Reading Dad's Journals

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

Tag: Personal

Was that Failure, or just Change?

For weeks, my diary had been marked ‘Nov 10- Day of the Dead’. Capital letters, and in pen, not pencil. I told friends about it; tried to cajole my teenage son into going; turned down other invites for that day; I was committed. In a previous post here, I’d written about how important I believe it is to remember and celebrate our ancestors, which is a significant national day in many parts of the world.

So I drove to my local park at the appointed hour, and was greeted by the fresh smell of incense, and the bubble of a hot urn for free herbal teas. Various brightly dressed people were putting finishing touches to the information display, and there was a sense of reverence, provided by the experienced organisers:

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I wandered, preparing myself to decorate a cloth flag, or to peg up an image or some words that would convey an essence of Dad. Other visitors were propping photos of their lost loved one among the exposed roots of the fig tree, and I leaned closer in to see their faces:

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And then a voice inside me said ‘No, I’m not doing this today. I want to go home.’

I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders, and headed towards the pottery table, where I could mould a raw symbol of my love.

The voice got louder: ‘I am so not into this right now. And I’m SO not fucking playing with clay!”

Another deep breath. An attempt at self-negotiation: how about if I take a few steps back, snap some photos for my blog, and just relieve the pressure for a moment?

Good idea Gabrielle; no protest from within.

A quiet circling of the site, shooting from different angles, and then a soft advance toward the main tree branch again…

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…‘If you take one more step, or stay one more minute, I am going to have the biggest tantrum you’ve ever seen, including crying hysterically while flailing my arms and shoving off well-meaning mourners. I don’t want to share, and I don’t want to care. Get me outta here now!’

O………K…………. Looks like we’re leaving then.

I tried not to skip toward the car. But it was hard not to.

I tried not to drive away with a screeching of hot tyres. But it was hard not to.

It was impossible not to smile with relief.

So did I fail? Did I disrespect Dad by not staying? Was I cowardly?

I realized I just wasn’t ready. Intellectually, I love the idea, and want to make it a national holiday, but emotionally, I couldn’t cut it. Not that day anyway.

So I came home early, to my son’s surprise, and wasn’t in floods of tears, also to his surprise. We played cards, laughing and teasing, then cooked a delicious roast dinner together. Dad would have loved that, and I could almost feel him smiling as we two giggled and cooked.

Every day can be Day of the Dead: using the furniture we inherited from loved ones, or passing their photo in its special frame on the wall. A laugh or an attitude can be handed down across generations, while of course physical appearance is a direct link to our past. I can choose every day to acknowledge Dad, and to give him more attention if I feel like it, such as on his birthday. He would love me to listen to myself, and to not go through with something ‘because I’m supposed to, or because it’s what others expect.’

He would be just fine about me driving away from the park, and would have assured me I wasn’t ‘failing’.

Thanks Dad x

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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.

Red tape liposuction

I haven’t blogged for a couple of months because my life expanded so much that I myself was almost squeezed out. I felt like an A4 page whose margins were set too wide on the formatting palette. The causes of the spread? I was successful with my arts grant so had 6-weeks to make a new puppetry show, which included 2 short films, and I decided to move 2500kms interstate. I therefore had to pack up my home of 4 years, including all my worldly possessions like Grandma’s tea set, Dad’s 3 art deco vases, and various antique glass-framed pictures.

I had to give notice on the most stable job I’ve ever had (five years of teaching Pilates in the same gorgeous studio), including leaving many wonderful clients, colleagues, and the greatest boss. Most importantly, I had to say goodbye to the friends and connections I’d established during 6 years in Adelaide, which meant a certain amount of grieving and letting go.

To say it was a big couple of months is an understatement.Image

Something had to give. And I’m afraid it was you, my dear Blog readers. And Dad’s journal reading. Also my short story writing. As well as my work on my book of interviews. Heck, even my Morning Pages journal got dusty, or else only had pages torn from it at midnight to make lists of stuff I had to do so I could actually get to sleep.

Instead, I worked long and hard creating a new solo puppetry show called ‘Puzzle’. It only runs for 12 minutes, but is easily the hardest thing I’ve done. At one point I had a panic attack for a few hours, trying to step up to the challenge of incorporating critical feedback, and struggling dismally. Thank god for my three wise friends, who could listen to me rant and wail, making gentle suggestions through my distress, and pushing me to push myself. We all knew I’d get there in the end, but it was indeed like a labour and birth re-enactment.

Simultaneously, I culled over 6 packing boxes of papers into just one, burning and cleansing. That felt so good. Who needs bank statements from 2004? Or those mouldy university notes from 1995? Sure, the essays are good, and the topics interesting, but really… Am I ever going to ‘need’ them again? Well I hope not, because I’ve burnt them. I got on a bit of a roll actually, and became the Cull Queen. Old daily diaries, folders of magazine clippings, defunct product manuals, unimportant red tape archives- all gone. So liberating. Love letters from irrelevant exes, boring photos I was keeping from a sense of duty, even old show programs and flyers. I knew I was treading a fine line between being pragmatic, and being callous, but seeing as the only victim was me, I went ahead anyway. I’ve thus been ‘administratively liposuctioned’. I highly recommend it. It can come at the cost of some sleep deprivation, but provides the perfect opportunity if you’re avoiding working on a new project, or packing up your house. And yet you can trick yourself into believing that it’s kind of connected to those activities, so it’s OKAY TO CONTINUE LATE INTO THE NIGHT. Image

Now I’m in my new home, my new show merely awaits its promotional packaging, and I feel bureaucratically trim, taut, and terrific. I have survived the big pack, the big quit, the big farewell, the big drive, the big hello, the big unpack, and the big ‘starting all over again’. So here I am: I’m back, and I’m delighted xx

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 (http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/ more than just another wiseass) and http://gojulesgo.com/about/ comedic chipmunk enthusiast). Then there’s the quiet blogs; the musings of young folk, the musings of older folk, the musings of undead folk (http://undeaddad.com/ explorations of mindful fatherhood). I enjoy them all, and their eclectic viewpoints (http://shamanicpath.wordpress.com/about-2/). 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 https://readingdadsjournals.com/2013/02/08/1st-book-1st-page-1st-paragraph-oh-crap-i-dont-know-if-i-can-do-this/

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.  🙂

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