Relationships

Thanksgiving Idea: Interview Your Parents

Jeremy Goddard

Last night, I called my dad and asked him 20 questions…

He was sitting on his sofa in Michigan, and I was on my sofa in New York, and it was SUCH a fun way to chat for an hour and learn so much about him that I never realized I didn’t know! And I was thinking: For Thanksgiving, when everyone is staying apart, Zoom calls are fine, but sometimes it’s hard to think of what to say — whereas interviewing someone keeps the conversation really fun and engaging. So, in case you’d like to interview your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or other loved ones, here are the questions I asked:


What’s your favorite food?

Go-to dessert?

What’s something random that you’re good at?

Where would you like to go in the world?

What’s your pet peeve?

Top three movies?

One of your favorite restaurants you’ve ever been to?

What’s something beautiful that you’ve seen in your life?

If you didn’t have your job, what’s another job you’d have?

What was one of your favorite birthdays?

How did you think of the names for your children?

Tell me about the pets you’ve had during your life.

Did you ever get in huge trouble with your parents, at school, etc.?

Have you ever broken a bone? Or gotten very hurt/ill?

What qualities did you see in your parents that you really admired?

What nicknames have you had in your life?

Most embarrassing moment?

Who would you most want to have dinner with (dead or alive)?

What’s your phobia?

What celebrity would play you in a movie?

And just for fun, a lightning round:
Pools vs. hot tubs?
Tea vs. coffee?
Going out to movies vs. renting movies?
Milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate?
Flight vs. invisibility?


My dad revealed things I never knew — for instance, he almost died when he was 13 because he was bitten by a monkey. Also, his favorite dessert is Boston Cream Pie and Pierce Brosnan would play him in a movie! Chatting about all things big and small was a really fun way to spend an evening.

What are you Thanksgiving plans? Hope everyone stays safe and sound. xoxo

P.S. The 2020 holiday gift guide so far, and why are dad texts so freaking cute?

  1. Nicole says...

    I just did this interview with my dad and it was a riot! Thank you so much for sharing this idea. The questions were so fun and I learned so much about him!

  2. freya says...

    OMG The Gift! Dying laughing at that response.

  3. Julee says...

    Love that casual throw in -“bitten by a monkey”- so baller, so James Bond.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahahaha

  4. Angeline says...

    These type of posts always feel bittersweet to me. I would love an insight into my parents’ early lives but I can never trust that anything they would tell me hadn’t been “spin doctored” to paint themselves in a far more sympathetic light than was reality/deserved. I know this because both of them were extremely liberal with the belt/corporal punishment when my siblings and I were growing up, but when my little nephew innocently asked my dad (his grandfather) why he’d hit his dad (my brother) when he was younger, my dad immediately flew into impassioned denials and insisted that he had NEVER raised his hand to any of us! The amount of gaslighting is astronomical. At any rate my dad passed a few years ago and I can’t stand to be in the same room as my mother for any prolonged period of time without it adversely affecting my mental health, so this project is a no-go for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad others can have lovely nostalgic experiences with their parents or grandparents, and I love reading about their heartwarming discoveries, but it will always remain just a fond wish for me.

    • E says...

      Angeline, just want to say I see you and that really sucks. Not quite the same but I know how you feel :)

    • Sage says...

      Understood, friend. My own mother is inventing a childhood for me and my siblings in which she never screamed or raised her voice and certainly never threatened self harm in front of us. Neat! :)

      I think this could be brought to other dynamics/contexts rather than just parents, though. Anyone you’re curious about or love. I posted earlier that I did random interviews with my siblings and that was a lot of fun. Just a thought. Hope you are doing OK this holiday season! Best wishes.

    • July says...

      Toxic parents are real. I have been trying to understand some of my dad’s shortcomings as a father and its been an interesting journey where I learned he had a really difficult childhood. You are brave and strong. I thought these are great questions to ask any mentor, friend, family member, or paternal figure we have in our lives too.

    • Maria says...

      I can relate to that 💙

  5. Longdenlife says...

    I live in the UK and I remember when I started secondary school (age 11) our first English language/literature project was to write your own autobiography (to the age of 11 obviously). As part of that you had to interview your parents, grandparents, other family members about their own lives, family histories and memories of when you were younger – really fascinating. Also, getting older I’ve found I’ve had a lot more conversations with my mother about her childhood and young adult life, particularly about a really difficult period she went through. A long car journey with just the two of us (pre-COVID of course) driving through the area where she grew up really helped the conversation, sparking memories for her and lots of family stories I hadn’t heard before.

