I suppose everyone thinks this about their dad, but mine was tough. As I observed his fight against a terminal disease, he seemed in control, fearless, unstoppable. He beat the odds for years, outlasting all predictions by sheer will. I was a teen at the time, and I didn't believe he could die. But when he lost his battle at age 44, my youthful understanding of life and its frailty was changed.
Decades later, my mom slipped a small, yellowed notebook into my suitcase after a holiday visit. I have many brittle family notebooks like this, plucked from the unkempt bureaus of various distant ancestors after they died... and I have learned that, though these daybooks promise deep thoughts and diaries, upon opening, they are usually a disappointment; nothing but receipts scrawled with stubby pencils: the purchase of a tire, the lending of eggs. So when I discovered the little red notebook in my suitcase, I expected yet another unimpassioned ledger. But this one was different – It had belonged to my dad when he was a teen.
So when I discovered the little red notebook in my suitcase, I expected yet another unimpassioned ledger.
What I found in the pages were the thoughts of a young man struggling with insecurity, trying to make sense of a life that hurt and confounded him. I have binders and binders of my own journals full of these same thoughts. Maybe we would have connected differently if I had known dad's secret heart while he was alive. But I think he knew – as dads do – that showing his vulnerability would not serve me as I was about to navigate the catastrophe of my young life – losing him. He never revealed his fear to me, not even as he approached his own mortality.
This was a revelation: We all have the same frightened, breaking, beating hearts – even those who hide theirs as adeptly as my dad. Now, I keep the notebook pinned to my studio wall where my eye always falls. In a glance, its unassuming cover reminds me of the hurts and fears we all hold hidden inside.
See the necklace I made in my dad's honor, using his handwriting from this journal.