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Tell HN: I interviewed my dad before he died
513 points by loveudad 56 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 156 comments
My dad got really sick a few months ago. I was shocked but also panicked about the idea of him dying without me knowing him well. He was a great dad but didn't talk much.

Fortunately, he got better for a short time. I seized the opportunity to ask him as much as he could answer and film him. Of course, his memory wasn't perfect but I got the big picture.

Now that he passed away, I'm both devastated and glad that I got to know him more and kept a record so I can see his face and listen to his voice for more than the usual family video. I wish I had done it sooner though.

I've heard multiple people tell me they don't know their parents' or grandparents' life, or they've heard it but they've eventually forgotten so I thought I'd share. I hope this will help some of you.

Thank you blood donors

Thank you dad

Sorry for your loss and everyone else who is sharing.

About 10 years ago, my mom came down with cancer and was in hospice care for some time. I had the opportunity to sit with her and hold hands and talk. She was a person of faith, I am not. She asked me to light the yahrzeit for her which I of course agreed to do, and did, although I had to consult the internet to figure out how.

She asked me if I would reconsider my rejection of faith, I had to be honest with her and said that I was sorry that I could not do that. She said if she got up there, into heaven, and could get me a message, would I change my mind. I said sure Ma. We came up with a goofy pass phrase, that only her and I knew, and pinky swore never to tell anyone. No, I have not received the message, but I do the candle. It is coming up on the 10th the web site says.

I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your Mom sounds really awesome, and this sort of passphrase is really smart.

But, "proof" of God's existence in this way would eliminate the need for faith. Conversely, you also cannot prove that God does not exist, making it a faith, of a sort, in both directions.

Truly, faith is a choice: you choose if you are going to have it (or try to have it), or not.

And thus not having faith is also a choice -- it's an implicit, and sometimes explicit, rejection of faith; and, thus, God.

So I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that message from your Ma, as awesome as she sounds; if she is wrong, and there is no heaven, then you will never receive that message; and, if she is right, as I deeply and humbly believe, you will also never receive the message because that would eliminate the need for you to make a decision, personally, to have faith or not.

Well. All I know is this.

I was a weird kid, and my mom protected me. I grew up on a farm in a pretty rural area. When I was between my sophomore and junior year in high school, my dad wanted me to work on the farm, to make me a man, or whatever. I wanted to go to science camp for the summer. Ma, put her foot down, and I got to go to science camp.

I dunno about the god stuff. I am not holding my breath on the message. But, I am lighting her candle.

That's all I got to say on it.

You had a special mom, thanks for sharing.

I see love like this as a sign of a loving God, in itself. Thanks for sharing.

I see love as a sign of good.

And good is also relative. Mom is a smart egoist. She takes care of her genes.

> And good is also relative. Mom is a smart egoist. She takes care of her genes.

You might not even notice it (and sadly perhaps most won't), but by mentioning a pet theory, you are, perhaps unwillingly, on the way of denying her her choice and existence.

Seems petty to me, pun intended.

Denying who's choice and existence?

The point is pretty simple: dad has a traditional image of how men are supposed to be, mom sees her son isn't the typical man. Mom protects her son by standing up for him. Mothers protect their children all the time in nature. Why do they do this? Because they take care of their genes. Its their offspring. Do they always do this? No, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they fail, given the circumstances. For example with regards to abuse. Of course there is free will involved in such.

If anything, I am insulting males here, because they regularly act like dumb egoists, selfish, short-sighted, such as in this case.

I applaud smart egoism, as its a long-term win-win. And it isn't always the easy or obvious choice.

Existence has nothing to do with any of this. If anything, I am honoring her influence (past existence, as there's no proof for existence of ghosts etc).

>But, "proof" of God's existence in this way would eliminate the need for faith. Conversely, you also cannot prove that God does not exist, making it a faith, of a sort, in both directions.

Does anyone actually believe this? What religion's pitch is "just trust me bro"?

> Does anyone actually believe this? What religion's pitch is "just trust me bro"?

Yes they do. Not really -- the pitch is more than that. Personally I believe the standard is we need _some_ evidence (not necessarily to the level of scientific journals) to claim something exists. If there's no evidence, it's as good as not existing.

The evidence for Christianity is more like this:

The historical contexts in which the NT & OT Characters existed (including Jesus) did not have a scientific world view, but they did have a story telling tradition which handed down stories as the closest thing to "fact" in the time period.

We have a collection of copies of documents written by some people about a guy[1].

Then when it comes to is the content of the documents true, that's more where people are leaning on your own experience (contemporarily), or shared collective experience (moreso in the past). It seems to be true enough that many people find value, and experience something they believe they otherwise would not experience when interacting with their religion/faith. One can dismiss it as the placebo effect, but I'm not sure that's entirely fair to be so ready to dismiss so many people's experiences when we also see so many other fields which rely heavily on subjective experience (such some medications, marketing/advertising, arts etc) ...

[1]: https://www.college.columbia.edu/core/node/1754

>The historical contexts in which the NT & OT Characters existed (including Jesus) did not have a scientific world view, but they did have a story telling tradition which handed down stories as the closest thing to "fact" in the time period.

So did the ancient Sanskrit (Hinduism, Buddhism) Greek (Hellenism) and Nahuatl (Azctec) written cultures. Their cosmologies and moral systems are totally at odds with one another, let alone Christianity or Judaism. The pitch for all of them is essentially still, "just true me bro." The more recent variants of Christianity alone are often cosmologically and morally incompatible, sometimes violently. We don't have a full picture of historical "original" Christianity as the Apostles are claimed to have practiced. And then there's Islam, which being newer has arguably more historical documentation than any of the aforementioned faiths. So, which to choose?

There are something like 3000 gods, goddesses, devils, demons, etc. that humans have documented over time.

Are some of them the same? Which one is the "right" one? How can anyone rationalize that multiple religions have core tenets to convert people, sometimes with war? Just like I don't want some "trust me bro" person proselytizing to me a new agile software process, I don't want that from any religious person.

I firmly believe someone can lead a moral and ethical life without religions varying rules, ceremonies, etc.

> The pitch for all of them is essentially still, "just true me bro."

My only point was it's a lot more than "just trust me bro" ...

