The Death of My Two Fathers Discussion Guide: Healing Through Creative Practice

Overview

Film Summary

It takes Sol Guy 20 years to watch the tapes his father recorded shortly before his death in 1998. They detail how a black man from Kansas City, Missouri arrived in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, determined to make a better life for his new family. The tapes prompt Sol to embark on a journey to better understand the biracial family that raised him and trace his Black American roots. He connects with his estranged sister and confronts the choices his father made. The Death of My Two Fathers is a letter to Sol’s own children, an exploration of the meaning of family, and a metaphor for how our human family must reconcile with our painful past to create a more hopeful future.

Director’s Statement: Coping with Grief and Healing Through Art

It took me 20 years to watch the tapes my father recorded shortly before his death in 1998. They detail how a Black man from Kansas City moved to a small Canadian town, determined to do something different with his life.

The tapes sent me on a path of rediscovering my roots, reexamining what it means to be Black in America, and reconnecting with the people my father left behind. As a better understanding of my father’s choices emerged, so did the parallels in my own.

In the midst of making what I thought was a film about my father’s life and death, my stepfather fell ill. Watching him approach death brought old memories back to the surface. The camera became my shield, allowing me to face the pain I feared most and work to keep cycles of history from repeating themselves.  This project has proven to me what I deeply believe: grieving and healing through creative practice is the true purpose of art and the role of the artist.

The Death of My Two Fathers is an exploration of how our human family must reconcile with our painful past if we hope to create a more hopeful future. It speaks to the complexities of multiracial identity and the persistence of racial trauma. It speaks to the challenges of fatherhood. It speaks to coping with grief and loss and the liberation that exists in facing our own mortality.

Above all, it speaks to my own children based upon the words my fathers spoke to me.

I hope that my family’s story can offer something for others to reflect on and hold throughout their own healing. 

Meet the Family

William Richard Guy

Sol’s father, William Richard Guy (also known as Guy and Bill), was born in 1944 in Waterloo, Iowa. He died in 1998 in Grand Forks, BC. He was a partner to Donna, Bobbie (Sol’s mom) and Leora (Sol’s stepmother), father to Travistine, Richard, Shoshana, Sol and Jayda. Though a complex man in many ways, he was the best father a boy could have asked for. Sol refers to William as his hero; as charismatic, magnetic and flawed. He carried the burden of his childhood and his decisions to leave his children, his first family, and the life he knew behind for something better in Canada. 

TRAVISTINE GUY

Sol’s eldest sister, Travistine, the first child of his father with Donna, was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Sol’s dad left her mother when she was 6 or 7. She saw their father a handful of times in her life. She visited Sol and his family in Grand Forks once when she was 18 and Sol was 8, and again in the summer of 1997, before William was dying and when he wanted to get all of his kids together. Now 56 years old, she is the powerful matriarch to the Guy family in Kansas City. She is the mother of 5 children - Dwayne, Gerome, Lee, Robin and Robert. She is a grandmother to 19. She is kind, insightful, incredibly forgiving, yet carries sadness and pain. She has had a hard life living on the margins of American society and the barriers it builds for people in her position. 

Barbara Ogletree (Bobbie)

Sol’s mom, also mother to his sister, Shoshana, was born and raised in the Catskills, in Mountaindale, NY in a predominantly Jewish community. She met their father, Richard, in Washington, DC in 1970, hitchhiked to Canada with him and has remained in Canada ever since. Some say she is the original hippie. Sol shares that Bobbie is the kindest person he knows, a devout Buddhist for over 40 years. Peace and loving kindness are at her core. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in BC.

FREYE PARKHOUSE

Sol’s mother's partner of 30 years, his stepfather, was a teacher, a believer with a boyish love of life and a mischievous smile. He came into Sol’s life when he was 15. Sol and Freye were always friends and he provided the support and safety for Sol’s mom that a son could only hope for. Alongside Sol’s mother, Freye provides the final lesson in the film as he faces his mortality. He and Bobbie are the spiritual center of the film.

Leora Gesser Guy

The love of Sol’s father’s life, she and Richard were together for 25 years. Sol has known Leora since he was 20 months old. She helped raise Sol and his sister Shoshana, and is the mother of his youngest sister, Jayda. She knew Richard best, helped him grow into the man he became, and literally nursed him through his sickness. She is Jewish and from Montreal. Leora lives in Grand Fork in the home that she and Richard built together. She is a working artist who loves to hike.

Table of Contents

Art and Healing with The Death of My Two Fathers: A Screening Guide Film Screening Directions


Introduction

Over the past two years, people all over the world have come face to face with loss. From ways of life to end of life, beliefs and relationships, to how we work; we never imagined our world changing so drastically. How do we face endings, how do we grieve with grace, and learn to embrace change with creativity and equanimity? How do we support and stay connected with limited resources, distance, and during our struggles?

