I don’t like to broadcast my birthday, but now that it has passed, we can talk about it.  Last Saturday (Aug. 29th, for those of you taking notes), was my 26th birthday.  Ironically, it wasn’t as traumatic as turning 25, where I realized I was officially a quarter of a century old and only 5 yrs away from being 30.  Actually, it was a good birthday.  And, I hope that a good 26th birthday means that year 26 will be good for me, too (at least I can cross my fingers for that, can’t I).

The reason this birthday was one that will always be etched in my memory is because of a certain gift I received.  My mom stopped giving me birthday gifts when I was like eight, but this year she presented me with a very uniquely wrapped gift, topped with blue ribbon she had curled in perfect ringlets.  I was surprised to even get a gift, because, honestly, it all goes downhill after 21, and she had already planned a whole day of birthday celebration for me.  But, nevertheless, the gift was sitting on the couch waiting for me.

It was the best gift I have ever been given: three of my father’s journals.

After my father died, my mom found a stack of spiral bound notebooks that my father had used as journals.  The first ones dated all the way back to 1986 (I was 3 then) and the last one had entries from just months before he died.  I poured over these journals after she found them, soaking in his words, discovering the life of my own father, stories I had never even heard of his own triumphs, struggles, doubts, and moments of utter joy.  Then, they got passed around my family and lost in the shuffle.

My mom and I have had many conversations about these journals.  After my father died, I managed to be the only child who got nothing of his, and the two things I wanted more than anything were his Bible and his journals.  Now, I have three of his journals, and this past week I have been pouring over them all over again.

My father was so detailed in what he wrote.  He wrote about specific people and put the date and time on each entry.  There are so many entries where he would write at 5am, before he went into work, and would describe the sunrise in vivid detail.  I never realized how much and how hard he worked.  It’s like I’m reading the life accounts of a man that I knew, but now I’m being invited to know a side of him I didn’t even realize existed.

The weirdest thing about reading his journal is reading his accounts of stories I remember.  To read what he wrote about me and my brothers and my mother.  To realize that we frustrated him and made him angry, but that he sacrificed so much for us and loved us so much.  He was a great father and husband.

There is one story that I was so shocked to read.  It was only a few sentences, but I remember it.  One afternoon there was a solar eclipse, and I remember my dad bringing home his welding helmet for me and my brothers, so we could watch the eclipse without hurting our eyes. But, what I never realized was that he went out of his way to bring us the helmet in between work and going to work some more.  He always wanted us to have the best.  That memory has never really been anything special for me, just something cool.  Now, I wouldn’t trade that eclipse for the world.

The older I get, the more I miss him.  Maybe it’s because I realize that I need him more than I did when I was younger.  And, the older I get the more I wish I had known him better.  I wish I had loved him better.

Reading through his journals makes me realize just how lucky I was to have him as my father, and I hope that one day I will marry a man like my dad.  A man who knows how to love his wife and family (and isn’t afraid to show that love).  A man who sacrifices for his family and is devoted to God above all else.  I can’t settle for anything less.

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