My Dad was a quiet man. He seldom raised his voice. He virtually never cursed.
And he was an intensely private man. You would never know who he voted for – you might suspect, but you would not hear it from him. He never, ever, put a bumper sticker on any car we owned.
He shunned the spotlight. His goal was to be both indispensable and invisible, content to do his work well and sure it would shake out in the end. As he told me once, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
He probably had undiagnosed ADHD, I am diagnosed, as is my niece, his granddaughter, and it is hereditary. And he bore lots of the signs, if you knew what to look for. And for many of us who have this diagnosis and yet manage any degree of effectiveness, it is because we have developed coping mechanisms.
And one of Dad’s coping mechanisms was his journal. We didn’t really know it existed. I mean, Mom knew he kept notes of things – sometimes she would come in the room and he would be typing on his phone, and if she asked what he was up to, he would say, “Just writing something down before I forget it.”
It was a simple program he kept on his phone, where most days, he would put anything he wanted to remember later. I found it when he died, when we were going through his cell phone. From July of 2013 until two days before he died, there were notes for nearly every day, and some days had multiple entries. Sometimes there were multiple paragraphs, and other days merited a single sentence.
On July 20, 2013 he changed the oil in the tractor, and there was 695 hours on the engine. On August 25th of 2013 he wrote “Hugh Jr was nearly arrested in Raleigh yesterday for feeding the homeless.” For their 48th wedding anniversary, he noted they ate Chinese food at Hunan’s, and another entry that day mentioned he topped off the freon on the AC. They would rent cars to go on trips out of the state, and I know now that in November of 2017, they rented a 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid that got 43 MPG on the trip to see Mom’s family in Oklahoma.
There were notes related to work – contracts he had signed; purchase agreements he had entered into. The weather figured prominently, as did the grandchildren. We know how much the drill he bought at the pawnshop cost, the interest rate on the truck loan he had been quoted, that Lowes screwed up his order for a new dryer for the house in 2016.
If these seem innocuous, that is largely because I am sharing the non-personal ones, but you get the point. He recorded birthdays and what gifts he bought, where they ate dinner when he and mom went to town, major news events. He noted (without comment) both the election of Trump and the removal of the Confederate emblem on the state flag of Mississippi, the record low temperatures in the winter of 2014, the time my brother’s son was the scripture reader in church, along with the notation that he did a good job.
In short, they were the record of how he spent the last seven years of his life. And it was a tremendous gift to us, even if he had no reason to expect anyone but him would ever see it.
I downloaded the file to my laptop, and the formatting was horrible as a result, but I spent the last six months or so, in odd snatches of time, cleaning it up, and then had it bound for Mom. I gave it to her for Christmas this year.
I don’t know that I really needed to know that Dad had a coupon for Taco Bell that day in 2015, or that the belt for the lawnmower in 2018 cost him $34, or that when the tornado hit our county in 2015 and he worked 3 days straight on virtually no sleep that he kept a record of which reporters he talked to, but I’m glad I know those things now. I feel like I know him in a different way than I did before. There were no revelations, but lots of confirmations. Countless times as I was working on the formatting, I would read an entry and find myself nodding my head, as if I saw that coming.
So, one of the habits I have now is that I put Evernote on my phone, and every morning I open a note with today’s date, and throughout the day I jot down anything I want to remember, in either sense of the word – things I need to have a note of, or memories I don’t want to lose.
We don’t have kids, so I don’t know who will read it, or if anyone ever will. But after seeing Dad’s journal, and the gift it was to us, it just made sense.