A post I just read over at The Art of Manliness just helped me think through something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now – my mortality. The post is on how one grieves a friend. I got pretty choked up reading it, which is pretty rare for me. Normally it takes ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘A Snoodles Tale’ to make me get misty. But this got to me. Though the writing was very good, I wasn’t sure why it affected me so. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was because I could so easily identify with the writer. While I haven’t had any close personal friends die, I do know of several men my own age – with families and young children like mine – who have died recently. I’ve been in that life stage for a while where many of the older generation of relatives and friends have started to pass. But seeing people who have always seemed ‘old’ pass away hasn’t effected the image of my own mortality the way seeing someone very much like me suddenly struck with cancer and die. Combined with annual insurance enrollments that this year included increased life insurance coverage on both my wife and myself, and I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot.
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What I often come back to are those stories of the dads who know they are dying and so they record messages for their children to listen to later. They want to show their kids something of how they lived, what life means, and try to cram all the life teaching they were planning to do into a series of letters or videos. I keep wanting to do that myself. Even though I’m not dying, what if I did die suddenly. The fathers who suddenly die in a car crash don’t care any less for their kids, but they don’t get the chance to let their voice be heard later in the same way.
I don’t want to be too morbid about it. I don’t want to be so worried about death that I miss living with my sons in the moment. But I’m trying to find those opportunities to record my thoughts and parts of my life that I can so that if something did happen, Christy would have something she could show them later. Just last week I recorded a ‘day in the life’ video of my traveling to Austin for work. Nothing profound. Not very well done (I’m not even sharing it with other family). But it’s there. It’s a record of what I did that day.
The upside I’ve realized from this is that whether I die prematurely or not, these traces of me as I am now can still be valuable. I’d love to have a recording of how my dad (who is still alive) spent his day at various stages of his life. Not just the highlights that might survive in his memory or my mom’s, but the really mundane details like if traffic was good or bad on his commute or the kinds of things he ate for lunch. Besides which, figuring out how to be a dad to two little boys is hard work, and every little detail of how my dad approached raising a 2-year-old me would help.
The great part of course is that social media as it exists now makes this even easier. Facebook’s timeline feature is a great example, but so are archived twitter feeds and the 7000+ pictures on my Flickr stream. But I’m also hoping to go even deeper occasionally. To share my thoughts on issues of the day. Not in a semi-filtered blog post for public consumption, but in a way that my boys will be able to really see not just what their dad thought, but how. I want to teach them how to let the world teach them. Show them how to be the best men they can be – themselves. And I want them to hear it from their dad – even if I’m not around to say it.