The Gift

I got given an unexpected gift this week. My cousin called me. She is my dad’s sister’s daughter. She is a year and a half younger than me. She had been organizing the stuff she had cleared out of her mother’s house after she died. She found an envelope in an unlabeled box and when she opened it she found my dad’s journal. It was mostly handwritten on 6″x9 1/2″ loose leaf notebook paper. Some entries were on successive days but most were written at anything from three month to a year intervals. She mailed it to me.

The first entry was dated August 23, 1961. The last was dated July 9, 1987, the day my mother died. I was six when he started this journal. I was thirty two when he wrote the last entry. It gave me a perspective on my childhood and my father that I’ve never had before.

I never knew that my dad aspired to be a writer. I knew he wrote occasionally but mostly he prepared lectures and tests for his classes. He taught High School English, Speech, Debate, Drama, and Cinematography. He knew more about theatre and stage craft than anyone I’ve ever known. He produced professional quality plays with High School talent. He taught generations of students to appreciate literature and theatre.

His journal gave me an adult’s perspective on the events of my childhood. A perspective that I was kindly spared when I was a child. I learned that he struggled with type II diabetes in an era when the only medication for it was insulin. He had to judge how much insulin his body would produce based upon how much activity he anticipated undertaking and decide how much insulin to take to keep his blood sugar in balance. If he was wrong, it could result in hallucinations or even a coma if he got too much insulin. He felt tired most of the time and was subject to infections that took longer to heal than they would in non-diabetic patients.

He struggled to pay the bills and support himself, my mother, my little brother, and me, all on a teacher’s salary. He often considered changing professions in order to make more money but he didn’t know how to do anything else besides teach. He took part time jobs in discount retail stores. He taught English at the local Junior College.

I always thought he was a financial wizard. It turns out, he was stressed out all the time trying to figure out how to pay all his bills and debts. Any expertise he had was hard won from the experience of living with more expenses than income for so long.

At some point he did the math and figured out his life expectancy. He underestimated how long he would live by ten years. But he did come to the conclusion that he didn’t have enough time left to make any great, world shattering contributions with his writing. What he didn’t realize was the profound effect that he had had on the world through teaching the thousands students that had taken his classes.

I suspect he continued to write, he just never returned to this journal. Through a series of unfortunate mistakes that I made, much of my daddy’s papers, photographs, and other personal effects were lost soon after he died. I was unaware of the existence of this journal and it has been a rare gift to see my childhood and my daddy’s life through his eyes almost thirty five years after he died. Thank you daddy.