I'm not trying to convince you of anything more than that. Your journey is your own :)

"Collection of copies" Not really copies I'd say, more rewrites of rewrites of rewrites of rewrites.

It seems inherently human to hold faiths/beliefs, even outside of organised religions.

Hell, I consider myself a pretty logical guy, but knowing that opening an umbrella indoors is meant to be bad luck, or seeing faces/creatures in empty shadows at night always makes me second guess myself for a second.

I suppose it's just evolutionary survival mechanisms at play; if the members of your tribe drink from a certain spot and then die, nobody will drink from that spot. If doing the hokey pokey before planting crops always seems to result in a bumper crop then the rest of the tribe will start doing it - for the times where nature does not provide a bumper crop, well, that's why characters like the devil were invented, to explain away those scenarios.

It is worse than that "just trust me bro, or else...".

The moment I grew enough of a brain to rationalize my way out of a toxic, fear-based religion, that's exactly what I did.

And for a long time, I was aspiritual. I've since rekindled my relationship with my spirituality, but I only believe things on my own terms.

The fear of burning in a pit of fire for all eternity never sparked joy for me.

Good for you! Not everyone can make this transition.

> Truly, faith is a choice

I know this is something people say, but I've never found it to be true. I could pretend to believe but deep down that wouldn't make me a believer. If I could simply choose to believe there was something after death I would, it would be a great comfort, but I simply cannot.

Maybe, a little piece of someone lives on in our hearts, memories, things like that. Not magic, just memories of love for someone.

Look. My Ma was sick, and hurting, I held her hand, we pinky swore over something silly, we knew that, it made her smile amongst a lot of pain. I light a candle, and think about all the times she was there for me.

The rest of it? Who cares.

I don't think anyone here wants to diminish your touching story. HN tends to use comments more or less as writing prompts, especially when the discussion veers philosophical.

100%. If my comment was taken as any kind of detraction from the GP's story I truly apologize that was not how it was intended. I think it and the many stories here are meaningful and serve as an important reminder to connect to your loved ones while they are here. My grandparents all died when I was a teenager/early 20s, and I deeply regret that I didn't do more to connect to them while they were here. It's something I still think about, and the only positive is that it's prompted me to reconnect/better connect with my parents who I had kind of drifted away from at the same time.

Totally agree. To some extent I'm even jealous of believers. It must be nice having that comfort. Not worrying. When I first realized religion was likely complete BS, it took me years to truly accept it and what it means for my life on earth. Which is that, this is it. This is all I got. And that's tough when you thought you had eternity to do whatever you couldn't get around doing on earth.

Right. The vast majority of people I've ever met "choose" the same religion they were born into (what a coincidence!). Most people don't question. Most people DIE never having questioned. Also, WTF is wrong with people?

Your answer here is reinforcing OP's point. It's a choice. You can choose to have "faith" in something or not.

Because you "simply cannot" you've made a choice.

You can choose, and because you cannot, you've made your choice ...

That's a good one!

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” - Neil Peart, Rush, “Freewill” 1980.

Sorry.. as a fan I couldn’t resist.

I was going to use this! RIP Neil.

> And thus not having faith is also a choice

In the same way that not believing in goblins and fairies is a choice.

Goblins aren’t associated with free will though

Neither are Thor or Anubis.

This wouldn't be proof that God exists though... proof of God's existence is probably impossible. I mean, hypothetically, if God exists and is willing to do anything to show us he exists, how would you or I verify he exists?

If we were somehow satisfied, how would we satisfy others? Even photos / videos wouldn't be enough as there'd always be claims they were faked. Photos / videos in combination with some sort of unprecedented global weather phenomena may be the best bet but even then science would be falling over itself to explain what happened and wouldn't just accept that yep, god exists and is responsible for that.

Proof of my and your existence is impossible in a similar way - we could all be just brains in vats and all external stimuli might be hallucinations (or we could be just GPT-powered chat bots). In fact, I could be a hallucination of yours and you could be my hallucination. While the idea of solipsism is sort of an interesting thought experiment, it doesn't really help explain or predict anything.

As a teenager I remember vividly being jealous of all of the Bible characters who directly saw miracles. I used to complain to my extremely religious family about how they didn’t need the faith that they’re demanding of me.

I assume there are similarities for many other religious backgrounds and texts. I find this a current inconsistency in expectations around current humans and the old and venerated prophets. I’m still a bit that we’re being asked more than those role models.

> But, "proof" of God's existence in this way would eliminate the need for faith.


Why does this matter?

Either we believe things because there is some evidence for them, or we do not. Why would the elimination of faith actually be something any human should care about in the slightest?

Excellent point. Why does it matter?

If there is no god, then of course it does not matter at all.

And, yet, here we are, discussing it.

Hitchens’s Razor: That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

But evidence is not proof.

Hitchens made a choice to propagate his own faith system, but what evidence has he presented?

Did he present any historical evidence for the absence of deities, or was it simply an opportunity to have a philosophical debate, or even perhaps get famous and have people fawn over your brilliant arguments, and follow you?

Atheism is not a faith system. It is the absence of faith. Him being a famous orator does not make him a priest.

Logic also does not work this way. You don't prove a negative because it's impossible to provide proof of non-existence (it requires a systemic approach while proving existence requires an anecdotal evidence).

That fact seems to be lost on many atheists, who are very eager to "convert" others to their non-faith - e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist_Bus_Campaign (I also wonder why atheists think religious people are worried and unable to enjoy their life - probably because they take the various rules of the various religions more seriously than ~99% of religious people do?).

Atheists aren't a group. It makes no sense to refer to them as a group, they don't in general meet, communicate with each other, or think that not believing in something is an important attribute of themselves that they recognise in others.

Of course for some of them, they will be more conscious of the fact that some people believe in a God, and that they don't. For instance if they grew up with religion and then left it. But that hardly describes all atheists.

Most atheists just don't believe in God in roughly the same way they don't believe in Russell's tea pot. It's not something that comes up very often.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson said: I don’t play golf. That doesn’t make me an agolfist.

Coming from him, that's a surprisingly flawed conflation of "playing" and "believing in".

