Reading Dad's Journals

My beloved Dad kept journals for many years. He died in 2008. And now I have to read them…

Tag: journals

19 October 1988

This week I decided I needed to get back on track reading Dad’s journals. Opened Diary 1 towards the beginning, and found this entry, with the words ‘Significant day’ circled in the margin:

 “19/10/88- Lying in bed for what seemed like an age, mind wouldn’t stop going over childhood memories, tears, sadness. Went to see J- [therapist], lots more tears as we talked about the same childhood memories, what home was like, what sort of relationship between parents… The universe is telling me ‘It’s enough!’; there have to be positive changes or I shall get sick, have an accident…”

Dad wrote that 25 years ago tomorrow. What incredible timing. And what fascinating yet difficult sentiments.

If I was asked to describe my personality challenges, I’d say that if I’m stressed, I lie in bed with my mind going round and round. I’d say that I cry easily. I’d admit that I constantly reflect on what I’m doing, and whether I’m happy and satisfied. And that if I’m not, I am likely to make a dramatic change- end a relationship/move house/change jobs. I think these qualities are all strengths and weaknesses of mine; the proverbial ‘double-edged sword’.

The coincidence of finding this entry in Dad’s journal, the month after I drove 3000kms across Australia to make positive changes in my personal life and career, astounds me.

It is hard to read of his pain and troubles, but I’m aware that perhaps I have learnt from his struggles? I’m sure many people who knew Lawrence would say he was a cheerful and positive person, perhaps annoyingly so sometimes! But over the years, he and I shared many sad feelings or experiences (as well as all the good stuff and giggles), and I don’t believe he fully resolved several important issues. Do we ever? It certainly isn’t easy. But the repercussions still influenced his behaviour and attitudes, including uncomfortable relationships with some close family.

His entry the next day closes with this:

“… More confirmation of what I’m already working out- that I come from a family where emotions and feelings were strictly taboo. Now I have to work out, with help, what that means to me!”

Dad, you’re English- it’s a national pastime, tabooing emotions. You’re also a man- you are culturally and genetically programmed to deny those pesky feelings of yours. With 25 more years of Western social evolution and psychological research, including the baby boomers’ obsession with ‘self-help’ books, I can categorically state that emotions are now very expressed, and very processed.

We have everything you need to know...

We have everything you need to know…

Shit still happens though. Parents remain poorly suited or stressed; children still learn negative reinforcement; gender stereotypes and inequalities perpetuate. But you did your work, and you died happy Dad, holidaying in Hawaii with your girlfriend. You took up multiple volunteer roles, and ballroom dancing. You shared many loving experiences with your immediate and extended family: you were the ‘glue’ that held us all together, with your fortnightly or monthly timetable of phone calls, relaying precious news, travel plans, and anniversaries, even across the globe.

I’m not saying you were perfect. I’m not saying you healed all your wounds. And I’m not saying you didn’t have more work to do. But perhaps there is always more? And maybe a key to peace within yourself is to acknowledge that you’ve done as much as you could with the skills, tools, and energy available to you? Some scars remain more vivid than others, but a healing process has still taken place. Even if it’s taken 25 years.

Have I got time to process this breakdown before leaving for work?

I’ve been struck lately by how much time it takes to process emotions. I don’t just mean the ‘I’m annoyed at the parking inspector/check out chick/bank teller’ ones. I’m talking about the ‘my partner is having an affair/my parent just died/my teenager has been trying meth/my loved one has cancer’ ones. The BIG ones. The ones that hit you in the guts like a sledgehammer. Or squeeze your heart like a boa constrictor. The ones that make you fall down and weep, or lose your breath and sleep and appetite.

We’ve all had them, for a variety of reasons. We’ve all processed them, to a greater and lesser extent. But goodness they take a lot of energy. No wonder our shoulders hunch and spines bend as we age.