    • Aj says...

      My Mom was a middle school/secondary school teacher and each student had a journal of their life she locked up at the end of class to protect privacy. It was a year long project where kids wrote about their favorite foods, pet ( or one they wanted to have one day ), career interests, etc. It not only allowed they to vent or dream, but it uncovered who was neglected and hurting, lonely or abused, so my Mom could take appropriate action on their behalf.

  6. Lisa Terwilliger says...

    Not to sound like a commercial, but my sister-in-law enrolled my in-laws (her parents) in StoryWorth which sends them an email with a question each week. They write their story and it gets circulated to all of us. At the end of a year, there’s an option to purchase the stories in a printed book. It’s been fun to read their stories and then to see all the emailed comments between the family. Fun gift idea and it’s been a great activity for them during the pandemic!

    • Megan says...

      Love this idea, Lisa! Thanks for sharing.

  7. K says...

    I’m wondering if you would share your dad’s answers with us? I would be intrigued to read!! I feel like we already know a little of the personality of your dad (and his family in Cornwall) and it would be a fun diversion. Both your mom and your dad each come across as lovely, interesting people when you talk about either of them. Again, equally respect if he (or you) would prefer not!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Here are a few! :) I love how you can see how enthusiastic he is, generally, through his answers.

      What’s your favorite food?
      At the end of the day, a nice tuna steak. I had one last night actually — a piece of tuna that was really, really excellent. God, it was good, just buttery, melty, it was amazing. Dang! Honestly, it’s luxurious beyond belief.

      Favorite dessert?
      Peach Melbourne. Or Boston Cream Pie. I like the dessert I put together most nights, which is yogurt and fruit, I really like that. And it would be rather fun to have some sort of soufflé dessert like a baked Alaska.

      What’s your pet peeve?
      Unkindness. People who aren’t kind.

      What was one of your favorite birthdays?
      When I was turning 60, and we all went to the Pocanos. It was cold and wet and ridiculous and great. It was a disaster and it was wonderful.

      Top three movies.
      English Patient, Pulp Fiction, Lawrence of Arabia

      What’s something beautiful that you’ve seen in your life?
      There’s a long list! I’m thinking Mount Cook, the view of the islands from the Beacon in Ireland. Oh, jeepers. You guys. Oh gosh, that’s a massive list.

      How did you think of the names for your children?
      We had names around that were floating, and then as I always say you have to meet the kid. Your name initially was Lucy Claire, did you know that? And Lucy was Elizabeth Mary. Nicholas was called Andrew for a while, and it didn’t quite work. You’ve gotta meet the kid. I really believe that, I really do. You can put that on my gravestone: meet the kid.

      If you didn’t have your job, what’s another job you’d have?
      Racing driver. Not that I’d be any good but it’s always been a HUGE passion. That is just wonderful. Driving a car fast, for me, it’s like ballet. It’s such a lovely balance, it’s so flowing, it’s fantastic.

      Did you ever get in huge trouble with parents, at school, etc.?
      When I was 13, I took money out of my mom’s purse over a period of time and bought a bicycle. I come home with this bicycle and they were like, well, how did this happen? It was unbelievably stupid. And I hated the bicycle. And it was a really good lesson about stealing. It just felt awful.

      What have your nicknames been in your life?
      In high school, I was called The Gift. Because I was god’s gift to women.

      Was it because you thought you were or because you did so well?
      I’m not sure (laughs). I didn’t really challenge it. I was happy to take it.

    • Christina says...

      I share a favourite film with your dad, Joanna :-).

      Thank you for sharing some of his answers with us!

    • K says...

      Thanks Joanna! Laughed out loud more than a few times (favorite birthday comment!!). I also feel that I have been underappreciating a tuna steak. His enthusiasm for life definitely comes through. Also liked his answer to your question on getting into trouble. No better way to learn and so good to have learnt this early. It made me think of Stephen Fry’s more drastic experience of this as a youth.

  8. Jane says...

    LOVE THESE. Saving to ask my Pop next time I call him. :) Although we do call almost daily so my toddler can visit with his grandparents since we live in Australia and they’re in Oregon. :)

  9. Liz says...

    Love love love this idea! xoxoxo

  10. Roxana says...

    I LOVE this!

