Know your roots
One of my favorite movies of all time is Tim Burton's modern classic, 'Big Fish.' In the film, expectant father Will Bloom, played by Billy Crudup, is struggling with the fact that his father is dying. His dad, Edward, is a big talker, telling the stories of his past in larger-than-life 'big fish' tales.
Every event of Edward's life, whether minor or major, is fantastic - hardly believable to Will. But in the end, after a long, good life full of love and accomplishment, Edward finally teaches his son that the point isn't whether the stories are true, but whether he had a story worth telling.
My father-in-law, Gerald, reminds me of Edward Bloom. This man, a born embellisher and exaggerator, always talks about his experiences as being 'the best,' 'the worst' and 'the most amazing.' The man has had an amazing and sometimes unbelievable life. He tells some spectacular stories, and the best are from his childhood.
I took an extended weekend trip to Nampa, Idaho, last week to attend the wedding of one of my wife's cousins. I was able to leave a day earlier than my wife, Savannah, and spent a day and a half touring the city with my father-in-law. He took me to many of the family's special landmarks: the hospital where my wife was born, the plant where Gerald would sneak in with his friends and steal onion rings, the high school where my wife's parents met, the sugar beet factory where he worked and the state's most renowned livestock auction (founded by Savannah's great-grandfather), among many others.
It was tempting for me to do what Post reporter Garth Guibord did during a similar trip - grab my tape recorder and start getting these stories archived. I could probably write a book on this stuff. Hey, that's not a bad idea…
Of course, I'm very interested in my own family as well. About a year ago, I took my wife on a trip to my other hometown, St. Petersburg, Fla., to give her a taste of my stories. There I showed her where I would ride my bike, where I spent my summers and where I first found my love for writing. We went to my old middle school and talked with several of my teachers who still worked there. My English teacher was ecstatic to find out what I'm doing for a living.
This summer I also plan to take Savannah to my birthplace, Dalton, Ga., to show her my dad's side of the family and to embrace a completely different set of stories.
At the end of 'Big Fish' (don't worry, this doesn't spoil anything), we see Will telling his young son about all the fantastic adventures of his father. I feel the weight of that responsibility and honor of keeping our families' histories alive, especially since my wife and I discovered not so long ago that we're expecting our first child - a boy - this fall.
I want my son to know his roots. Long after his great-grandparents, grandparents and even his parents are gone, I want him to have a sense of all these stories, to know from whence he came. I don't think that would put him in a box or anything - any son of mine will definitely be his own person - but there's just something important about having that connection to the past.
We are so unbelievably excited to welcome this little guy into the world, and it's so thrilling (and overwhelming) thinking about all that we'll be able to teach him. It's a wonderful, awe-inspiring thing to watch and wait as this beautiful new creation is knit together inside my wife's womb, equal parts her and me.
I can't wait to meet him, and teach him not only how to use a hammer, kick a ball or climb on a jungle gym, but important things like being strong but sensitive, bold but merciful. Just trying to think of what I'd teach this little guy leaves me speechless.
I guess it will have to start with stories.