father handed over to me his love of and respect for stories. Every time I tell a story, I’m reminded of this. Some gifts are opened right away, some take years to fully reach us. I’m grateful to receive, and share, this gift.
Thank you to Yumi Tomsha for contributing this article.
ABOUT THE HISTORY PROJECT
The History Project empowers families to connect artifacts and memories across media to build experiential stories that transcend generations. The History Project offers a set of mobile and online tools to intelligently collect, beautifully curate and delightfully collaborate in building your personal life story. Preserve and relive the memories that matter most through The History Project. For more details visit www.thehistoryproject.com.