    My grandfather who passed away a couple of years ago (at 92) had fascinating stories to tell about growing-up in Eastern Europe. He was a very passionate person who lived through some intense times. A few years before he died and when he was still living independently, my husband and I went to visit him at his home in Florida. Before we went, I randomly suggested that we record him telling some of his stories. My husband happens to be a sound engineer and so we had a digital recorder when most people didn’t. When we asked my grandfather if we could record him, he was delighted! As often happens, he’d complained about being forgotten. I still remember sitting in his living room, while he sat in his chair and gestured in his unique way as he recounted his childhood and so many other things in his life. We were able to get some beautiful recordings of him talking about all of it. I’m so grateful for having done this because it meant a lot to him and a lot to us – the sound of person’s voice is sometimes the hardest thing to remember. Of course, it also warms my heart to think that my kids will be able to hear a part of their history by listening to their great-grandfather tell it.

    • Angeline says...

      This is so so lovely. I’m glad you have this recording to remember him by.

  11. Ashley says...

    Similarly, my sisters and I started discreetly pulling out our phones and making a voice memo any time our grandparents spontaneously share anecdotes from their lives. It’s fun seeing what they share in the course of a conversation!

  12. Robin says...

    I love this. I think you might want different questions, depending on the person, but still so good. And record it (even if just with a voice memo). My sister’s ex randomly recorded my step dad telling stories at the kitchen table several years ago – just playing around with a voice recorder my sister had for school – and hearing his voice after he passed, telling his typical wild tales, was the most wonderful gift. I have been thinking every year since of how to get my mom and dad to do this with me. It feels heavy, in quarantine. I’m thinking maybe I’ll ask them to record stories for the kids. My kids love books on CD and they’d love stories of their grandparents own lives even more.

  13. Madeleine says...

    I love this idea. I just emailed all of my grandparents to set up interview Zoom calls this week!
    During quarantine, I was looking for an online service project and found a virtual senior center that needed teachers. I speak some Russian and I signed up to teach a Russian class, thinking it would be with other English speakers. Turns out, the class was all older Russian women (real life babushkas!). Knowing that I was way out of my depth language-wise, I devised a way to let the participants teach me instead. I advertised it as a “storytelling class” and I asked the women to answer questions like the ones above. Most of them grew up in the USSR during the World War. Listening their stories was incredibly humbling — even questions about a favorite candy or childhood toy quickly turned somber. I was honored that they would share with me and I was reminded about how much I have to be grateful for.

    • Roxana says...

      Oh, I love this! What a beautiful thing to do!

      Also, my family is from Romania and I can totally relate to the Eastern Euro post WWII culture. My paternal grandmother was “Baba Lena.” I think she was born rocking her babushka. When I think of how she grew-up, and how my parents’ childhoods were (my mom literally only had one doll; i.e. one toy for her entire life, and she never learned to ride a bike because they couldn’t afford one), it is a good reminder that we have so much to be grateful for!

    • j says...

      Could you share this site if possible? I am interested!

    • Agnès says...

      You should read anything by Svetlana Alexievich, I love her books: she collects testimonies about russian people, on different subjects (I really liked “war’s unwomanly face” or “the end of the red man”), from right before WW2.

    • Madeleine says...

      J – The senior center website is http://vscm.selfhelp.net . I found out about it through the website volunteermatch.org, which has plenty of other opportunities as well!

  14. Heather says...

    Years ago for Christmas I gave each of my parents a box with the same questions and a leather journal and asked each of them to answer the questions at their own pace in their own handwriting. Some were fun and lighthearted. Others more serious.

    My dad finished his in a few months and died somewhat unexpectedly a few months after that. My mother took a couple of years to answer hers and my father’s death no doubt impacting the answer to some of hers. She is still around.

    Having their thoughts written down in their own handwriting is such a gift and whenever I stop to (re)read some, I think of them sitting somewhere in their home years ago writing to me.

    • Wow, Heather. Thank you. Absolutely doing this!

    • beth says...

      This is such a good idea, Heather. I lost my mom when I was a teenager more than 25 years ago, and I cherish the single recipe card I have in her handwriting (it’s an ok blueberry pound cake recipe, framed in my kitchen) and a few random scraps of paper with her writing. How wonderful to have something so much personal.

    • Agnès says...

      That’s so beautiful. I have kept old post-its from my mom, just to see her handwriting (she passed away 5 years ago).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh fun, thank you!

