Documentary maker learns a lifetime isn't long enough to get to fully know your mother

While Richard Kemick was growing up, his mom worked full time yet she always seemed to have time for her kids. Years later, he realized he didn’t know much about his mother before kids — what she actually did at work or even who she really was.

Calgary's Richard Kemick made a documentary for CBC's The Doc Project about getting to know his mom

Richard Kemick's documentary, How well do you really know your mom?, was an opportunity for him to learn more about who is mother really is. (Richard Kemick)

While Richard Kemick was growing up, his mom worked full time yet she always seemed to have time for her kids.

Years later, he realized he didn't know much about his mother's life before kids, or what she actually did at work, or even who she really was.

So he sat his mom down to find out, and shared the journey by making a program for CBC's The Doc Project.

Their conversations taught him his mother was a career woman with a high-ranking position in Calgary's often male-dominated oil and gas industry, but she lost her job in the recent economic downturn. He also learned their relationship was based on immense mutual respect.

Here is an edited conversation with Richard Kemick and Kelly Kemick on Daybreak Alberta this week.

Q. Why did you want to make this documentary?

R. I don't think anyone knows me better than my mother and it just seemed odd that for someone who knows you so well, I knew quite little about her. So I thought by bridging that gap not only would it bring us closer together, but I would also come to understand a larger part of my life as well.

Q. How well do you know your son?

K. I know him better than he knows himself, and he hates that.

Q. How much of yourself do you see in him?

K. I think he is outstretching or outreaching far beyond any goal that I had within my life. I think he's recognized what his talents are and followed through on those strengths of his character.

When Richard Kemick was growing up, his mom worked full time, but she always found time for her kids -- even if that meant waking them up at dawn for a family pep talk. Years later, Richard now realizes he’s never given much thought to what his mom actually did or about who she really was outside of just being his mom. They feed us, listen to us, support us and love us -- but how well do any of us really know our moms? 1:38

Balancing work and family

Q. How much of your life has been helping that manifest for him?

K. Without getting too political, I think being a woman in a male-dominant environment in a number of industries, there were a lot of times when it was just me and a lot of males.

That didn't bother me, but I saw that there may have been certain things that were stereotyped of me to hold me back. So what I wanted to do for both my sons is that make sure they knew inside what they wanted to do, and work with them to break through any perceived barriers.

Q. How much empowerment, that maybe was denied to you, did you want to pass on to them?

K. Everything. Richard showed quite early on how good he was with words and how comfortable he was with being the centre of attention and how interested he was in stories and storytelling. Always talking in front of a crowd, always very funny and doing silly things to make people laugh.

In order to keep him focused I always had to provide him with a stage.

Fortunately we lived in a city like Calgary that's had so many opportunities for those skills to be developed and nurtured.

Q. Richard, what did you think you were lacking in knowledge from your mother?

R. One is what she did for a living. I knew it was something with a computer, at a desk, paper was involved, the odd email. She worked while my father stayed home with my brother and I.

Her career is such an important part of her life, and for me not to know really anything about that career I thought was quite lacking.

Uncovering the past

Q. What else did you want to find out about her?

R. I came across her high school yearbook and in the inscriptions on the back there's references to punk outfits, skipping class, some booze, some romance.

My mother has this whole life that has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Q. Sometimes we have thoughts we prefer to keep to yourselves. Even though you say you know your son better than he knows himself, are the some things you decided not to share with each other?

K. Oh yeah. I guess the comfort level of the conversation, if it goes towards a point where I'm quivering or I'm thinking before I'm speaking, I think that's an indication that I'm not quite ready to share that yet.

R. I think I have a better understanding or grasp of the absolute courage she has. If someone asked me for an interview, I would say, 'Not a chance in hell.' I would never in a million years do that.

Q. What did you learn from this experience?

R. I do think it is quite courageous what you did, mom. I always knew you had courage, being a woman in male-dominated industries throughout your life, you were brave in that regard. I guess I've never seen it in this light before.

K. Going through this with Richard, I learned maybe I'm a bit hard on myself in this current Calgary climate, not being able to find a job. Maybe I'm a bit too hard on myself that I'm not there yet, that I haven't found something to start up again.

With files from Daybreak Alberta