> it's impossible to provide proof of non-existence

If I claim to have a $100 bill in my wallet and we open my wallet and do not find the $100 bill, that is proof of its non-existence.

You don't "have" a god. You can't have them in your wallet; this example is moot.

Saying "There exists vkhmcdtr" would be a closer example. Now prove me that vkhmcdtr does not exist.

And even there, if you are some flavor of Christian, saying God can be reduced to an object, or an incarnate being, can be akin to blasphemy, because they are not a "Being." They are its antecedent. Which is one of the roots of metaphysics and of course Christian theology.

That's a specific, testable claim. If you claim Buddah or Jesus is in your bedroom that's a testable claim we can prove wrong.

Saying there's a magic invisible sky god is not a testable claim.

"Faith" is a word that encapsulates the concept "belief without evidence is virtuous".

"Religion" is a word that encapsulates the concept "belief without evidence".

It's unsurprising that religions push the idea of faith. It's not generally a valued behavior in any other context.

> she is wrong, and there is no heaven, then you will never receive that message;

or the transmission mechanism is under maintenance or never existing

or the receiving mechanism is broken

or the telepathic basis of that belief system is wrong, as humans do not have telepathy or it is vestigial

or the ability to manipulate this plane of existence is overstated or not available to tenants of a different plane

and so on, as you begin with, if such things were quantifiable then it would not require faith. would be fun to harness the energy from that dimension, or protect ourselves against those creatures given what's recorded about them.

Is it really even that complicated? Putting the execution environment and context in God's hands means I can stop worrying about so many things. For most people this means faith should ideally help them just build something awesome that mostly works.

Its only on the edges that you need to go lower, and that's when you start hitting the bare metal and realize there's something there that makes everything else possible.


Just going to leave this here.


This is a very clear summation of the argument for faith. Thank you!

Brothers in Christ let us please, please not use these deeply personal stories of love as a reason to share our apologia

Not sure about the Old Testament take on messages from beyond, but the New Testament has that one explained. https://www.bible.com/bible/1359/LUK.16.27-31.ICB

Sorry for your loss.

The thing I noticed is that I have my own life - my grandparents passed some stories to me as well as my parents and they are part of my life. I have photos from like 1900's passed to me as family heirloom.

But I came to realization that I am unable to understand even 15% of any other persons life. Even my SO life will be maybe tops 40% that I can grasp or share as we spend really a lot of time together.

Maybe that is me but I feel that we are really isolated and our communications with words is really limited. Even being together in the same moment - each person feels/reacts a bit different.

I paint it as tragic in a sense but it is also beautiful that we really are unique snowflakes in the end.

So in the end I don't feel like it is even important for me to make some kind of interview - important part is to remember that they were alive and their life was their own and only their own as I cannot touch it I cannot grasp it - hence all life being special and to be celebrated, because there is not going to be second one that is identical with its struggles and with its dreams.

It might mean a lot to your loved ones, especially a parent to take an interest in their life’s struggles and experiences. It might not make a difference in your life, but it might make one in their life. To many parents, children are their life’s work. I once heard someone remark that “when you look at your children, you are looking at your immortality”. I would look at an interview as a gift to them, not to myself.

Interesting. I look at my children and the realization that I will likely die before them and miss out on a part of their life reminds me of my mortality.

I think you are giving yourself license to not try. And what you are missing is that there is tremendous value in trying, even if you think you’re ultimately unsuccessful (“the journey not the destination”).

If you resolve that you can’t understand another’s life, then you never will.

I feel that for this the reason, telepathy is what’s needed for any civilization to transcend level 1 on the Kardashev scale. Until we can communicate more information faster than words, humanity probably won’t transcend a type 1 civilization.

It is due to unwillingness that humans do not share enough information, not due to communication capabilities.

There are many things for which our words aren’t enough to convey. Physical pain is one of them. There are more nuances than “dull”, “sharp”, and “throbbing”. This is one reason pain research is hard

There’s also raw speed. The speed of speech is one of the edges we have against most other species. Being able to communicate with raw thought would be even faster.

This goes beyond “unwillingness”

The recording is not to understand them — whatever that might end up meaning — but to feel their presence when you miss them.

I agree, I feel that I only scratched the surface unfortunately but even then I'm glad that I cleared some big misconceptions about him. Spending a few hours to ask direct questions could lead to a big progress from 15% to 20% or more. Plus, there are the voice and video.

I know I may not be adding much by saying this, but damn, that is a beautiful way to look at things, and you articulated it perfectly.

This reminded me of a project from long ago. When I was growing up, I was not particularly good about expressing gratitude to my family. I recognized this in myself and in college and wanted to make up for lost time.

I went around and interviewed my extended family and some of my mom's friends over the course of about 6 months. I asked each person for any fun or touching stories they had. There were a lot. I edited down many hours of footage into a 45 minute video that basically said, "thanks for the last 22 years".

Days before I moved across country to start my job after graduation, I got the family together and had a viewing party. Unbeknownst to my mom this wasn't a going away party for me, it was an appreciation party for her. It was a wonderful moment.

Two people who I interviewed as part of this project have since passed away. So I dug up and digitized all of the unedited footage so that I can easily pull it up on my computer. There are some wonderful memories from my grandma and my father at a happier/healthier time in their lives. In their final years they were not really able to speak at all, so this footage really captures them at their relative best. It has been a helpful way for me and my family to deal with grief.

OP: Thank you for sharing your story. Sorry for your loss.

I thought about doing this with my mum.

The problem was she was scared of dying I couldn't broach the subject with her. She left me a bunch of decisions and no stories for my kids.

I wonder if the type of parent who consents to an interview has probably instilled in you a wonderfully inquisitive attitude. My mum did for me to be fair - she just hid her lack of one from me during my childhood.

In fact she hid lots from me. She was not one for looking back. She said my dad left me and never looked back, and neither did she.

As I went through her stuff I found books and books photos. I found every card I've ever written her. I felt like I didn't know her fully.

If I had my time again, I'd push her for the bits I didn't know. Early relationships. How she felt about becoming a grandmother not 1 or 2 but 3 times. Stories not for me, but for my kids. "this is your nana. Not the pictures or the Xmas toys. The imperfect person who hid her idiosyncrasies and addictions from her son so he'd grow up without them"

My wife and I have no remaining parents, so missed this boat.