A dear friend has just suddenly lost her Dad, on top of a big year already which saw her deal with her dog being run over, buying a new house, fighting a lingering flu, and being a single parent while working full time. She sent her friends an email letting us know about her Dad, and notifying us of her need to withdraw for a while… Fair enough. I have no idea how she copes with all the pressure she’s under, and I’m too far away to really help.

When my Dad died suddenly, I think I was traumatised. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, certainly couldn’t function at work, and took 4 weeks off. Only when 6 months later I realised that all my food was still tasting like sawdust, that I felt like I had a smiling mask over my numb blank face, and still couldn’t sleep with the light off, did I take myself to the doctor.

Three tests later and I was registering ‘high’ for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression. That felt like another blow; that somehow I’d ‘failed’ to cope, and that I was weaker than everyone else who’d lost their dads…

It took me another 9-12 months to get out of that, and back to ‘normal’. It was hard, scary work, and my friends were wonderfully supportive and understanding. But I also have the time. I live alone with no dependent children; I can reduce my teaching and performing work to suit me; I am not weighed down with a massive mortgage or credit card debt.

Another friend just separated from her partner of 17 years, and has majority care of their son while working four days a week. How does she find the spare hours to write in a journal, or go to the therapist, or beat pillows in a counselling session?

One of the greatest gifts I was given during my ‘official depression’ came from my fortnightly therapist, who was small and twitchy like a sparrow. She talked to me about my grief for Dad, and my options for managing it. She told me this:

“Imagine your sadness around losing your Dad is like an A4 clipboard. You can choose to hold it right up in front of your face, and not be able to see anything else around you.

Or, you can spend a lot of time and effort pushing it away, keeping it at bay, but then you will have a lot less energy for anything else you want to do.

A third option is to just tuck it under your arm, or sit it beside you in your favourite chair. This way, you know where it is, and you can keep it safe. When you need to, or when you feel like it, and you have the time and space, you can allocate it some attention. Maybe ten minutes, or an hour, or even a whole day. But then that’s it; you tuck it back under your arm or down beside you, and get back to what you were doing.”


I’ve written before here about my belief we need to have a day to honour our dead that’s socially-condoned; perhaps we all need to make the time to honour our sorrow, abandonment, betrayal, fears, and shock as well? I know we’re all busy, and that the dishes won’t wash themselves (although I have been leaving mine a bit lately!), but attendance to emotional crises and their ripples is important. What do you think?Image

Different people find different affirmative ways: meditation, spirituality, faith, exercise, therapy, art. And we all know the negative ways, including denial, workaholism, and alcohol abuse.

My Dad invested hours and hours writing his thoughts for 15 years. I do the same, and credit The Artist’s Way for guiding me. I also dance 5Rhythms, which calms my soul like nothing else. I want to encourage you all to find the time, make the time, swap the time, steal the time… Whatever it takes to help you feel more at peace with your dramas, and to honour their effects on you. I know I love having my ‘clipboard of Grief’ with me, and how to give it attention when I need to.

With love, gabrielle

Hands up for wealth and success? Plus a generous, open heart? And are they really mutually exclusive?

‘Raise your hands if you want to be rich! Let me hear you say “Yeah!” ‘

‘Turn to the person next to you; shake their hand. Tell them “You have the power to achieve great success!” ‘

Clearly I’m not just doing my weekly supermarket shopping.

‘What am I doing?’ That was the question I asked myself a lot during the two days I recently attended a ‘Wealth and Success’ conference. I’ve never been to anything like that before, and had to explain my behaviour to friends and colleagues alike.

‘I’m going because  a) I got a free $150 ticket  b) I’m curious about who else will be there, and what goes on (plus I’d like to be richer and more successful), and  c) How do I know that I don’t belong there unless I actually go?’

So I went. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance:


 There were a lot of ‘power suits’ there, queuing importantly for their VIP tickets. There were lots of regular Australians there too, a real cross section of society, from the retiree couples to the covered Muslim women, from the young cocky men to the well-kept 40-something women (ooh, Hello, I think that’s me).

