A few weeks ago my father entrusted me with some old computer hard drives that had been damaged in a power surge. They contained his collection of family photos and videos, curated over many years. Fortunately, the data was intact, and I’ve taken a nerdy delight in restoring his cache of digitized memories, which form a patchwork chronicle of more than a century of Moore history. My teenaged sons, Ben and Sam, have been fascinated by some of the video footage of my early days. I’m gratified to say that it has led to some wonderful family bonding dialogue.
For example, conversations about all of the advances that have occurred in the decades between our respective childhoods.
Ben: Dad, show us the one where the stroller folded up while you were climbing into it!
Me: Product safety was nonexistent in those days. It’s a wonder anyone survived to adulthood.
Sam: Plus, it’s hilarious!
Or, this one:
Sam: Are you supposed to dismount a horse onto your head?
Me: Horses didn’t have seat belts in those days. It’s a wonder anyone survived to adulthood.
The videos have also offered my family a glimpse into some of my early triumphs as a gridiron superstar.
Me: Look at that run! No one even laid a hand on me!
Sam: Wasn’t your team’s end zone in the other direction?
Me: Umm… Ben: It’s a wonder you survived to adulthood.
These old photos and videos are a great way to build a bridge between the generations. When my children face important decisions, I produce evidence from my own past that helps guide them towards right thinking. For example, Ben recently attended his school’s prom. As he and my wife, Dena, were discussing what he and his date should wear, I clicked on a photo from my own prom.
Me: Here’s a great example of how the two of you could coordinate outfits.
Ben: Cool. His-and-hers mullets.
Me: My cummerbund was the same color as her dress.
Dena: I think we could avoid both of those situations.
So as you can see, my family has quickly latched on to the immense value of the trove that has been conferred upon me. My children are present and correct if the value to them at this point is mainly entertainment. The value to me is more nuanced, and my prayers for Ben and Sam include the joy of one day revisiting 2014 with their own children alongside as commentators. The Moore history will contain even more photos and videos, and they’ll become a part of the bridge to yet another generation.
As for me, I’m thinking a lot about memories and generational bridges these days. My father’s memory is in peril. As my old VCU professor and poet Larry Levis wrote: Something inside him is slowly taking back every word it ever gave him. Our relationship has not always been easy, and I wonder if we have built a bridge strong enough to bear this weight. I ply my trade in words, and yet words have always been hard to come by for us. Silence can be treacherous.
I pull images off the hard drives. My father as a younger man. In grainy videos he throws a football. There he is, at the beach, his hair roughed up by the wind and looking just like mine does now.
Maybe one day medical science will be able to do for the brain what I am doing for my father’s hard drives. It’s a powerful wish, as wishes about time and about relationships tend to be. The act of restoring family memories becomes a metaphor for fixing the past.
But wishes about the past get in the way of loving people in the present. I can’t meet my father anywhere other than where he is right now. I am called simply to show up. There is loss; there is gain. Words get taken away; silence becomes simple quiet. Silence can be suffocating. But quiet ? Quiet can be breathed in deeply.
The difference means everything.
Meanwhile, Ben and Sam laugh at my childhood video follies. They shake their heads at the notion that their father ever participated in the fashion catastrophe that was the seventies. But Dena and I are laughing with them. Shared moments mean we’re present with each other, and presence builds the bridge between our generations. Not everything to come will be laughs and merriment, but we have this opportunity, right now, to love unencumbered and build a bridge strong enough to support whatever weight the future brings to bear.
And so I take faltering steps onto the bridge my father and I have built. I test its soundness. It holds more weight than I had suspected. Or, possibly, we are lighter for this recent exchange of gifts. My work on the hard drives is a gift to my father. The photos, videos, memories, are his gift to me. His gift to his children, and to his grandchildren, and to generations yet unborn and unknown but still, in the fathomless wisdom of the human heart, already loved.
May our bridge go on and on.