Final tip: find out passwords, funeral songs, emails of friends, etc, as its way hard once they've gone.

So sorry to hear of your loss, but so glad that you were able to have this talk with him before he died.

I am the family historian. I've learned that genealogy is not just about collecting names and dates, it's really important to collect stories. To that end interviewing family members, especially older family members, is key to understanding their lives and the lives of those who came before them.

I've interviewed not just my parents but also their surviving siblings, my great aunt before she passed, a distant cousin in his 90s, and perhaps most importantly my late father in law who never talked of his wartime service with his family but opened up to me. I recently shared one recording with his son, my brother in law, and it was really quite moving as he could hear his voice and stories that he had never known in detail.

People who take on the role of the family historian learn that lots of old photos, letters, and other keepsakes will come your way. One of the best things was an account written by a maternal great aunt about our immigrant ancestors and her impression of their personalities. The story of this document is interesting in itself. My older 1st cousin once removed back in the 70s had a similar role to mine, and tried to get her to record it on cassette. She refused, but decided to write it out (in longhand) which the cousin's wife typed up. A copy was lying around the family cabin. I can't tell you how overjoyed I was to find it.

I've built a small business based around genealogy, and I love to evangelize and encourage people to connect with relatives and share stories. In this age of endless distractions and digital tools and bad stuff happening around the world, talking with people and learning about their lives (and their family stories) is one of the most important things we can do IMHO.

I'm very sorry for your loss.

I did this with my mother and have hours of iPhone video that I'm very glad for now; she died last year and I'll be able to show my future children who their grandmother was.

A few things for people who might want to try this in the future:

1. Audio matters a lot. My biggest regret is using the built in iPhone mic. I wish I'd thought more about sound.

2. Have a plan for sharing it with the rest of the family. I did not and I still don't, really.

3. Be clear with them on who can see this video in the future. That might change what they say or how they say it.

4. My mother had also recorded my great grandfather about his escape from the white army and travel to the US, but unfortunately the tape was not adequately preserved. Make sure the data is available for generations if needed.

Good on you for recognizing and seizing the opportunity. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2014 (same as my mom, in 2001), and there's so much I wish I'd asked them, about their lives and families. I'm especially disappointed about missing out on adult conversations with my mom, as she died when I was 19 when she still thought of me as a kid. Some of my most vivid conversations with my dad were in my late 20s, over a beer or two during one of his visits, but those still feel inadequate.

I've done a lot of genealogical research into my dad's side of the family (I'm eligible for Italian citizenship through my great-grandparents), and it's been really fun finding out little tidbits about his family. But there's so much I wish I could ask him, as it's all fragmentary and big-picture, and lacks context.

I'm so envious of you that you have a recent, focused video record of your father. My sister has a bunch of old VHS tapes that might have my parents on them, but the tapes may have degraded, and, regardless, they're not recent, and even if the tapes are still functional, they'll be of generally poor quality and resolution (and worse, we were cheap and would record everything in EP mode). Neither of my parents liked having their photos taken, so I don't have a lot to work with there either.

So sorry about your dad, but I'm glad you at least got to get a little closer to him before he passed.

I'm so sorry that you and others in the comments weren't able to do it. I was undeservedly lucky that he lived long enough, healthy enough and that he partly recovered thanks to blood transfusions. Even then, I (and he) wasted years and haven't had many adult conversations with him and I'll miss those too.

> I (and he) wasted years and haven't had many adult conversations with him and I'll miss those too.

Yeah, I just feel so foolish for not taking better advantage of the time we did have, both for my sake and his. Obviously we can't change things now, but sometimes it's really hard to come to terms with these kinds of regrets.

I lost my dad unexpectedly last year (cardiac arrest). He was one month from retirement and I miss him dearly. The last conversation we had two days prior was an argument about my weight and general dieting. I will regret that for the rest of my life.

I often think about the good moments. The week before the argument, I had bought him a microcontroller because he wanted to get into battery module development and to volunteer in his home country of Pakistan after retirement.

Since his death, I have been piecing together his life in whatever way I can in fear of losing those memories to the sands of time. Being born in Pakistan in the late 50s there were not too many video cameras around and so that part of his life is sort of locked away in the memories of the relatives who are still alive. Once they are gone, it pains me to realize that those parts of him are gone forever. One thing I have done is old b&w photos were "colorized" and that helps provide a small vision of his early days. Note taking in a timeline fashion has been helpful.

Furthermore it is interesting to see how many relatives have come forward with personal stories that they never shared in the past. It painted a side of my father that I never knew...because the moment to ask those specific questions never came up. Still, I am glad the stories were told to me. I am now trying to do the same for my mother while she is still around but she is so camera shy that I am finding it difficult to do a direct interview. I have settled on making notes and taking lots of candid photos so I have something.

This is a cliche, but it’s true; we live on through the ripples of our actions. Some part of reality remembers every subtle thing we were through cause and effect, no matter how scattered those effects.

Consciousness is also extremely strange. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of not just experiencing the totality of your father, but also the entire conscious universe in some bizarre and unfathomable way in the end. The fact that this idea is so common cross culturally and throughout history is quite strange. As are the similarities in near death experiences.

Our minds play all kinds of tricks on us. Who knows how deep that goes. Our science is a powerful means of bypassing our ability to deceive ourselves, but it is forever limited by that same deceptive perception it attempts to bypass. What lies outside our perception is a great mystery, and I think it’s arrogant to rule out an angle of reality not accessible to the materialist conscious angle we perceive so sharply. The fact that it is far more prudent to walk where we can see instead of where we can’t doesn’t mean there is no world beyond our vision.

I wish I'd done something like this. My dad passed earlier this year. I don't have any video recordings of his voice. Only memories. I had no idea what it would be like this side of his death. I think you made a really smart move.

Very sorry for your loss. It's incredible how few videos are about thinking, not-celebrity adults. Gigabytes about kids with adult voiceover, some occasional video with one parent filming the other with other family members, but as of a few weeks ago I had nearly nothing with him being the subject, let alone him talking for more than seconds.

It's also made me more aware that there isn't even much where I'm filmed with my own kids (I'm the one filming 99.9% of the time).