  15. Ali says...

    Love this – we live in LA and our families are back east. I’m going to have my kids interview my mom and my mother-in-law with these questions and type them all up and then present their answers to us! Great way for them to connect w their grandparents who they’ll surely be missing this holiday!

  16. Patricia says...

    Love this idea so much! But I think your dad should be played by Warren Beatty!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha I can see that!

  17. Dana says...

    Such fun questions. I was recently thinking about the idea of my partner and I interviewing each other for our first wedding anniversary coming up at the end of this month. Anyone else have a tradition like this for anniversaries? I’ve come up with a few good questions, but would love more suggestions for ways to reflect on our first year of marriage!

  18. Kari says...

    This reminds me of a book I bought for my grandma years ago. It was a little notebook filled with prompts for her to fill in, lots about herself and some about me growing up. It was such a special thing for her fill out and return to me. So precious. (But also funny – One page asks the most fulfilling part of her life, she wrote, “Being married to your grandfather.” Next page asks the most difficult part of her life, she wrote, “Being married to your grandfather.” I still giggle thinking about it because I can picture the sassy look on her face she would’ve had while writing it.)

    • Betsy says...

      Love this so much. Looking forward to asking my dad these questions.

  19. Katrina says...

    We are VERY lucky and have been able to completely stay home for 2 weeks and so have our friends. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving weekend together, cooking and playing board games and taking turns holding each other’s babies. I cannot wait.

  20. E says...

    My partner and I each wrote down some questions like this that we could pull out of a hat when we feel like we’re in a conversational rut.

    So here are some more question ideas :)

    If you could travel in time, when would you go? Or a simpler question, future or past?
    What did you think about living in __? (especially if they lived there before you were born/knew them)
    What’s your favorite time of year?
    A food you used to hate but now love? (or vice versa)

    And then this would be nice in the right context:
    What holiday traditions did you have growing up?

  21. Beth says...

    I gave my parents a Storyworth subscription last year and it asked a lot of these types of questions (and you can write your own, which I did a bit of). The very last week, my dad casually slips in that he saw Jimi Hendrix play at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. What?!?

  22. Hannah says...

    Just a huge endorsement for this activity: my beloved grandfather died in October after several years with dementia. He was a giant to me my entire life, and I am so lucky to have had him so close for as long as I did. A few weeks ago, I was poking around in my old Gmail inbox (as one does in quarantine), and I found a five-page transcript of an interview I did with him nine years ago, long before he was diagnosed. I’d completely forgotten about it (high school assignment!), but I got to read him share his life story, how he fell in love with my grandmother, his favorite music, all of it in his own words. For a few minutes, it’s like he was right there next to me again. It was a miracle to find, of course, and I was thrilled to share it with my family. If you’re considering interviewing a loved one, this is your sign to DO IT. You never know when you’ll need to read it.

  23. Rachael says...

    I am at the perfect place to do this with my parents. I had a surgery that for 6 weeks I am non-weightbearing, which I could have done at home with lots of effort and stress. Instead I am living it up with parents for the time. At 38 it is hard to sit back and let them care of you, but spending this time with them is worth it.

  24. SB says...

    Note to survivors of narcissistic parents: do not attempt this! Take it from me. :) Sometimes I think it’s safe to ask my parents questions about their history or past like this, especially when I’m lonely, or a bit nostalgic for a childhood I never had. But I always regret it. Using this as a reminder to find my own path toward healthiness so I can have the loving relationship with my kids that I so desire from my own parents. This is no knock on Joanna’s post, to be clear. Seeing what healthy relationships look like helps me on my healing journey. Cheers!

    • sadie says...

      hello, thank you for this comment. was scrolling through hoping i would find i’m not the only odd one out. hugs from minneapolis.

    • Agnès says...

      I know what you’re talking about ;-) I wouldn’t do it with my father but I can imagine doing it with my husband and child, and I enjoy seeing so much love in other homes, as you write, it is inspiring. Happy journey.

  25. Katie says...

    Joanna, I’ve noticed that I can’t seem to reply to all comments. Some of the ones near the bottom don’t have the normal Reply button. Just thought I’d mention :)

    Love these stories and the concept — thanks so much for sharing!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, Katie!

  26. MK says...

    Wait. What? Your dad was bit by a monkey, almost died, and this story just never slipped out? Curious George books, trips to the zoo, and it never came up? Seriously, dads have the best stories just stored away!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I KNOW! My jaw was on the floor!