A program of 15 speakers over two days, 9-6pm, in a massive auditorium filled with hard, white plastic chairs, (except for the VIPs, who had padding- and I don’t mean either egos or arses).

Now here is my first, and SIGNIFICANT gripe: not one female speaker. NOT ONE. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And after sending an email pointing out this bias to the conference organisers (with no reply as yet), I raised the matter with the very nice, well-trained, well-groomed customer service manager. His response? (And I quote exactly):

‘There aren’t any good ones around.’

I can’t believe he said that. Can you? But he did. So I told him they needed to look a bit harder. And I also told him I knew several women personally who would be excellent speakers e.g. Sheridan Stewart’s and that I’d also be quite happy to do it myself if needs be; I clearly have lots of good stories in me


[photo by Heath Britton (c) 2013]

Anyway, back to the presentations. Two warm-up speakers, talking about overcoming illness, and buying their Mum/Dad a car/house. Then the first serious subject: currency trading.

Guaranteed success. No one gets hurt. Investment of only $10 a week will turn into $1000 week etc etc.

A 90-minute pitch, which became a real hard sell in the last five minutes: a training course & software to learn how to do it for only $13,000…

But a conference special, for today only, for $5000- grab a form from the back of the room.

I kid you not: people RAN to fill out the joint application & payment forms. Old people, young people, fat people, tired people. And you know what? I didn’t run, but I went to the back of the room, and found myself doing this:


 Why? Because I’d decided to go to the conference with an open mind and heart, and to see how it all resonated with me. I’d admitted that I DO want wealth and success, and that perhaps there is a new way to do it, as I haven’t particularly achieved either of those things (yet)?

 What I have learnt though, and this conference confirmed, was that through trial, error, and reflection, (plus thousands of dollars and/or hours on various therapies, healings, and written exorcisms), I have a good heart. ‘Good’ as in open, generous, loving, strong, active. While the focus of every speaker I saw was the creation of freedom through wealth, with a token nod to charitable work (‘probably as a tax write-off’, she added cynically), I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth about the ethics behind the program presenters. They were feeding into our wants for comfort, for security, for freedom from fear. Which is laughable when compared with someone living in the Gaza Strip, or a refugee camp in Ethiopia, or a child soldier in Africa, I know!

[But here we are: blogging and thinking and commenting and living with our laptops and our mobile phones. So don’t bag me for my status as a Westerner. Believe me, I know it, and Ben Lee’s song sums it up perfectly, we are indeed all in this together]

Amazingly, so often does Life offer lessons or realizations on multiple levels. Like it’s emphasizing the point, so I don’t miss it. This week, I sustained a tiny tear in the fabric of my intimate world. A romantic interest acted without due care or diligence, and caused me to take a step back from the path I was enjoying. As the conference powered its way to finale, I reflected on the importance of ethical standards of behaviour, of honest communication and trust, both professionally and personally. If I gave my $5000 to the currency trading man, would he genuinely teach and support me? Could he have a heartfelt connection with every one who signed up for his program, and enhance their lives? Would he validate them as fragile and worthy human beings? Hmmm, I’m not so sure.

A dear friend had a framed saying on her wall for years, which I often admired: ‘Do what most kindles Love in you’. Which is a wonderful sentiment. But now I’m wondering if I prefer ‘Do what most kindles Love in others’?

Goodness knows I don’t want to get into a ‘quote-off!’. Both are good. And while I’m in no way promoting a religious framework, the ‘wealth & power’ conference made me want to call for a heightened sense of ethical behaviour, and heartfelt action.

You see, I believe we all know when we’ve acted badly. I think we often know beforehand too. I know I’ve made deliberate choices to act selfishly, or thoughtlessly, perhaps even cruelly sometimes (oh my youthful recklessness at university). I know my teenage son knows when he’s being slack to me in our conversations- I can see it in his eyes, or hear it over the phone. I know my love interest knew he was being unworthy when he acted as he did; apologies and regrets unfortunately don’t prevent damage. However, they can guide new, more heart-centred behaviour, and offer conscious opportunities for breaking old habits and reactions.