I have to say I enjoy these YouTube videos with people talking about "the olden days". Very much ASMR, they are normally quite relaxing. I haven't watched this one but there are lots:


Lost my dad five years ago. Soon as he passed I remembered saving a bunch of voicemails from him. I wanted his voice for posterity.

Quickly went and got setup to pull them down only to find out that the cloud system they were on had a software update that erased them!

I tried working with the company's vendor but they were never able to recover them for me. Do not ever wait, do it now while you still can.

Thank you so much. I just found 3 message from my dad that I can now save.

Oh wow this brings back the emotions. Thank you I don't think I would have ever thought to look for these if it wasn't for your comment.

No problem, your comment made my day!

Thank you, so very much, for sharing this. This exact activity has been at the top of my mind of late, and I will be using your experience as motivation before I lose my chance.

Posting this could not have been easy for you, it might be lost to history eventually, but know that it has already impacted the lives of others. Profoundly.

It isn't enough, and yet it is a pretty powerful outcome not only of your Dad's time here with you, but also how he raised a human being who in a time of hurt and loss wanted to help others.

Thank you, and thanks to your Dad as well.

Sorry for your loss. So happy that you were able to get some of his story. Are you planning to do something with your recordings?

For others who might read this, I started doing this with my Mom and Dad (they're in fine health despite their advanced age). I carry around a fancy recorder and a couple of lav microphones - I wire us up and push record and just start talking. I got a 2-3 hour session the last time I visited, and intend on continuing to do so in future visits. I find that they just forget that they're being recorded this way and speak pretty openly and freely.

I found that it's helpful to ask specific questions. My dad was born in Hong Kong and lived through the Japanese occupation and we spent much of our last visit talking about that. I find that it's helpful to ask follow-up questions to pull out additional color and details - "what was the name of this person" or "what do you remember about the market - smells? sounds?". This way it makes the story that much more interesting. I highly recommend [1] as a resource for what interesting stories sound like and how to put them together.

It also helps them relive those moments as well. I did that with my Mom and it really helped her relive some of those happier moments in her life. I learned the story of how she was on the last boat to pass through the Suez Canal before the 1956 crisis closed it off [2] and how she was honored at a ceremony honoring the memory of the 50th anniversary of the crisis and Lester Pearson's role in resolving it.

[1] https://jessicaabel.com/out-on-the-wire/ [2] https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/suez-crisis

This sounds like a pretty good way to do it. I'd still recommend some video recordings because facial expressions and gesture language are something I want to remember.

My only plan is to share with family members and ensure records don't get lost.

By the time gen-z kids become adults, video will be so common that they will wonder why our generation didn't document family moments more often.

Sorry for your loss.

Tangential, but for those with easy access to their parents: Contact them, for whatever reason, or none at all. Text, call, facetime, or visit them in person — what really matters is that you're in each other's minds somewhat regularly.

I don't have a perfect relationship with my parents (dad in particular), but even as a grown adults we make an effort to keep in contact regularly. I'm lucky enough to live a few minutes from my parents, and can stop by for lunch on a whim (And mom is more than happy to whip up a home-cooked meal!).

I fully understand that some might have a toxic relationship where this might be impossible, but for those who might have started to drift due to life, there's a lot of upside.

There are a bunch of books that can help on this, questions to ask, etc. For example: "300 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before It's Too Late" -- https://www.amazon.com/Questions-Your-Parents-Before-Late/dp...

Wow you must still really be in shock. From healthy to passed in just a few months sound very traumatic for you and your family. Sorry you had to go through that.

My father had prostate cancer that became metastatic & while I had a couple years with him before he passed, I didn't get it together to record his stories. I did record a few, but I really wish I had more. I think it's great what you did & you will always be able to look back at those & share them with your future kids.

Be well.

Today is my Mom's birthday, the first since she passed at the beginning of the year.

Thanks for sharing. I'm lucky to have the memories and records that I do.

I recorded a late night conversation with my dad a couple months before he died of dementia and cancer. It was moreso him ruminating on his life's regrets. It was a lot of word salad but there was a genuine feeling there that he had squandered a lot of his time. He kept saying that he "fell off" somewhere along the way.

I'm very sorry for your loss. I'm very fortunate that he didn't have dementia so he could articulate some thoughts. I hope your story will push others to act before it's too late.

FWIW: https://storycorps.org/participate/great-questions/, and specifically look at the relevant anchor on the sidebar (parents, grandparents, etc.).

Also: https://storycorps.org/participate/ for suggestions about recording such an interview, etc.

My dad passed in the mid-2000s. We were estranged, and I found out he died about 10 years after the fact.

He left before so many things he would have geeked out about: smartphones, raspberry pi, hobbyist microcontrollers and arduino, Tron Legacy movie, Marvel movies starting with Iron Man, and loads of cool Lego.

I was building the new Lego Galaxy Explorer yesterday, and thought of him. It was bittersweet but cathartic I think. We built the original set together on a flight from London to Toronto when I was 4 years old in 1978/9 and it's about my earliest memory.

Wow - What an amazing message. This makes me want to do this with my Mom, who is turning 70 in a few months. I guess I'm a bit nervous to "ask" if she'd be willing to do this kind of thing with me. Any tips on what I might say to her that would make her comfortable with the idea of recording some of her stories?

It's hard to say for someone I've never met.

My dad knew he hadn't much time so it probably helped. If your mother has a unique story (war, achievement, migration...) maybe she'll be inclined to tell it. Also, it's easier to talk about others, so you could ask her about her parents. Then you could switch to her.

I hope it helps.

I'll emphasize that like anyone born before smartphones, she may wish she had more pictures and videos from decades ago. Assuming that, she may understand your point of view and accept being the subject.

I did the same thing. Ashley invited my dad to a one week holiday in a mountain cabin. Interview with him about his early life, his childhood, as well as his marriage to my mother.

I did the same thing with my grandfather. He grew up in the 1920s and lived through some rough times.

While I am glad that I did it, I feel a little foolish that I did it only pretty much close to the end of our relationship. How different could things have been, had I been getting to know my parents like that while I was still living with them.

With my kids, I am trying to cultivate and openness about my life outside of being the father that will, hopefully, make an interview with me at the end of my life superfluous.