  27. Nikki says...

    This just made me cry because I miss my dad so much. He died a few years ago and I wish I could interview him right now! But I do know how he’d answer several of these questions <3

    • Kristin says...

      I am so sorry for your loss, Nikki. Sending you lots of love.

    • Abigail says...

      Same, Nikki. Sending you love!

  28. liz says...

    I’m spending thanksgiving with my bf and his parents, because they are nearby (just the four of us. i’m hiding from my family who is proceeding with a bigger gathering in another state). I’m going to suggest that we try this with them! seems like a great way to make conversation and learn more about his parents, who I feel I’ve known long enough to run out of small talk but not long enough to feel very close

    • liz says...

      just following up here to let you know we did this yesterday! it fixed a long awkward silence and resulted in an hour+ of story telling. thank you!

  29. Deana says...

    This is great. I once bought a book of 400 random questions and asked my mom a lot of them. I’m so glad I did that — she passed away this year due to Covid.

    • Robin says...

      I’m so sorry Deana ♥️

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so sorry, Deana. You sound like a really lovely, thoughtful daughter.

  30. Mallory says...

    Wow! What a story! That is insane and hilarious now (the ol comedy = tragedy + time equation). Thanks for sharing!!

  31. L says...

    This is such a great idea! something to look forward to doing during these holidays where things to look forward to feel a bit few and far between :)

  32. Becky says...

    I very much wish that someone would have sat down with my grandmother and asked her about her family and upbringing. She was an only child and semi orphaned. I am struggling to put together her family tree. Thankfully NYC census records are pretty awesome. I found out that her grandmother (my great great grandmother) raised her and not her mothers sister; that her mother (my great grandmother) had a brother no one current knew about but he died young around 9 or so and that his father (my great great grandfather) died young too at 37. But there are still so many holes in the tree. When I am able to visit nyc I walk by her former residences and think how awesome it is that she stood in that exact spot at some point in history. I was young when she died and I barely remember her but I took her maiden name as my middle name when I married my husband a few years ago.

    • kash says...

      Highly recommend exploring Wikitree to see if you can find more information based on what you have! I don’t spend a ton of time on it, but my dad is really involved. It seems like a really collaborative community, and there are tons of folks in your shoes trying to uncover information about their past. There are even ways to use Wikitree + DNA tests to do some (admittedly, very patriarchial-based) family finding.

      Sending you hugs this holiday season <3

  33. Those are some awesome questions. And you know what? This can be asked personally for aiding strong bounds. I love these great ideas. Thank you.

  34. Cynthia says...

    This is such a fun post! My step father-in-law actually had a pet monkey when he was growing up. It was one of those little ones that I think can fit in a pocket. This was in the 1930s.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      WOW! :)

  35. Amrita says...

    I love this idea! I was thinking it would be fun to do it with my friends, even.

    An acquaintance of mine just started a small business where she does the interview, gathers photos and then puts it into a book. I haven’t tried it but I’m very curious, especially now! Sharing here: https://www.nostorylost.com/

    • Leah G says...

      Such a great idea, thank you for sharing! Just emailed my dad to see if we could get my 96 year old grandmother to do it.

    • jane says...

      What an incredibly great business idea : )
      Not to mention an awesome gift, thank you.

    • ks says...

      My GG (great grandmother) recorded herself and we compiled it into a book after she died. My granny has been doing the same over the years – it is such a beautiful, fun thing to have of generations passed. Saving this link!

  36. Lisa says...

    My mom interviewed her mother a couple of years before she died, asking her all about her childhood and growing up. She recorded it all and made copies for the grandchildren. I haven’t been able to listen to it, as even seeing my grandmother’s handwriting tears me up I miss her so much. But, my mom was listening to the recordings during lockdown and found out that my grandmother contracted Spanish flu after world war 1 as a toddler. She said it was because of all the soldiers returning.

    I wish we had recorded my husband’s grandmothers. One grew up in Algeria. Her husband’s family had a compound where all the extended family lived together. When we got married she said “they don’t have weddings like they used to. The lasted 2, 3 days and there were lots of guns being fired”. Ah yes. What our wedding needed was more guns.

  37. Caroline says...

    I’m 26 and my dad died on Friday. This makes me so, so sad.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh, Caroline, I’m so so sorry. How devastating. What was his name?

    • steph says...

      I am so sorry for your loss. There are no words to ease your pain. My mom died suddenly in October and I knew this would be a hard post for me to read. Sending you love from San Francisco.