I didn’t feel genuine warmth and heart-centred trust coming from that speaker’s stage (and not just because I was so far back on a hard plastic chair). Only one presenter’s speech touched me, and he was the token black man, selling nothing but the story of his adoption, double prostate cancer recovery, and love of God.

Why can’t we be more caring and loving without the drama of life-threatening illness, or the promise of eternal life?

Why isn’t America wringing its hands and examining its heart-based value-system after the shooting of those kindergarten children, and now at the Mother’s Day Parade? Why isn’t the UK doing the same in the light of the mass anti- Thatcher celebrations? Why isn’t India doing the same after the focus on its treatment and abuse of women? And similar questions for Korea/China/Bangladesh/insert your country of choice here.

Natural disasters are a tragedy; but deliberate, socially-conditioned or condoned ones are a NATIONAL AND GLOBAL DISGRACE.

 And we in Australia have our own complex issues: indigenous rights/refugees/Catholic child abuse/poverty. How long do the research committees or royal commissions or political debates have to drag on for?

 Those of you who came here to read about my Dad’s journals might be feeling a bit confused right now. What’s all this got to do with Lawrence’s innermost thoughts you ask? I’ll tell you. Attending that wealth and success conference made me wonder about Dad’s reactions to it. He had achieved both of those things, and retired well before 60. He went on to volunteer countless hours to valuable causes, such as the environment, literacy, indigenous programs, and cultural understanding programs. I’m very proud of him for that. But his journals aren’t happy; they are not happy reading. He has wealth and success, but a heavy heart.

Which makes him drink.

Heavy hearts make lots of people drink; I imagine my ex-romantic interest will have downed a few glasses of red, reflecting on his foolishness. We’ve all gotten ‘pissed’ because we’re ‘pissed off’. And we all know the problems or uncomfortable feelings are still there the next morning… The next month… The next year.

 My Dad drank all his life. Once, while I was living in Canada with him, after a huge argument about alcoholism, I challenged him to not drink for a day. Watching him get through his evening without a glass of wine was torture. For both of us. And I know he didn’t want it to be that way; he references his struggle with alcohol several times through his first journal.

 It seemed to me that many attendees at the conference were struggling. With finances obviously, with boring jobs, with a disconnected family or relationships. The small 60-something man I sat next to was struggling; when we shook hands, and I wanted to tell him he had the power within to achieve any success, all I could see was his dull desperation, unable to hold my open gaze or wholeheartedly wish me the same thing. He raised his hand when a speaker asked the audience who was working for more than 50 hours a week in a family business; that’s no way to live your only life.

 I’ve watched the following TED talk by Nigel Marsh several times in the last month, and if you’ve already invested 10 minutes reading this lengthy Blog post (THANKYOU), please do the same for this:

What impresses me most about this clip, apart from his fantastic clear pace and delivery, is his assertion that we, as individuals, must change our work/life balance culture. That every one of us, and there are indeed millions, can change our world– “…We can change Society’s notion of ‘Success'”.

 So this post is asking you to commit, with me, to acting in a more heartfelt and ethical manner. Every day. In small ways. In how you do your work, in how you treat your boss or co-workers. In how you treat the bus driver, the shop assistant, the bank teller. In how you think about and relate to your partners, your flirtations, your long-term friends and family. Little by little, step by step, with constant practice, we can expand our generous, heartfelt place in our community. And we can still have wealth, and success (just watch me!), but not at the cost of a good heart.

 In five years time, I’d like to be one of several female speakers on the conference circuit for achieving wealth and success. I’d delight in travelling the world, walking onto stages and lightening people’s heavy hearts. I’d like the banner that shows you how to find the conference entrance to be a symbol of money, love, and success, equally intertwined.