(Another area where this is extremely powerful is marriage. Often, life gets in the way of really getting to know your partner, especially their early life. I certainly hadn’t paid enough attention to that part of my wife when we were dating. So it seems to be often only when there is a deep crisis that one seeks to really understand one’s partner. This is when you read these books about having the important conversations, learning your partners “love language“, or making an effort to put together a “manual“ of how your partner works, i.e. what calms him, angers him, etc..).

15 years ago I had the lighnight idea to interview my grandfather who join the french resistance during the WWII. I interviewed him about the life before the war, in the country and his experience during the war, when he had to become clandestine in his own country because he didn't joined the mandatory german working program (STO). It's the most concrete thing we keep from him, and I just regret I didn't interview him more.

My dad passed away in April, it was a sudden one. That night looking at his body at home. I started typing all the thoughts i had about him in One note, few were like revelations, if i had thought that before i would have behaved differently with him.

After his retirement, he was totally at home. He was my best friend now kinda i feel alone. I do have friends, mom and sister but he is the one who company's me to all places, we go to theatre to watch movies. I have only one audio recording of him which was accidentally recorded in his phone which is like 7mins. I would play it to hear his voice.

Actually as per Hindu Mythology, people pass on their knowledge, learnings in their death bed moment. But not sure how many follow it now.

Below is the famous one


I have solicited from my oldest living relatives their memories of relatives long since dead. I never knew my father's mother — she died before I was born. But my father and his sisters have given me their recollections (such as they can in an email or whatever).

I have also pursued stories from my oldest aunt, my father of course, my mother.

I have taken many of these down and put together a genealogy book with photos, birth, death .. those sorts of factual things you find when researching. But also the stories from my father, aunts. And photos that I painstakingly scanned in, retouched.

Thanks to the tech of today and a modest investment I was able to have printed over a dozen of these hard-bound books and have shared them with aunts, siblings, cousins, neices, nephews, daughters....

I have done what I could.

And yet, I too kick myself for having not talked to Aunt Faye before she died in 2001. I was in my 30's and she had passed the 100 year mark in her life. What stories she could have told.

And my grandfather who died a few years after I graduated from college.

You do what you can when you can. I just wish I had cared about my larger family earlier in my life.

That’s a good idea and has to be pretty comforting. Most posts here are very reminiscent about their loved ones. My parents played favorites with their kids. Selling homes and vehicles to others very cheap, but not extending the same to everyone. That was pretty much an analog for their feelings towards you as well. You definitely receive less attention and less of a connection if you weren’t on the favorite list. It also lined up with mean actions.

I prefer little to no memory of my parents. I view them as extremely low. Images, videos, or audio related to them is some thing that I would not keep and prefer their memory disappearing into eternity.

There’s always a flipside to the impermanence of this life. I am actually comforted by the idea that people disappear forever. Even someone that loved their father enough to record videos like that, it won’t be but another generation and it will all go into the trash. Which is obviously sad, and that’s ultimately meaningless. But what does have meaning is the connection that you shared. The love between you is what mattered.

By learning about our parents, ancestors, and teachers lives we can stand better on their shoulders, and take the next steps in the story. It's good to know where you came from.

I've gotten part way through this with my mother-in-law, who has had a remarkable life, for the sake of my children. I really need to do it for my own parents as well, this is a good reminder.

Thank you for sharing, and I'm sorry for your loss, fellow HNer.

About 8 years ago I was enjoying a lazy morning with my dear grandmother, who was feeling particularly chatty as she insisted on making us breakfast.

Having previously recorded her making traditional foods (empanadas + tamales) in her kitchen before moving away, I had always wanted to interview her about life.

There was no better time to start, so I elevated my iPhone off the kitchen table and recorded her stories that morning.

The stories would turn out to be an amalgamation of different eras of her life, from growing up in a small village in Colombia, working as a seamstress, starting a small business, and raising a family in a strange land US. Many of the details were slightly intertwined and a little mixed up. The accuracy of the stories was not as important as her willingness to tell them.

She passed away a year ago, and that recording has brought comfort and laughter to her sisters, children, and grandchildren.

gracias mi abuelita, te quiero.

I always wanted to do this with my grandfather. We had so many stories from his accounts and from his children and grandchildren, but never a through recap of his experience.

I always slacked and just toyed with the idea, but never acted on it. Now there's he is gone, and along with him the opportunity.

I am happy that you did, and I will take advantage of doing so with my dad.

Sorry for your loss. I'm glad you got to speak with him in the time you had.

I recorded my mother telling stories of her childhood, her parents, and grandparents when she was growing up in Oklahoma. I captured some great stories about how my ancestors traded with Native Americans, and when an uprising came, their farm was spared when all others were burned down, how my great grandmother fought off a mountain lion that came in the cabin when she was ironing clothes (she killed it by beating it with an iron, which is a family heirloom now), how my grandmother lost two brothers to the influenza epidemic, how my mother collected milk bottle caps to get tickets to the matinee as a teenager...

So many stories, and I know I barely scratched the surface. If you are reading this, and haven't gotten your family members to tell the stories, not only of their own lives, but of their parents, grandparents, do it now.

Sorry for your loss. During covid, I was lucky enough to be afforded the ability to buy a condo about 100 feet from my dads house. I see him almost every day now. We both know that he is getting on in his old age/health and this is the last time that I'll have a chance to spend time with him. Definitely appreciate it.

Sorry about your loss. What you did will give you, and your family, the gift of remembering. It's impressive that you did the interviewing yourself.

For those who are looking for guidance, there are books that help with such question prompts. My wife and I have done this with the help of a book in Polish. I just searched and found an English-language book for asking grandma questions: https://www.amazon.com/Grandma-Tell-Me-Your-Memories/dp/1563... . I imagine there are books in different languages and aimed at different family members that will make such a conversation easier.

Grandma passed two years ago, and we've already found comfort in this book.

I hope your father has found some peace. It has been a dream of mine to record enough of my father to create a neural net capable of imitating him. I know it would be a phantom parroting for me, but still. I understand this idea is a bit disturbing to some, but maybe it could ease the grief of others.