The Death of My Two Fathers (TDOMTF) is a courageous exploration of identity, fatherhood, life, and death. The film unpacks the meaning of family, explores race, and what it means to face where we come from as part of our journey and the lives of those who come after.

By offering the film as a resource to actively engage with communities, our hope is to inspire people to live intentionally, face hard things, and to be inspired to use creativity and conversation as a means for understanding, healing with, and honoring loved ones.

Through screenings and conversations with audiences and experts we’ve recognized the unique opportunity that movies about grief have to commune and create conversations that hold space for healing and radical candor about grief, loss, and family.

This guide offers a framing for these discussions, prompts to use with audiences, and resources related to the themes raised in the film.  It is meant to be used by a variety of audiences.

Film festivals, student groups, Black history projects, social work teams and more will find the questions here useful.

We encourage everyone to make the guide and the discussion fit your gathering and explore healing art in community.

Knowing the Audience

As you plan your discussion, it’s essential to consider who your audience is and any learning objectives you have for the time you are together. Is your audience:

  • A student group?
  • Festival goers?
  • Social workers?
  • Artists?
  • Filmmakers?

Is the audience gathered as part of a program about a specific topic like grief, storytelling, race, culture, or something else?  

In this discussion guide, you’ll find:

  • Tips for choosing a facilitator
  • Examples of discussion goals
  • Possibilities for discussion themes
  • Tips for successful facilitation
  • Prompts and questions organized by theme
  • Resources for grieving individuals

Choosing a Facilitator(s)

Like many movies about grief, The Death of My Two Fathers can raise hurts and loss that audience members may bring up during the discussion. Some of the prompts encourage sharing about issues connected to grief, and hardships. Having a facilitator who can empathetically shape a healthy and safe space for discussing art and healing is essential.

Consider having two facilitators who share the role when possible.

The Facilitator’s Role

The facilitator’s job is to create the best opportunity for audiences to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the film. This includes sharing any goals for the discussion, welcoming participation from all, and providing moderation towards respectful dialogue.  

A facilitator is mindful of the time available for the discussion and keeps the discussion on track.


Before Showing the Film

Consider the goals you have for your discussion. Look at the goals, themes, and prompts in this guide to spark your thinking.
Decide how long your discussion can be. We recommend about 1 hour.  

In ticketing, promotions, and signage, be sure to note that the film will be followed by a discussion. List any special guests, organizations, and the time your event will end.

Make sure your space is set up for a discussion. Ideally, microphones are available for both the audience and facilitator(s). Plan where the facilitator(s) will sit or stand and whether audience members will come to or be handed microphones. Plan for accessibility and inclusion.

Familiarize yourself with exits, bathrooms, access to food and any building access information.

The Death of My Two Fathers has a running time of 90 minutes.

The Death of My Two Fathers Discussion Guide Goals

Consider any of these goals for your discussion. If your group is mostly students, filmmakers, neighbors, consider adding your own goals that relate to the audience.  

To spark conversations around identity and family.

To break down taboos around death and dying by making the experience of loss accessible and modeling a way to engage with someone’s end of life.

To be a pathway to a communal space for grieving.

To inspire others to use creativity and art as part of a healing process.

To create space for men and people of color to converse around life and loss.

To serve as a tool for grief and caregiving groups to help with conversations around how we show up for people.

To inspire people to share their own stories and create legacy projects by offering creative prompts.

To support people interrogating where they come from and help them see where they are going.

Discussion Themes

  1. How to live life to the fullest.
  2. Death, mourning and grief through a cultural lens.
  3. Healing through creative practice.
  4. How to show up for the people who matter most in difficult moments and at the end of life.
  5. How systemic racism affects families.
  6. Identity: How a shared understanding of the past helps us grow.

Tips for Successful Facilitation

Be mindful of audience members needing assistance with microphones, sightlines to translators, and other accessibility needs.

Make sure all facilitators watch the film ahead of time.

  • Be mindful of the time: start on time and end on time.
  • Be prepared, the conversation may evoke strong emotions. Please be sensitive to allow audience members to be seen and heard as they share their personal experiences and navigate healing with art.
  • Reflection is a useful technique to convey how participants are seen and can be used as a transition to the next topic or direct the conversation back to the group. (Example: “It sounds like you…” and “Does anyone else have something to share?”)
  • Not everyone participates equally, but try to create opportunities for those who share less to step forward if they desire. If someone is stepping forward a lot, gently redirect back to the group.
  • If the conversation gets heated, acknowledge the active discussion and agree to disagree and move to the next topic.
  • Allow the conversation to evolve and flow naturally.