And you, my dear blog readers, have not only witnessed the planting of this loving, ethical seed for me, but will get free entry. How does that sound?


I ran away for a month, and followed myself. Funny how that works.

I haven’t blogged for exactly four weeks today, which is strictly against my self-imposed discipline- obviously I’m a good rebel, but to be fair, I was also slaving away on a grant application for funding to finish my latest solo puppetry show:

BOY and OLD MAN waiting for funding

BOY and OLD MAN waiting for funding

I was also enjoying much theatre-going as part of Adelaide Fringe and Festival (‘Mad March’ we call it). To be honest, I needed a break from the churning process of reading Dad’s thoughts. I was getting too teary, too often, and writing about crying too much! I don’t want casual passer-bys to stumble on my blog and feel like it’s a vale of sadness. Many commenters have expressed their envy of my gift from Dad, of this unique insight into his inner world. And I agree. It’s just that it’s a weighty present; nothing superficial or easy about the process of discovering this new landscape.

I’m grateful for everyone’s support. I’ve discovered some lovely blogs in the month I’ve been away from posting, and my Reader is slowly filling up as I follow more and more that have caught my eye. I realised I’m a little jealous of writers who share daily events and their reactions to them; who can be a bit more ‘in the moment’ than me. Or of bloggers that are clearly very funny, vibrant humans, who have also completely nailed all the tricks of the blogging trade, winning awards left, right, and centre ( more than just another wiseass) and comedic chipmunk enthusiast). Then there’s the quiet blogs; the musings of young folk, the musings of older folk, the musings of undead folk ( explorations of mindful fatherhood). I enjoy them all, and their eclectic viewpoints ( I have connected with them all by following a thread of ‘Dad-ness’, or of journaling, or from a sense of being on a journey. And some I follow just cos they are following me 🙂

My break for freedom helped me have fun on WordPress, yet also realize that there is a responsibility on my shoulders with these journals, reflected in my blog, and a sense of commitment to a process that in some ways is not just my own, but is Dad’s too.

I shared the first paragraph here

Now I’d like to share the last:

 “3/12/88 So here you are at the very last page of your very first journal, but this will not be your last journal, not by a long shot. Feeling good about this newfound freedom of talking with myself, about myself, and how I feel about all the things that are happening to me. Wow- what a bright new world it really is, and it will continue to be so- that’s what feels so extraordinary! I love and approve of you Lawrence- you’re an OK guy!”

So at least we all know that Journal #1 has a happy ending. Phew.  🙂

‘I’m not a chicken. But why did I cross the road?’

Well, I crossed because he waved me over. That old man driving the dated sedan, with flower head hub caps. And his simple, chivalrous gesture brought tears to my eyes. I tried to gulp them down, re-absorb them somehow. Damn body fluids, always overflowing. He just opened his hand, palm up, and glided it across the dashboard as if I needed help choosing the best direction to cross in. And there he was: my Dad, doing the same thing to pedestrians for as long as I could remember.

In the seventies, he did it to the sound of the Bee Gees, or our favourite childhood movie soundtrack:


In the eighties I always had ‘Wham’ in the tape deck, and then The Clash or The Cure as I experimented with the dark side. The nineties was classical radio, or one of my younger brother’s mixed reggae CDs, and always not too loud.

He gestured through France, England, the US & Canada, and here in Australia.

As I sit at home now in Adelaide, I’m realising how much reading this first journal of Dad’s is stirring me up. I admit I’m only half way through the first of seven, and it’s exhausting. Not easy topics: relationship difficulties, possible child custody arrangements, a sick parent, frustrating family dynamics, more relationship difficulties… And most telling? Dad’s struggles with expressing himself, with communicating honestly, with being ‘heard’, and being brave enough to confront others.

Shall we cross over to my journal stash from The Artist’s Way for a moment? Can you see where I’m going with this? They are full of the same damn complaints!

