A couple of years ago, a young writer and comic I know named Eliot Glazer came up with a brilliant, simple idea. He created a Tumblr account called My Parents Were Awesome and invited his readers—mostly young adults, people in their twenties and early thirties—to contribute photographs of their parents before they were parents. The premise, as explained in the homepage mission statement, was simple: “Before the fanny packs and Andrea Bocelli concerts, your parents (and grandparents) were once free-wheeling, fashion-forward, and super-awesome.”
That might overstate things (many current parents have been dorks since their teens), but Eliot’s invitation brought in hundreds of wonderful Instamatic-style portraits of now-middle- and senior-aged people in the suede-fringed and granny-squared splendor of their own young adulthoods, circa the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Now this uncommonly warm and welcoming blog has become a book, also called My Parents Were Awesome, that expands upon the site by inviting contributors not only to turn in photographs, but to write testimonials to these parents and the lives they lived beyond their Mom and Dad roles.
I’m a bit old for Eliot’s contributor demographic, but he flattered me by asking if I could adapt my GQ essay on my late car-salesman father for the book, and so I did. The book, published on April 5 by Villard Trade Paperbacks, is fun, moving, and inspirational without being the scary kind of “Inspirational”: a celebration of family that doesn’t moralize to death. It might be a little heavy on Hebraic contributors—I’m one of two writers who delivers a testimonial to a dad named Seymour, and there are three contributors named Rachel—but there’s a sweet universality to the way everyone, with perspective, grows to recognize that one’s parents have led fascinating lives outside of the house, away from the dinner table, free of the minivan.