When my dad retired from his position as elementary school principal, his staff gave him a video camera. It was 1987, and I was pregnant with my first son, Dylan, who was about to be the most documented child on the planet. I have stacks of VHS tapes showing an increasingly impatient sweet-faced boy being “interviewed” by his grandfather. What does he think of his new baby brother? What, in his opinion, is the real meaning of Christmas? What is he especially grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day?
A lot of my dad’s leading questions are true groaners, and I remember some family gatherings where I thought about hiding the camera bag somewhere before he could pull out the instrument of torture. But I’m glad to have those tapes, and Dylan and his brothers are, too. The four of us can watch them for hours.
So when I read the mixed reviews of Doug Block’s new documentary “The Kids Grow Up” — described by one critic as a “disconcerting chronicle of his daughter’s life” and by another as a moving “essay on the passage of time and the mysterious connections between parents and children” — it was with my own mixed feelings.
As a writer who hasn’t been shy about sharing scenes from her own children’s lives, I admit I’ve worried about the ethics and the effects of “using” my defenseless boys as “material.” But I have also, like Doug Block, like my father, experienced the obsessive need to explore the intersection between my family members’ stories and my own, as a way of understanding my own truth.