Saturday, October 30, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: Moms and Dads: Why You Should Invest in Your Past by Bob Brody

For more than 10 years I promised myself I would write something exclusively for our son Michael and daughter Caroline. It would be a family history, deeply personal, straight from me to my kids.

After all, I’d already cranked out just about everything for everyone else. I’d done essays, articles, memos, speeches, newsletters, brochures and two unpublished novels. I’d contributed to newspapers, magazines, websites, book publishers, corporations, clients and private citizens alike.

Surely I could manage to handle a writing assignment for my own children.

But I just never got around to it. Somehow or other, I never found the time, only plenty of excuses. I had a full-time job. I had a part-time job. I needed to watch TV every night and play basketball on weekends. You’ve heard the song.

But then I resolved to do it. And on January 1, 2008, I started to keep a booklike journal, one for each child. Every week I took an hour or so to capture a special memory – how my son as a toddler slept on the carpet next to our bed, how my daughter mourned the loss of a goldfish.

I also shared anecdotes about my own life, mainly about my parents and grandparents. I recorded my first date with my now-wife, how it felt to land my first job, my occasional successes and frequent failures.

Letters to my kids, these were – equal parts celebration and confession, more fact than opinion, heavy on encouragement but light on advice.

That Christmas, I presented the handwritten journals as gifts. The next year I completed a second set, also handed over on Christmas. The two volumes contained more than 100 entries, amounting to almost 70,000 words, equivalent to about half a book.

Later, the kids -- now 27 and 21 years of age -- read the journals and gave me pretty good reviews. Certainly they expressed appreciation for my efforts.

I now take this private initiative public, with my blog, for a reason. It is to urge other parents to do the same.

Keeping a journal is simple. Telling stories to your kids out loud is all well and good, too. But conversation is just air. Often little remains. Documenting your memories, on the other hand – either with a journal, a video or an audiotape -- lends the enterprise permanence.

Here are my top 10 tips for your historic new pasttime:

1. Decide To Do It. No, really. Decide wholeheartedly. You’re either in or you’re out.

2. Plan It All Out. Do at least an outline. Even Shakespeare needed a blueprint.

3. Vote For Reality. Kids can smell spin from a mile away. So opt for the truth about your family, however much it hurts.

4. Single Out The Highlights. Draw only from the richest memories at your command. Forgo trivia.

5. Stick To A Schedule. A little regularity never hurt anyone. Once a week is realistic.

6. Keep It Spontaneous. First thought, best thought, poet Allen Ginsberg said. The Bill of Rights protects this impulse.

7. Briefer Is Better. It’s the soul of wit, no?

8. Tell a story. Each entry will ideally have a beginning, a middle and an end. Maybe even a lesson.

9. Make every word count. Every sentence, too. Your readers will be keeping score, after all.

10. Anyone can write. We all have stories to tell and we’re all storytellers at heart. Period.

In the process, you’ll leave behind a keepsake even more precious than your wedding ring, an heirloom as valuable in its own right as your house, a tangible, heartfelt legacy for the next generation better than any insurance policy.

So invest in your past. As you summon memories to share, you’ll be in for a surprise. You’ll discover new truths about yourself. You’ll understand more about your life. Most rewarding, you’ll find out once and for all just how deeply you love your kids.

They'll find out, too.

Bob Brody is an executive and essayist in New York City who blogs at His pieces have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, Smithsonian and Reader's Digest. By day, he's a senior vice president/media specialist at Powell Tate, a division of the public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

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