Monday, March 31, 2008

Dad's Daily Journal

My dad used to keep a daily journal. Matter of fact, he kept it for 58 years. And when I say daily I mean it, literally. There are twelve letter boxes and two magazine boxes full of his journals. He started writing them when he was about 12 or so. He always told me that he had been inspired to keep a journal by Archie, the comic, I don't remember if he said he had seen it in a Sunday comic or if he had heard about it in a weekly Archie radio broadcast. Either way, he started a journal.

The first journals are written in little pocket notebooks. They aren't much more than a few lines about this and that. As he got older he graduated to regular sized notebooks. His college years are chronicled in Brooklyn College notebooks. Eventually, he graduated still further into five subject, spiral bound, college ruled notebooks. He wrote on the front and back of each page.

His journal changed over time. When he was in high school and college, he would clip out newspaper articles about news and current affairs and paste them into his journals. By the time college rolled around he wasn't doing that so much, though from time to time, there are pictures pasted in.

He also took pictures, lots of pictures. He always had a camera around his neck. After he graduated from college and seminary, he went back and typed up his journals, put pictures with the words and made some really nice scrapbooks. Those scrapbooks go from his first semester of college in in 1954 to just about the time he moved the Lyndhurst, New Jersey in the late '60's. There are thirteen of them. One summer, when I was in high school, I read these journal/scrapbooks. It was truly a fascinating thing to do. I learned a lot about my father, but also about his family and friends. It was quite a lot of fun.

At the end of every year, he would write up a "year end epilogue." A few years back, I asked him if he'd type up his year end epilogues for me so that I could read them. His handwriting was never very good, neither is mine, I like to think that handwriting is hereditary, which, to some degree, I'm sure it is. He started to type up the epilogues. Somewhere along the line, he and my mom decided to make it into a bigger project. They would take pictures from our photo albums and "illustrate" the year end epilogues. He would type up the epilogues and then start going through photo albums to put the pictures to the words, a la his college photo albums, except these were put into clear plastic sheets and the into three ring binders. There are, I think, about seven or eight of them so far and they only got up to the 90's I think before my dad got sick.

So the project continues. I have been typing his last year-end epilogue, 2007. Its been slow going because I've had to stop often and decypher his handwriting, but it has been an enjoyable experience. For a while, I've thought about posting his year end reviews here on blogger, but I'm not sure if that is a good idea. Many of the people who appear in his journals are still alive and some our still in ministery. That's the main thing. He had some rough times during his ministry that he wrote about. As a matter of fact, he went to a counselor to make sure he was really suited to be a minister because it got so bad. According to my mom, after taking a battery of tests he was informed that he was very suited to the ministry and should stay in it. He told the counselor about his journal and the counselor told my dad that the journal was the thing that probably kept him sane and on an even keel. He was able to write it out and get all his hurt and anger out of his system by putting it on the page.

As he typed up his epilogues he dredged up some of the unpleasant experiences he had in his ministry and it actually affected his mood and his sleep patterns. Both my mom and I couldn't wait until he got through those times. After he got through those years, from about 1979-1986, or so, his mood lightened and he became a much happier person.

The journals are the greatest gift my father left for me. That and the tape recordings he made of dinners and phone conversations over the years. He may be gone from here, but he certainly is here with my mother and I.


thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

What if you turned those difficult years into a novel — a screenplay? Change the names and the details. Either way, I'm really glad he did that — very cool.

ds said...

that is a very cool thing. a secret: I dream of having a child and writing a journal every day about what the child has done and how it has affected me. all the things and other things that come up. keeping stacks and stacks of notebooks (secret notebooks ginsberg says) hidden away until I die tragically. or cancer. whatever. something to pass along you have done well. I'm glad you have something.