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Stories from My Dad’s Journals
When I was fourteen, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. It was hard in a number of ways: first and foremost, I never got to say goodbye, but on top of that, I found I had so many questions I was never going to be able to ask my dad. My dad was 51 when I was born; with such a huge age gap between us, I had so many queries about what life was like for him growing up: What was high school like for him? How did he deal with his first break up? How did he celebrate his first career big break? How did he feel when he met my mom for the first time? All these questions and more swirled around my head, searching for answers I felt like I’d never find.
That is, until I discovered my dad’s journals.
Tucked away deep inside a dusty box in the corner of my parent’s bedroom, I unearthed a stack of four notebooks. Aptly labeled “Ed’s Life and Hard Times: Who He Was, Why He Wasn’t” these notebooks told the story of my father long before I even came into the picture. While I didn’t get the answer to every question I had about his life (and aforementioned “Hard Times”), I did learn a lot about my father that I never knew before.
Even though he wasn’t there physically to tell me the stories of his past, I felt closer to him as I poured over memories of the life he lived in the moment. They painted a picture of the man I knew, but also shone a light on parts of him that I’d never even considered. I saw sides of him that were funny, sentimental, and surprisingly wild (don’t worry, we’ll get into it!). I can’t help but want to talk about my favorite dude, so here are some to the best tales from my dad’s journals:
His First Kiss On a Cow Ranch
My dad grew up in Texas in the 1950’s. So naturally, his first kiss was on a cow ranch with a girl named Betsey. Yeehaw, dad! While the cow ranch and the name “Betsey” all check out, I was surprised to learn that my dad was a bit of a late bloomer, getting his first smooch at the age of 19. It was the first entry in a journal of his that I read, and painted an image of the awkward, sweet teen that my dad was growing up. As an awkward, sweet teen myself reading his journals at the time, I felt happy to be in such good company. (Though I’m very thankful that I didn’t have my own first kiss surrounded by the smell of manure!)
“A-kid Two-ip No I”
My dad had notoriously terrible handwriting. I’ll admit, there are some pages of his journalsthat are practically indecipherable. Every birthday card I’d get from him, I’d struggle to read through, and just assume it said something nice. But, I love my dad’s wild writing style, despite the fact I felt like I was in National Treasure 3 trying to decipher it. One entry I had particular trouble figuring out the squiggles that formed into its title, and I asked my mom for help that led to surprising results. I ran up to her with the dusty notebook, and plopped it in her lap as I asked, “Hey, mom! What’s ‘a-kid two-ip no I?” My mom, ever the dad-whisperer, took one look at it and said: “It says ‘Acid Trip No. 1.” Okay, dad! While initially shocked to find out that my dad had once been groovy enough of a dude to drop acid, I did have to admit the entry was dated June 1969, so really who can blame him? Still, this entry showed me a wild side to the guy who picked me up from swim practice to go get scoops of ice cream every week (rocky road for him, vanilla with rainbow sprinkles for me, of course). Either way, the entry was a treat to read in itself.
“Movies, Movies, Movies”
If there’s one thing my dad could do, it was write a good letter. And he knew it too: he went so far as to print his email correspondence with friends and family, for years, probably dating back to the day he opened his first AOL account. But before my dad could hop onto his dial-up connection, he was notorious for writing long letters via typewriter. One of which he’d made a copy of and stuck in the last notebook of his: a letter to one of my older cousins that he wrote shortly after meeting my mom. Similar to the teen who had his first kiss with Betsey, the side of my dad in the letter is sweet, but also very clearly, dearly in love with my mom. He talks about how much she makes him laugh, how he loves her red hair, and how he’s glad he’s found someone to watch all of his “movies, movies, movies,” with.
Passing On the Pen…
After my dad died, I quickly came to realize that when a parent passes, you not only mourn the loss of them, but the loss of learning about their past and the stories that come with it. Luckily, I was able to find a way to connect with my dad posthumously through his journal entries. Reading my dad’s journals made me think more about how I want to preserve my own memories in order to connect with my family after I’m gone. As I learned with my dad, you don’t always get the chance to say goodbye, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leave behind rich stories for your family to remember you by.
I plan to leave my journals for my family to read (apologies if the handwriting stinks, future fam!), so they can get a glimpse of who I was before they knew me. Additionally, I hope to preserve my family’s memories digitally – we are living in the 21st century after all – so they can be shared for generations to come. Thankfully, there are apps like Lalo that allow you to upload images, audio files, text posts, and questions for family members to answer, so you can create a shared archive of family memories that can be easily accessed by everyone you hold near and dear. While my dad may no longer be with us, he and his memories are alive in the lines of his journals. I’m glad he left behind a few pages of his past, and inspired me to pick up my own pen to tell my story.
While my dad may no longer be with us, he and his memories are alive in the lines of his journals. I’m glad he left behind a few pages of his past, and inspired me to pick up my own pen to tell my story.