Discussion Agenda

  1. Grounding: Invite the audience to join in a minute of meditative silence. Ask people to close their eyes, take some restful breaths, and become present for the discussion.
  2. Introductions: Open space for introductions. Keep it brief.  
  3. Share the Group Agreements.
  4. Start the discussion with the general and thematic prompts in this guide.  You do not need to use all the questions.

Group Agreements

Share ground rules, or group agreements, for the discussion.

  1. Compassion: Let’s be compassionate to ourselves and each other.
  2. One Voice: Raise your hand or signal online. Wait to be called on.
  3. I Statements: Speak from your own perspective and avoid advice giving.  
  4. Share the Air: Create space for all to participate, notice when that means stepping up or back.
  5. Privacy:  Respect the privacy of the group.  Please do not record or share information from the discussion.
  6. Active Listening: Agree to listen to and hear each other.

Start the Discussion with General Prompts and Reactions

Start with some general questions to encourage the audience to share their first responses. In some discussions, there will be threads to follow and other audience members will weigh in.

Be mindful of the time you have. It would be great to hit several of the key themes described in the guide, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • What did you see or hear in the film that connected for you?
  • Was there someone you resonated with?  Why?
  • What kinds of growth or learning did you see in the film?
  • Do any specific moments stand out to you?

Lead the Discussion Using Thematic Prompts

Below are questions related to key themes in the film. Facilitators can use the prompts to steer or kick start the discussion.

Theme: Live Fully.

  1. Life is precious.  We only have so much time with one another. What does living life to the fullestfully mean to you?
  2. By confronting your past and mistakes, what patterns in your life would you like to change or revisit in order to show up as a better version of yourself?
  3. William Guy and Bobbie made a big decision to hitchhike to Canada to start a new life,  have there been courageous turns you have made in order to carve out a better life for you and your loved ones?
  4. Give an example of experiences that you need to have with your loved ones, while you have the opportunity to do so?

Theme: Coping with grief and loss through a cultural lens.

  1. What are your cultural practices around death?
  2. Do you feel you are allowed to grieve, and how do you carve space to mourn loss?
  3. What are ways that you practice healing? Are these rooted in customs or traditions? Are healing and art entwined in your family’s culture?
  4. Do you have cultural practices or customs to remember your loved ones who have passed?


Theme: Healing Through Art

  1. Both Sol and his father use film and storytelling to share about their journeys with family, relationships, triumphs, and struggles. How can creative processes like storytelling encourage healing through art?
  2. Throughout the film, Sol is vulnerable and open about personal stories. How does vulnerability encourage healing?
  3. The film uses intergenerational filmmaking as a tool to share stories, understanding, love and healing.  Do you have a creative outlet that was passed down to you, which you use as a method for healing, storytelling, and sharing love?  

Theme: How to show up for the people who matter most in difficult moments and at the end of life.

  1. Who have you shown up for in a difficult time or at their end of life? What did it take for you to show up and be present?  
  2. Often while caretaking your own needs are put aside to help others, how can you create balance for yourself while caring for the needs of others?
  3. How can running towards supporting your loved ones, help shape the way you show up in the world?
  4. What lessons would you like to pass on to your children or the next generation around how to care for those they love?
  5. Do you hold back from showing up for your loved ones? What are some reasons you hold back?

Theme: How systemic racism affects families.

  1. What are some push and pull factors of systemic racism that can cause families to migrate?  What were some of the benefits of moving and building a new life?  
  2. How does systemic racism shape community safety and opportunities to thrive? ? What can be learned from understanding and addressing this?  
  3. Give a few examples of how systemic racism has been used to divide people by race and class.

Theme: Identity: How a shared understanding of the past helps us grow.

  1. How has connecting to lost or disconnected family helped you grow?  Who are the people you need to meet in your family to better understand where you came from?
  2. The film is an intergenerational story Sol wants to share with his children.  Share one family story that has been shared with you that you would like to pass on to the next generation of your family?  
  3. There is an exponentially growing industry around building family histories and using DNA to connect to and learn about relatives. How does knowing a more robust and accurate story affect how you see yourself?
  4. What is an important family story that you would like to document?  List a few questions that you would like to ask your family member(s)?

Closing

As your time for discussion comes to an end, move the final statements towards final thoughts and any actions you might want the audience to take.

Resources

The Dinner Party

A platform for grieving 20- and 30-somethings to find peer communities and build lasting relationships.

Reimagine

Reimagine hosts festivals and experiences that bring creativity, connection, and essential conversation to communities around the world.

3 Wishes Project

A palliative care initiative that seeks to improve the end-of-life experience for all by  implementing final wishes for patients who are dying imminently.


Storyworth

A company that offers a way for people to collect their life story in a hardbound book to share with family and friends.