    • kacey says...

      Caroline, I’m so sorry. My mom just died a few weeks ago. This list broke my heart too. As well as I knew her, it is still unbelievable that I can’t ask her these questions.

    • Caroline says...

      His name is Will and he lived in Camden, Maine. He was a very special individual and there’s so much I still don’t know about him. He has a lot of friends here though, and I will have to learn from them.

    • Caroline, I’m so so sorry. I will be thinking of you and your family.

      I found The Dinner Party, a platform for grieving 20- and 30-somethings to find peer community and build lasting relationships, after experiencing a loss in my life, and it made me feel a little less alone:
      https://www.thedinnerparty.org

      Thinking of you <3

    • Elizabeth says...

      Caroline,
      I am so sorry about your Dad. Sending you a hug.

    • Agnès says...

      Caroline, many many thoughts your way; it is the saddest time. Love from France.

    • courtney says...

      Caroline, I’m sending you a big hug. I’m so sorry for your loss. My mom died when I was 28, just a few years ago, and I wish I could be there for you and hear your stories about your dad.

    • Lynn says...

      Caroline, I am so very sorry. What a terrible loss. Although I don’t know you, I will be thinking of you and praying that your heart heals soon. Grief is so hard, but especially so, bumped up next to a holiday.
      Hugs- Lynn

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love the name Will. We were in Camden, Maine, a few summers ago (the best library) and I wonder if we passed him on one of those pretty streets. I’ll be thinking of him and holding you close in my thoughts today. xoxo

    • b says...

      Oh Caroline. Sending you so many hugs.

    • Kelsey says...

      Caroline, Steph, and Kacey – Sending you all love. I’m also in my 20s and lost my mom suddenly last month. While I would never wish this pain on anyone, I’ve found knowing others are going through a similar experience is oddly comforting and makes the grief feel less alone.

      Naseem – Cannot thank you enough for The Dinner Party recommendation. Trying to find a 1-1 grief therapist with availability at this time has been an ordeal.

  38. Tovah says...

    Gosh, I love this so much!
    I teach a college public speaking class, and any of these would make great speech prompts. I hold the belief that we all carry interesting stories around with us; sometimes it just takes the right question to unlock them!

  39. When I said I knew my mother well, someone once challenged me and asked if I knew what her childhood bedroom looked like. I didn’t. When I asked my mom about it, her face lit up as she remembered all the little details of her old house and room, which then led to more stories about her parents, grandparents and siblings. It was a great gateway into learning more about “the old days.”

    • Kristen says...

      My mother once told me that, when she can’t fall asleep, she imagines walking through her childhood home room by room.
      Just last night, my 8 year old couldn’t fall asleep because he couldn’t stop thinking about something “scary” (which turned out to be the time he bent a fingernail backwards), so I told him about my mother’s trick and ended up describing her childhood house to him, including the clothesline where my grandmother hung Saran Wrap she’d washed for reuse. It IS a great prompt!

    • b says...

      Kristen, that’s amazing. My grandmother goes through the states in alphabetical order when she can’t fall asleep. No one else in the family can do that.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this thread is beautiful. xo

  40. Jaclyn says...

    My dad grew up in the Soviet Union and barely spoke about his past while raising us. I knew vaguely that he’d had a hard life. But he was so grateful to become an American citizen, and always seemed to want to live in the present and not resurrect ghosts. But when I was 29, I realized that my dad was actually from Ukraine, not Russia like I’d always thought! I felt massive shame to realize how little I knew about this pivotal person in my life. I’ve always been a writer, but of fiction, and somehow I had this strong intuition that I needed to tell his story. Well, that realization moment led to me interviewing my dad for three years about every last detail of his life, as well as trips together to Ukraine and then Moscow (where he went to school after the army). And in the process, shocking family secrets were revealed that helped me understand my dad and my grandparents in such richer detail. Plus learning of my dad’s bravery and perseverance gave me the courage to make some big, tough decisions in my own life. What I learned is that knowing our ancestors helps us to better know ourselves. And one day when the time is right I will publish the book of my dad’s amazing life and how it changed mine to get to know him.

    • Bette Barkley says...

      Jacklyn, I hope that you do get to publish the book about your father. I would really like to read it.

    • Elise says...

      This is so fascinating, thanks for sharing. I don’t think as kids we are capable of fully understanding that our parents have pasts; that realisation also came to me well into me twenties! The older I get the more fascinated I am by my ancestry. I had a thought the other day that there is (an almost) infinite line of women before me, thousands and thousands – that might stop with me as I’ve just got a son. I could ponder these thoughts forever.