I realized that I have some voicemail records lying around and listening to them I must say they're a not insignificant part of my recent interactions with him. It crossed my mind that emailing them to myself at random could mimic him but I'm afraid that it could be counterproductive with mourning.

I think it would cause a lot of harm. Part of the grieving process is accepting that they are gone. The pain is terrible but I'm not sure that makes it a bad thing. The perspective you gain is powerful.

My sister interviewed my dad years before he was terminally ill, so I'm very fortunate to have that. I bought StoryWorth for my mom as a Christmas present to basically interview her via email, and she hated it and wouldn't do it (my father in law loved it and we printed books for my wife's siblings). I asked her if we could do StoryCorps in person to help with prompts and recording, and she didn't want to talk about her past like that either.

Then I had the idea to ask her if I could interview her about her mother so that her mother's memory wouldn't be lost, and that worked. So it'll take time, but planting the seed for her to understand the value.

Sorry to hear about your dad, but glad you managed to preserve a digital piece of him, I think there's huge merit in that type of interview... epilogue? That goes beyond what photos, writings and 'home videos' provide. As morbid as it seems I'd love to eventually give one.

I did the same interview with a great grandparent though it was on VHS (early 00s) and sadly I've since lost the tape. My fave part was having questions that subvert the traditional theatre of "we interviewed CEO xyz and here's their 5 planned out answers and platitudes" but actual unrehearsed conversation. I digress, make sure you back that recording up in a few places!

I'm really sorry to hear about your loss.

My family recorded an hour long interview with my grandmother recently, and when she passed away it was something that we were really thankful to have it.

One of my coworkers had a similar inspiration for https://www.dominomind.com/ (it's still an early WIP) but the whole goal is to capture lasting memories to make them searchable later.

I feel like it's important for digital memories to be increasingly more searchable as time goes on. I capture so many random pictures, I worry sometimes if the important ones will be lost in the sea of food pics.

I was the primary caregiver for my dad before he died. I learned a lot from close contact with him and came to see him as a person with his striving, achievements and path in life. When I went through his things after he passed away, many things he mentioned in passing began to make more sense - legal documents, receipts, letters, pictures.

(Interestingly, my siblings resent me for this perhaps because they realize they have huge gaps in their knowledge about their father, and spent too little time they with him. It has ruptured whatever relationship we had.)

You did a good thing. Your efforts will sustain the memory of him and give you solace in years to come.

I did this with my grandpa and it turned it into a website. Great bonding experience. Learned a lot. https://tony.basqu.es

thank you for sharing!

We interviewed my dad before he died. He had a colorful past and was a great storyteller, with and a bunch of stories we were excited to record. Only, cancer took most of his voice away. And he said that all the stories were fabrications, and refused to tell them. I think that he'd have been more forthcoming if his voice was normal, but alas. The recording sessions were depressing as hell.

To anybody with healthy parents or grandparents, I strongly encourage you to do this before you think you need it.

This is great idea. I wish I had done this with my Mom but am deff going to do with my Dad.

Can you recommend some good questions to ask during the interview that resonated when you were watching it?

I partially answered there https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32349581

To be honest, I'm still under shock but what I feel is that I wish I had time to ask everything. The thing is you don't know what will resonate with them, so you have to ask a lot to have something to work with and connect to.

I used Artifact to do this with my grandfather. Recorded his stories and voice for posterity as a series of podcasts basically with a professional interviewer and recording team.

I did the same thing for the same reason with the same result and am just posting this to concur with what you said: everyone should do this while you are young and have your memory.

Which makes me thing: we are relatively young and have our memories (again, relatively) intact. Should we be recording ourselves for our kids?

If you don’t have kids or nieces/nephews, but think you might, should you do the same?

With phones, are we recording ourselves anyway and won’t have to worry about this?

I'm asking myself the same thing but I think there's an issue with succinctness. I don't want to make them watch/read hours of me rambling. If there is a lot of content, it has to be searchable. I think private, static-file blogging could be a good format with some occasional video for less important talk.

Thanks for sharing this!

Did you have any themes around the questions you asked?

I waited way too long to act on it and the reason was I just felt I didn't know enough to ask relevant questions. When the urgency came, I threw together something that I honestly feel a bit ashamed about and I couldn't execute fully because of time.

Anyway, some thoughts:

    * Do it chronologically, start with their birth, their family, the childhood, the house, the toys, the games, school... then their adult life, their work...
    * Something I was interested in was how life was like back in the day, food, comfort, customs. Anything that interests you and that they may have a opinion or an historical perspective about.
    * You may use world events to help anchor questions but it didn't work well for me.
    * A good question template is "what was the best childhood/parenthood/travel/work/X memory?"
    * Last, I added the themes (most I didn't have time to ask about): education, religion, regrets, health (especially hereditary issues), war...
    * When dealing with memory issues, help if you can but do not contradict too much because it may make them give up. Depending on their mental state, the point may be just to hear them talk and not to have a detailed account of events.
    * Cut the phone. I'm very upset that too many of his last waking hours I spent with him he spent on bullshit phone calls (old people get many).
Edit: added some thoughts here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32350197

Edit 2: If I had had more time, I would have sorted through photos and start discussing from these.

One day I found my google voice app had a ton of saved voicemails before I made the switch to iPhone, hearing my father’s clear and distinct voice in a voicemail, after years of hushed tones from his hemorrhagic stroke that disabled him really gutted me. Please start recording and documenting their lives today because we are all living on borrowed time and tomorrow is not promised.

I'm sorry for your loss. Know that, in time, the pain lessens and becomes unfocused, though you'll always miss him.

I lost my grandmother (who partially raised me) and my father (who is the reason I am an engineer) in the same year, 2014. I wish I had done this for my grandmother and my father. I'm glad that you got a chance to do what I didn't.

Sorry for your loss.

Thanks for sharing this. I interviewed both of my parents (separately) several years ago and recorded the video and took notes that I transcribed. They are both still living but these are some of the most valuable digital files that I possess.

I may interview them jointly now. But doing it separately helped get their individual personalities to come through.

First off, I'm sorry for your loss and I appreciate you sharing this.

Did you have a format or a set of questions that you started with? My last remaining grandparent is still in relatively good health, but I'm always cognizant of the fact that once she's gone so is all of her knowledge. I'd love to do something similar with her.