Dad and I are similar chickens:


[Here we are on New Year’s Day 1996, in Sydney, dressed up to go to the races. I love this picture best because it caught Dad when he wasn’t quite ready, so his smile is 100% genuine, not the slightly ‘posed’ one I often teased complained teased him about in photos]

We drive the same: a little fast, confident, generous to pedestrians, and ruthless in our use of the horn. We can each tell a good story, holding our audience, working our way skilfully to the punchline. We both love to laugh, and eat good food. I’d like to think I’ve inherited his entrepreneurial mind, although perhaps I’ve applied mine more to the arts world than to business? We were good friends, and I loved spending time with him…

BUT it is confronting to realize that I struggle with the same interpersonal issues. That I too have had so many experiences of not ‘being who I am’, or asking for what I want, or of not feeling ‘heard’ and understood by my partners. [Hell, I don’t even understand myself sometimes, so how can anyone else?]

In the real world, I know I come across as direct, confident, and honest. I am all of these things, it’s true. But reading Dad’s diary fills me with flashbacks (or are they flashforwards??) as I recognize my own complaints about myself in his curly handwriting, 20 years on.

A friend of mine commented here that diaries are a time travel machine; a portal to another world. He’s right. I feel both taken back to the past, yet onward into my future as well. So much of Dad’s life was a background to my own, even while mine was also a background to his for him. And in twenty years forward, I don’t want to be struggling with the same relationship difficulties, a sick parent, or frustrating family dynamics. I really don’t.

I’d like to be crossing roads in the sunlight, enjoying fresh adventures, content within myself about who I am, and what I’m feeling. I’d like to smile and say thankyou to drivers who give me right of way, and I’d most like to know that I’m loving and loved.


This diary-reading business is not easy. But then neither is this living-business either sometimes (first world problem, I know).

So what challenging traits do you think you’ve inherited from a parent, and how have you changed them?

Valentine’s/Schmalentine’s. But still, where’s my card?

After hours of exhaustive research  clicking on Wikipedia, I found this:

“The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).[1][3] Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[11]

   So on this day of Western social programming around the commodification of romantic idealism, I admit I class myself as a ‘cynical romantic’. This means I have loved deeply and lost several times, been proposed to twice (were they really serious?), and had seven serious partners in the last 20 years. I love the idea of my perfect ‘soulmate’, but think I’ve definitely met more than one already… And while contentedly self-sufficient and happy, I do still sometimes long for my ‘perfect match’…

    Therefore, while some of you out there are celebrating with a partner (of any gender), or feeling sad/relieved/neutral that you do or don’t have one, I’d like to offer up this little story:

    Every year since I was 16, my Dad sent me a Valentine’s card. No matter where he was working in the world, or later on, where I was travelling, a red or pink envelope would turn up in my letterbox. The year I turned 34, and gave birth to my son at home in Australia, he didn’t send one. And got into so much trouble! He explained he thought it was a bit silly now; he was quietly pleased (I could tell) when I kicked up a fuss and insisted the ritual continue.

   I have had my favourite one stuck to the outside of my bedroom door in each house I’ve lived in, and it’s on there now:

Image    Inside the inscription reads: “Stay away from all the pricks”.

    Thanks Dad, I will. Sage advice for us all hey?

    I miss you Lawrence.

    Let’s celebrate Love today, not just between two people, but between us all   x


Four years of waiting

My father Lawrence died in October 2008, aged 73. He had kept meticulous daily diaries, plus more personal journals. Three weeks ago, a box finally arrived which contains the journals. I’m calling it The Box. His writing spans relationship breakups, childhoods, romances, world travel, family losses, and his most private thoughts and responses. I have to read them. But I’m scared shitless of what I’ll find. This Blog is going to follow and support me in this process, and document the journey. I hope to use it to feed the book I am working on about losing my Dad, and to exchange insights and comfort with others. I will also try to be funny. So I’ll be back, and look forward to your comments as we go…

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