studio love

A Notebook

from an aspiring artist

On connecting with family

 
 

Last year for Father’s Day, my family and I made up a game that we could play together. It was part inspired by photographs my mother had found and part inspired by a Gratitude Blooming project I am part of where we use drawings of flowers to 'plant' questions with the hope of improving the conversations we have with each other by promoting introspection and reflection. The game looked a little like this and included:

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1.    An instruction card
2.    10 Questions
3.    A notebook
4.    Photocopies of pictures my mom had given me
5.  Selected drawings of flowers from the Gratitude Blooming project

The whole experience was a memorable way to spend time together as a family. The stories shared were just invaluable. It made me realize how difficult it is to open up to even those closest to us without some gentle prompt. I think we are often taught that talking about ourselves can be self-centered, being vulnerable can be a sign of weakness (especially for the males in our lives), and that emotionally connecting to each other by openly talking to each other will expose those vulnerabilities.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped asking each other what I call “beautiful questions” - the questions that allow each of us to shine even around the darkest topics. We’ve managed to shut off one of the most wonderful aspects of our humanity – our ability to feel and sense and express to each other what it means to be alive, to be connected.

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This simple game allowed us to create a space where it was safe and fun to share stories. Here is an example of the questions we used and how the game played out for my family:

Dad’s turn:
1.    Pick a number between 1-10: 4
2.    Pick a person:  Mom
3.    From the ‘Question’ card, ask the person the question from the number you selected:  “Tell us something you remember about your mother and father.”

 
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My mom’s story: My mother grew up in Korea before the war and remembers how her mother (my grandmother) was always protecting others in the community. My mother picked up the ‘trust flower’ from the Gratitude Blooming drawings we had laying around and said with nostalgia: “My mom was special. Everyone in the town trusted her!"

Mom’s turn:
1.    Pick a number between 1-10: 6
2.    Pick a person:  Dad
3.    From the ‘Question’ card, ask the person the question from the number you selected:  “What is your earliest, most vivid memory as a child?”

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My dad’s story: When my dad was very young, he tried to get a drink of water from a shallow well near his family’s property and fell in. The well was ~1km away from his house but he managed to pull himself out and make his way home. We later drew a map of his family’s property – what he could remember of it – and I learned there was an outcropping they called Big Eagle Rock that was like a guide that marked the road leading home. We also drew a map of my mother’s hometown. What an unexpected, wonderful thing to experience together.

I had forgotten about this game until recently. As part of the gift to my dad, I made sure to capture the stories in a notebook which is why I can remember so much. Looking back, I'm still amazed at what was shared and inspired from that day: a song about a one well town, discussions on philosophers and mathematics, memories of playing pool, memories of relatives...

Just as quickly as the stories were shared, they also faded into memories but I felt we kept something important alive that day. And, there is nothing stopping us from trying again – from learning and practicing how to ask each other beautiful questions, to share the stories that really matter to us, to have a chance to listen to each other again.

For Father's Day this year, my Gratitude Blooming colleagues and I have tried to re-create this game so you can try it out yourself.  See the Gratitude Blooming store for more information.

 
Arlene Suda