Does this answer your question? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32349581

I recorded my dad asking him a bunch of questions about himself and his family. I’m really glad I did. I realized after he passed how much I didn’t know. There are a lot of “odds and ends” type questions that I wish I could ask. I had a good relationship with my dad, but there’s lots I wish I could talk to him about.

Thanks for sharing and sorry for your loss. Great that you managed to do it in time.

I started a similar project with my grandgrandmother whom I loved very much. She used to tell many stories from her long life, so I wanted to document them. Sadly,she died sooner than I expected and I managed to record very little of her.

I did the same for both parents and recorded it as I interviewed them. It was extremely interesting. You learn a lot.

My dad and I did not have the kind of connection where I could have done this but I applaud you for doing it and for sharing it. I have other family members where this sort of thing is much more applicable for me and I think you just gave me the push I needed to go and act on it. So thank you very much.

A couple years ago I bought my parents a digital voice recorder and 128gig SD card. I asked them to spend a little time each week just talking about whatever parts of their life they wanted, and what they remember of my grandparents and great-grandparents. I don’t think they’ve done it at all. :’(

It can be really challenging to start and might be weird to speak to a recorder, if you aren't used to that kind of thing. Maybe it would be easier if you are present and they talk to you? Or maybe not, maybe they just need a reminder

Maybe start sending them your own recordings on some schedule? Not only to get them started but if you were to die before them they would have the recordings.

If parents are aging but in good health, I've found a good way to broach this topic is to do it as part of a project where it's not just the aging family member who is being interviewed. Then you also get the bonus of having archives of interviews with the rest of the family.

Has anyone had any luck with any of the biography services available? I remember hearing about Story Terrace, but am not sure on the quality or thoroughness, especially considering the price point. It does sound like a nice idea though.

As someone who will attend their fathers funeral tomorrow this really resonates. I do feel I didn't know him enough and that this feeling might haunt me in some moments later in life. Will be sure to do it with my mother!

I'm very sorry for your loss. The pain has been incredible for me.

I hope you'll get the opportunity to do it with your mother, doubly more so if she can shed light on your father's life.

Sorry for your loss. I am envious. My dad died when I was young. I never asked any questions. Example: He was in the navy, stationed at Naples. I never even asked whether that was Florida or Italy. Sigh. Life is short.

I wish I could've interviewed my dad when he died. he couldn't speak from the illness. there could be some way to communicate but it wasn't

I have thought about this for a while too, I think this has pushed me over the line to sit down with him over whatsapp and do it before it's too late. Thank you for sharing

I've been thinking about doing the same with my parents, so your post is a nice timely reminder for me.

Thank you, and I'm very sorry for your loss.

I've been thinking about doing this for my grandpa, who is in his 90s. Were there any questions you were particularly glad you asked?

I enjoyed learning about how he lived decades ago. The 20th century brought so much change that there was a lot that surprised me.

Thank you for reminding me to interview my mom.

Unfortunately my dad isn’t at a place where I can do this.

This is a super important thing to connect with my parents.

I've done quite a few video interviews (>120 hours). Notably, I interviewed someone else's dad (a friend's wife) who is dying now.

He had a fascinating life being sent out for re-education in Communist China but winding up in a then remote tropical paradise on the Burmese border. The locals were friendly and already effectively organized their villages on a communal basis so he said there was basically little work to do because the land was so fertile and few rules except that local girls were off-limits. Days were spent enjoying the natural environment, eating tropical fruit and BBQ fish and forest meats.

One day a troupe of city communists arrived for some reason or other, and he met a lovely girl. When he got the chance he moved back to the city and sought her out, they were married and he was assigned a job as an economic agent, being posted to remote factories around the country to negotiate trading deals to bolster the domestic economy under socialism. In those days few people could travel and he was lucky, despite having to spend most of his time on the road, to be able to travel the whole country and see its character before its modern destruction.

I asked him about how the travel was organized, he said every day there was a telex waiting for him at his assigned hotel which would tell him where he was going next. "Catch the #12 bus to West Station, then obtain a fare to Little Black Village, walk east to Factory #12". He said a lot of the travel was by donkey cart and other sort of ad-hoc methods. He was thus surprised every day and could only observe.

He seemed genuinely flattered by my interest in his life and included other information in the video. In the end it's always good to have some catch-all open questions like: "Is there anything else you'd like to say to future generations about the changes you have witnessed in your lifetime?"

I suppose I should upload it after he dies. Currently I have a copy and the family has a copy.

There's a great TV program in Australia where the host interviews randoms literally on the street: https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/program/front-up

I thought about doing this but I waited too long and recently he quickly slipped into dementia...

I'm sorry to hear that. May I suggest that you try and record a small session with specific questions? From my small experience with family members suffering from this, they may be able to talk to a small extent about some subjects (not the ones you want but still talk). It'll probably be ungrateful at first, but it may be better than nothing down the road.

good idea!

Can you share the questions you asked? I want to do this with my parents.

I think this covers most of it https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32349581

I wish I had asked more though.

Thank you for this.

Thank you for sharing this. For sone time I had the idea to do the same with my grandmother, who is now 92. She lived through WW2 in central european country under german occupation, then under communists as a religious person, obtained PhD in physics, spoke 5 languages…

Sorry for your loss. I intend(ed) to do the same with my dad and my uncle, his brother, not just for their stories but for the story of my grandad.

Specifically I wanted to get my grandad's story about his time in the partisan/antifascist movement and then after the war him being imprisoned as Stalin spy effectively becoming persona non grata. The whole story is one of betrayal, comeback and then mercy displayed towards the accusers. What I found fascinating about this is the humanity my grandad kept, that still guides me today.

I would be interested in reading a guide on how to conduct this kind of interviews, so if you have one, please share. I was even thinking of paying someone from film school to do it.

I talked about the questions here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32349581

As for the production, I found that having a couple of smartphones were good enough for me. You do want to have backup capture. I wish I had had a better mic setup to record both voices with proper gain but modern smartphones are pretty good. Then I used Kdenlive for putting things together.

Sorry for your loss. Glad you had this opportunity.

I'm truly sorry for your loss, OP.

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