My world was turned upside down at age 22 when my father’s life was tragically and unexpectedly cut short.
It was Monday, October 11 and I had called him in the morning just to catch up. We talked about the normal things: the weather, the weekend, and how work was going. Our conversation was neither significant nor memorable and it finished with a promise that I would drop in to see him and Mum for dinner that evening.
Little did I know that this was a promise I would never be able to keep.
Later that morning I received a phone call I will never forget. His trembling voice on the other end of the phone, my older brother urged me to drop whatever I was doing and get to the hospital as soon as I could.
He simply said that dad had collapsed at home, and the ambulance officer who had attended to him warned that things did not look good.
For the three hours it took me to drive to the hospital, I played out every possible scenario in my mind. By the time I arrived, I had reassured myself that it was probably nothing and decided to not get worried before I knew more about the situation.
As I gave my surname to the hospital warden, the look on her face made it clear that life for my family and me was about to change forever.
“A massive heart attack without warning” was all the doctors could offer us by way of explanation.
And with that, my closest mentor and friend was gone forever.
In the days and weeks that followed, my family and I faced the gruelling and heartbreaking task of sorting through my father’s papers and belongings. As we sifted through trinkets, photos and tokens of his life, we came across one item that made my heart leap the moment I saw it.
There in the bottom drawer of his desk was a well-worn notebook that I had forgotten even existed.
I recognised this book instantly as the gift I had given Dad for Father’s Day the previous year. Armed with a list of questions, I had somewhat sheepishly asked him to write down stories and experiences from his life that had never come up in conversation.
At the time I had no idea just how significant this simple request would be.
As I sat there 14 months later reading through the stories and experiences that he had recorded, I found myself enthralled and captivated by how much I didn’t know about my father and his life.
I was struck by the things that were important to him but were unspoken and also by how much we had in common.
In numerous conversations over the next few months, I found myself recounting to others the experience of both finding and reading the notebook my father had left behind. I was amazed at how the story struck a chord with so many people. Everyone, it seemed, had a loved one whom they wished had filled out a similar book.
And so the idea for Histography was born.
It all started with a simple question I emailed to everyone in my contact list: What do you wish you could ask a loved one who is no longer alive? The response was overwhelming… everyone I emailed had long lists of questions they wish they could have asked a parent, a grandparent, a mentor, a partner or a son or daughter before it was too late.
In my work as a professional speaker, I present to tens of thousands of people each year from every conceivable background, age, demographic and culture.
Interestingly, though, I have found that the theme of connecting generations is one that resonates across the spectrum… perhaps most surprisingly with young people.
Having worked with and coached close to 80,000 students, I can attest to the fact that young people today are searching for a meaningful connection with their family heritage more than ever before.
Whilst this may come as a shock to many parents and grandparents, I would suggest that the reason for such a yearning is clear – this younger generation have grown up in an era that doesn’t value the past. After all, not that long ago the process of ‘passing down’ through the generations was at the core of our social fabric.
Culture developed, history was preserved, craftsmanship was taught and wisdom was bestowed through the stories passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, grandparent to grandchild. Whether around the campfire, the watering hole, or the dinner table, our elders showed us how the world worked and the meaning of our place within it.
In just one short century, though, so much has changed. We have shifted from a ‘built to last’ society to a ‘quick-fix’ culture. We crave the newest cars and fastest computers, whilst anything deemed to be dated, old and ‘yesterday’ is simply discarded, disregarded or disposed of.
Our obsession with progress is typified by the modern-day doctrine arguing that everything old is ‘bad’ and everything new is ‘good’.
The link between generations is under increasing threat and young people sense it. In homes across the western world, a dramatic role reversal is occurring; for the first time it is the ‘tech-savvy’ younger generation teaching their elders how the world works.
Whilst it is true that older generations were raised in a vastly different age to that of the modern era, it is equally true that the principles, values and experiences, which guided and shaped their lives are as relevant and applicable today as they were in centuries past.
I suspect that the advice and comfort to be found in the wisdom of older generations is probably needed more than younger people recognise, or are willing to openly admit.
My own experience can attest to this. In the years since my father died, I have often gone back to his journal to find guidance, advice and hope. I am comforted by and learn from his mistakes and am emboldened by his successes. In this way his journal has become more than the musings of a sentimental parent; this book and the principles and wisdom it contains are my father’s legacy.
Each day we are creating our legacy. We make memories, learn lessons, collect experiences and grow relationships that become the richly woven fabric of our life.
Whilst a fortunate few have a library or the wing of a hospital named in their honour, and others can point to streets, suburbs or even comets that bear their name, surely the most meaningful legacy we can leave is not in the accomplishments we accrue but in the lives we touch – especially when they belong to our family.
Histography is designed to be a family keepsake that will live on well beyond your years. It is an ideal way for you to record the stories of life that you have not had the chance, the will or the opportunity to share.
The purpose of this online memory box is to help you capture the moments that have defined and shaped your life. Some of the questions will draw out the deep and the profound, others simply aim to expose the fun, daring and downright embarrassing moments of life.
Make this an honest account of your life – one that includes both your successes and your failures.
Ultimately, my hope is that Histography will become an heirloom for your family in the way my father’s journal did for ours. May it not only bear witness to your life and times, but act as a source of comfort, wisdom, inspiration and humour for the generations to come.
In this way, the stories you record in the following pages could make all the difference to the next generation as they face the same challenges, situations and circumstances you yourself have encountered.
Naturally, something this significant doesn’t come without a price. It will require you to invest two of your most valuable assets: your time and your memories. I trust that you will see this as a worthwhile investment and that your children’s children will be glad you did too!
Michael McQueen is an international speaker, social researcher and three-time bestselling author.