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 notebook into my suitcase after a holiday visit. It had belonged to my dad. I have many family artifacts like this, plucked from the unkempt bureaus of various ancestors after they died. Judging by their covers, these little books promise deep thoughts and diaries. But upon opening, they are always a disappointment – nothing but daybooks scrawled with stubby pencils: the purchase of a tire, the lending of eggs. So when I discovered dad's little notebook in my bag, I expected another unimpassioned ledger.
So when I discovered dad's little notebook in my bag, I expected another unimpassioned ledger.
What I found though, 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.