    • Meg says...

      I’m so inspired by this! Family history is important – what an amazing gift. Thank you for sharing!

    • Tovah says...

      Incredible story; thank you for sharing!

    • jane says...

      I took a short workshop with Rebecca Walker once and could not recommend any memoir coach more. A coach really helps you get it out of, “one day”, and onto paper.

      https://www.rebeccawalker.com

  41. Em says...

    I actually know most of these answers for my parents. We’ve gotten quite close now that they’re retired and I have small kids. They visit often and we’ve had some good conversations. I like the idea or recording them though, will do that this winter.

  42. Mouse says...

    I know your father likes classical music, so I need to ask him who is his favorite composer? (Mine is Bach)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! and it might be lovely to hear him describe it. my dad gave this lovely answer about his passion for driving:

      If you didn’t have your job, what’s another job you’d have?
      Racecar driver. Not that I’d be any good but it’s always been a HUGE passion. It’s just wonderful. Driving a car fast, for me, it’s like ballet. It’s such a lovely balance, it’s so flowing, it’s fantastic.

    • jane says...

      Then of course he has seen, “Senna”? I do love a well-engineered drive but have zero interest in racing, lol. But it was an excellent story.

  43. Valerie says...

    Great idea! My three year old thinks my nickname is “Mama” which just warms my heart.

  44. Michelle says...

    I also think these fun questions would be great for friends or even partners — it’s not the kind of thing that comes up in everyday conversation, not for me at least! A nice way to build connection.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, great idea!

  45. Kate says...

    I have always thought your dad was very handsome and a ringer for Dennis Quaid! :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      OMG I told him the same thing!!! I was like, your celeb actor would be Dennis Quaid in Parent Trap! :)

  46. ML says...

    This is so sweet! Thank you also for the beautiful ways you are helping us all – by encouraging (and normalizing) us staying home this year. xoxox

    • Sheila says...

      I think I’ll do this with my dad soon! Although I already know that Steve Martin would play him in a movie, he’s been stopped before and told he looks like Steve.

  47. Jess. says...

    What feels like many years ago now (my mom has since passed away), I got my parents on video telling me some of my favorite stories of their lives, and I had my dad read one of his favorite stories from a book. I included some footage of my childhood home, and I gave a copy of the tape as a gift to my brother, whose name I had for Christmas. Unfortunately, nothing plays that kind of tape anymore :I, and this is a good reminder that I should digitize it as a holiday project this year. xox

  48. Erin says...

    My dad died a couple years ago from a very fast acting cancer. I asked if I could record his stories and he said no. I think it felt like too much at the time. BUT I did secretly record our phone conversations with an app and saved them as voice memos. Hearing his voice is still one of my favorite ways to remember him. It would be a great idea to record these interviews! (Preferably with permission, of course ;) )

    • Mollie says...

      What app did you use? I love this idea!

    • Erin says...

      Hi Mollie! It was called TapeACall.

  49. Tessa says...

    Every year my partner’s mom interviews him on his birthday. She has been doing this since he was a little boy, asking him the same questions year after year and recording his responses. It’s pretty amazing to see how the responses change each year as he has gotten older and his priorities in life have changed. Definitely a tradition that I hope she continues each year, and one I will definitely embrace with my own children one day!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so cool!

    • Liz says...

      Unless it’s too personal, are you able to share what she asks him?

    • I’ve done this with all four of my children, from the age of 6 or so continuing up until 18. We read all the answers out loud every year on their birthay. Some of the questions I ask include:

      *What are you most scared of?
      *What is your favorite book?
      *Who is God
      *What do you not like about our family?
      *What do you like about yourself?

      It’s fun to see how their answers change (or don’t!) over the years. The kids love it.

    • GN says...

      I’ve thought about doing this with my son. Do you know what questions were asked?

  50. maywyn says...

    Wonderful idea! Sibling and cousin interviews will be fun as well. Yiur list is perfect.
    Thanksgiving home, painting all day as thanks that God gave me the love of art. Watching Hocus Pocus for thanks there’s a scary movie I can watch without a blanket over my head. Making pumpkin pie ice cream and hot fudge as thanks I am an American.

    • Michelle says...

      These ways to celebrate made me so happy to think about. Happy Thanksgiving!

