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When I think of great storytellers, my dad is one of the first people who pops into my mind. I suspect that for many people, the same is true. It would seem that dads have this innate ability to tell a good story and when they do, the pitch in their voice changes and the nostalgia starts to flow in, making the story rich and alive. Having said that, how many of us have heard our Dad tell their story? We would love for you to take some time, sit down with them and say, “Dad, tell me your story.” Or better yet, “Grandpa, tell me your story.”
With Father’s Day approaching, it is the perfect chance to spend a little time with Dad or Grandpa. This is a great excuse and it doesn’t even have to be a formal setting to get the conversation started.
My dad has lived several lives in his one lifetime. I simply adore him in every way. He has set the bar extremely high in both the father and grandfather department. He has always been generous to tell us his stories, but sometimes he holds back with some things – maybe because he’s humble, maybe because he’s quiet, and maybe because he thinks we don’t care (that of course is far from the truth). But there are eight people in his life who he never holds anything from – and that’s his eight grandchildren – the pride and joy of his life. To just see my dad, he can appear to be a pretty intimidating guy. He stands at just over 6’4″ tall and is a big guy. At the age of 73, he still has a full head of dark brown hair. There is some gray thrown in there, but I can guarantee that no one in the world would guess he’s much older than about 60. He has aged well. He really is a big teddy bear, unless you make him angry, that is another story. I remember one time I mouthed off to him as a teenager and then challenged him by running away from him – surely he couldn’t (and wouldn’t) catch me. I was wrong. Within seconds, he caught me and gave me the sternest talking to I had received up to that point in my life. My days of sassing my dad ended then.
But back to the grandkids. As I mentioned, my dad is pretty quiet, but when he does talk, what he says has meaning and it is a good idea to listen. My children have learned that about their grandpa and when he spends time alone with them, he often tells them his stories. I think I have learned more about my dad through them than any other way.
In the last few years, my 14-year-old son, Jackson, has had the chance to spend some alone time with his grandpa while he helps my dad with his job in circulation for a local newspaper. Jackson serves as a “runner” for my dad on some days when he is extra tired. My dad suffers from diabetes and some days can get long for him. As the two work, they talk. Jackson has learned all about my dad’s days growing up in Cleburne, Texas, a town about 40 miles northeast of the Dallas area. He has learned what it was like for him to pitch left-handed, play football in the heat, work hard to earn money for the things he wanted and how he handled life with a super strict dad in a large family.
We didn’t know how much of this was sinking in for my son until about a year ago when he went to work with my husband. My son has a keen interest in family history and helps people in our church with the work, so my husband signed up for a class about family history through his job at FamilySearch. Jackson was one of the younger people there and so imagine my husband’s surprise when they asked for people to stand and bear testimony of experiences they have had capturing family stories in their lives and our son’s hand shot up. He then started talking about his beloved grandpa. He talked about learning to work hard and how to make and obtain goals through his sports playing stories from his grandpa. It was a sweet experience for our family to receive three blessings from this conversation:
- Spending alone time with a grandparent.
- Hearing his stories firsthand.
- Having the opportunity to share those stories.
Jackson has written a few of these experiences down, but I am after him to now record what he has learned in my dad’s voice.
In these quiet moments with my kids, my dad has also born testimony of his relationship with Jesus Christ, his regrets about not getting a better education, and some of his antics when he worked in the casinos in Lake Tahoe. After he has shared these things with my kids, I have tried to circle back at dinner time to have my dad expand some of these stories, adding in much of the humor that goes with it. One day we were talking when my oldest was just getting interested in football, when my dad announced to us that Vince Lombardi once sent him a letter to come play for the Green Bay Packers. What? The things you will open up about and tell your grandkids.
One of my favorite stories that my dad tells is of him going to church with his Grandpa Jackson in Walnut Springs, Texas. My dad wasn’t taken to church much in his own family, so he was eager to go with his grandpa – until he went. There was a lot of commotion there and people stood on their chairs, hollering and shouting praises to the almighty. My dad, a shy, yet mischievous boy, was definitely out of his comfort zone. He turned right back around and walked out. Whenever my dad tells the story, I get the perfect picture of the place in my mind and I giggle – we all giggle – as he recreates the moment. And because of this story, I know my Great Grandpa Jackson just a little bit better, and so do my kids. We are having a four-generation moment at the dinner table.
So, you may be asking yourself, “How do I do this? How do I get my dad to tell his story?” Well, my first piece of advice – use your own children as the catalyst. Grandpas and grandchildren have this thing together, and it is magic. When they start, have the recorder ready and get it all down. We have created a free printable to get the ball rolling. Click here for the download.
Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.
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