Hey Dad, Tell me the story about the time ...

Political correctness, thought police and intellectual terrorism are synonyms. The difference is how much we want the term to be socially accepted. Before technology allowed instant international communication, it was possible to have regional meanings for words and phrases and the need to control the perceptions of others focused on the people around us. Those days are over. Words are not the thing they represent. They are a symbolic presentation of a lifetime's experience and what we mean when we use words will change as are experience changes. Obviously, with words being so imprecise, we compensate to overcome the lack of clarity. Storytelling puts our experience into the words that we choose and helps to make our messages easier to understand.

I am a father. Keep that sentence to the strict biological definition and there are no problems, but as soon as you allow memories of your parents or your child rearing years to spice the conversation, the word has left the simple sentence behind. One of the reasons that we celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day is to make the effort to honor the ritual meaning of mother and father and again, we do this by telling stories. The stories we tell define what we are as a culture; the values that hold us together as a society. This year, memories of fathers get more difficult for me with each super cell that spins destruction across the nation's midsection. Since each of us is greater than the sum of our stories, my experiences as a father, as a graduate student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and several close encounters with tornadoes are essential to know what I mean when I say that I am a father.

Storytelling in 2011 is partially human even though it is enormously shaped by some truly remarkable technology. Geoeye provides startling and stark definition of destructive forces unleashed by nature, but challenges the old adage that a picture is worth one thousand words. Satellite images of places you once shopped or stopped for dinner that have been razed by a tornado bring out the stories of your experiences but cannot tell the story of the homes lost, the fathers who perished or will spend this father's day trying to hold a family together after the security of “home” is not.


This image provided by NASA describes the scale of a major tornado, but sterilizes the human dimension by reducing the horror to pleasant pastel shading. The visual aids from satellite technology border on voyeurism in cases where lives are lost and homes are leveled. In the same way that the finger that launches the missile or drops the bomb is insulated from the faces that are about to die, these images show the scars to the planet, without the slightest insight into the human cost.

While I cannot separate Father's Day from tornadoes, I understand that my experience is not the normal association. Extreme experiences may be breath taking, but are only a partial understanding of the range of experiences, in fact, one of the primary reasons to have Mother's Day or Father's Day is that we tend to ignore so many of the little experiences that define our powerful symbols, like father. What it means to be a father may be forged in life's most challenging moments, but more likely a father is a tinkerer or a policeman who keeps his thoughts to himself.

A picture is worth a thousand stories. Each picture of a man surveying a destroyed home starts the story process. Stories of growing up in a house, of the neighborhood, of people gathering and stories of those that did not survive. Each story is a part of the meaning of “father” or “mother” or life in Alabama. We are blessed with the technology to gather our stories and share them so that each story can contribute its part to defining the words that we use. Consider how flattered your father would be if you spent this Father's Day recording his stories. I know that it would make my day.

Which is the picture that sets off your storytelling urges? Dad with another new tie? Dad with a pair of pliers? Dad standing in the debris of what used to be the family home? The web has made it easy to see the pictures, but even easier to tell the story that recognizes your father this spring. Story Chip is the home of those stories.

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