Two months ago, my wife and I sadly, reluctantly proudly abandoned our son to the chaos of his freshman year in college and, in doing so, closed the book on his childhood—in more ways than one. Because for 18 years and four months, I have kept a journal of his life, sometimes day to day, sometimes week to week.
Before Danny was born, my wife gave me a copy of "Good Morning, Merry Sunshine," journalist Bob Greene's account of his daughter's first year of life. My wife noted that I liked to write, to memorialize things, and that this was a good example of one man's memoirs of his child's life. She was right. Greene's journal is a warm and reflective treatise; it was made for imitation.
So I began a diary of our son's first year, filled with the most important events and with thoughts about our family and (occasionally) the world outside our doorstep.
It began well when, in escorting our newborn son from the birthing room to the nursery, I heard "Danny's Song" broadcasting on the radio through the hospital corridors. It was kismet—a great story to retell and to write down, because who can remember these things? So, I jotted it down.
I kept writing. Some days I couldn't stop; other days the effort was a pain. At the end of the year, I put my book away (actually, it had become three books by then) and breathed easier, knowing I had accomplished my task.
Then came Danny's first birthday, his first pair of shoes, his first trip to the zoo. I found that I couldn't just stop chronicling his life. So, in my office datebook, I began to make notes of just the important events in his life, or of funny remarks he made, or of significant doctor's office visits. Eventually I was making notes almost every day. At the end of the second year, when my thoughts on my son were becoming mingled with notes on client meetings and court appearances, I decided to type up the notes. This went on and on.
Writing became the prosaic equivalent of the interminable home videos our friends require us to sit through. Of course, it documented the important "firsts"—like the time Danny struggled to his feet and waddled down his hallway to turn on a light switch—his first unassisted stroll. But it also memorialized anecdotes like the time when he sat with my wife on the front step of our home and watched as a bird crashed headfirst into our front window. Unshaken by the limits of his 2-year-old vocabulary, he turned to my wife, put his hands to his head and quietly offered up his assessment of the bird's plight: "Helmet" was all he said.
The journals continued, through elementary, middle and high schools, through his successes (the winning base hit in his Little League championship game, the first publication of one of his poems) and nonsuccesses (the elementary-school teacher who didn't fully grasp his unique sense of humor). As his independence grew, the remembrances became increasingly secondhand rather than first-person accounts. But all were written down.
And now the book is closed. So what's to become of these journals? Initially, I wanted them to be for Danny. "See, this is what your first year was like," I imagined telling him. Or, "You want to know the first book you read by yourself? Here, it is: 'Jumanji'."
But when would I give him this compilation of memories? "It won't mean that much to him now," my wife tells me. She's right (my wife is always right): Danny's life now, as he passes from young adulthood into independence, is such a cyclone of activity that he can hardly be expected to sit down with 250 pages of anything, much less his life's history, and reflect. "It will be better when he's married and about to have his first child," my wife says. But will I be alive to see that?
Perhaps the book is for me. Looking at these things I've written over the years brings as many tears as smiles, pining for those days gone by. At times I can hardly read them. But these written words will ensure that memories of my son's childhood will not fade away. To me, that has made all the difference.
Now that Danny is in college I tell myself that maybe I will finally stop. But then a text message arrives, an exchange ensues and the wit and humor of Danny shines through from so far away. How can I not write that down?