  51. Tyler says...

    Hope you recorded the conversation! After my mom died, I suddenly thought of a million questions I wanted to ask her. Has made me much more inquisitive with my dad and even he is shocked at the things I don’t know.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I transcribed it but now I wish I had recorded it! I love his voice :) And I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom xo

  52. M says...

    I really love this idea, especially because I actually work for a small, NYC-based, independent nonprofit called StoryCorps, and our work centers around encouraging meaningful conversations with those you love, leaving a legacy through storytelling, and building connections during times of isolation or hardship. For anyone who is interested, I really encourage you to utilize our (free!) recording resources you can download to your phone or use online to help you capture these conversations for years to come.

    As is the case for so many businesses and families alike, the pandemic has certainly posed significant challenges for small nonprofits, so I just had to give this shout out here to support mission-driven organizations like ours.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much, M!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      One of the suggested questions on StoryCorps is “what’s your favorite memory of me?” that’s so sweet.

    • maywyn says...

      I Love StoryCorps!

    • katie says...

      So many cheers for StoryCorps! What an awesome job to have. Whenever one is teased on my way to work, I linger in the car so I can hear the whole thing :-).

    • Erin says...

      I’m a fan of Story Corp!

      My family has never seemed interesting enough for a Story Corps approach, but I love the idea of trying it this year to make Thanksgiving day feel significant.

    • Jenn says...

      Also another fan of StoryCorps here!!

      Joanna, a suggestion to maybe include this resource in the post itself so more people could see it?

    • Jenna says...

      I love StoryCorps! I recorded my grandmother before she completely lost her memory. She told amazing stories of her childhood growing up in India! She passed in February and I sometimes listen to her stories on my walks.

  53. Toni says...

    We have a family tradition that we each have to say a tongue twister. I have memories of laughing so hard I was crying when we all had to go around the table and say: “a box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.” Very curious to see how this will play out on Zoom!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s hilarious! the hardest one I’ve ever done is “toy boat.” you literally CANNOT say it three times fast!

    • Louisa says...

      “One smart fellow, he felt smart. Two smart fellows, they felt smart. Three smart fellows, they felt smart.” It KILLS ME EVERY TIME!

    • Denise says...

      twig wreath, twig wreath, twig wreath!

    • Elise says...

      I am not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son.
      I am only plucking pheasants ’till the pheasant plucker comes.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      @Elise hahahaha

    • Alison says...

      Unique New York, three times fast. It makes my kids crack up laughing every single time… eventually comes out as new-yeek you-nork :)

  54. Sage says...

    How sweet! My husband, siblings, my soon to be sister in law (!!!), and I all did mini interviews for a time capsule the other night. I’m making it into a little video and we plan to watch it at Thanksgiving 2030 to laugh at ourselves. :)

    One of our questions got the same answer from everyone: what are you thankful for? (“Family.”) Another was more contentious: who’s definitely president in 2030? (Answers ranged from “Pete Buttigieg” to “The Rock.”)

    • Erin says...

      Ha! fun idea!

  55. Megan says...

    Great list. How I wish I could give this list to my dad. He was a character and I’m sure would have created the craziest, most fun answers. If possible, try not to put the simple things off. Time is a gift. 💜

  56. Mallory says...

    Such a lovely idea! I’m going to use this.

    Also, way to leave us hanging on the monkey story!! Can we get more details!?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha here is the exact transcript!

      Have you ever broken a bone? Or gotten very hurt/ill?
      I would have died if it weren’t for penicillin when I was bitten by a monkey. I was 13. I was going with a friend to the earl’s court motor show in London and we came out of the tube and I was going up the steps and this guy was there with a traditional organ and monkey and he thrust the monkey into my hands and took a photo and the monkey bit me on the back of my thumb. And I got sepsis — blood poisoning — from this monkey bite. In a few days, it started up my arm; you could see the veins going red and started up toward my armpit and I went on penicillin for two weeks, which was basically a shot, and it was so painful. It went into your thigh muscle or your buttocks, it was really nasty. But anyway, I survived.

      !!

    • Em says...

      Omg jo that story is insane!! so glad he survived. and YES Pierce Brosnan!!!

    • jill says...

      haha what is even more unexpected and crazy about the monkey story is that it happened in London of all places!!

    • Chloe says...

      But anyway, I survived.
      Isn’t that the truth about 99% of our lives!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha yes!

    • Kimberley says...

      Oh no just any old story about getting bitten by a monkey either!!