Finding a diary from 1992 reminded Jo Carnegie what a horrible teen she’d been – and her dad’s journal from the same time was even more enlightening…
It had been like two aliens living together under one roof
The teenager from hell – that was me. It was a fact I’d managed to forget for most of my adult life until the age of
41, when I moved home temporarily.
It was the start of 2017, and I’d just come back from a few years living abroad. My parents had kindly let me move back in with them while I looked for a new place to live.
The three of us were rubbing along with each other well until, one day, I came across a strangely familiar green book tucked away on the shelf in my old bedroom. It was a diary I’d kept from 1992, when I’d been 16 years old and going through those ‘difficult’ teenage years. In the front of the book was an inscription from December 1991, written in my dad’s clear, precise handwriting.
‘Dear Jo, I have bought you this diary in the hope that you’ll keep it for a year. I kept a diary when I was 16, and I still have it. Most of the wrinklies I know envy me when I say I have a teenage diary. Perhaps you’ll be similarly envied in the future. Happy Xmas and love from Dad.’
I started to read through the scribbled pages, amused, bemused and horrified by my then hormonal self, who’d ranted at her parents, bunked off school and had a massive crush on film star Jean-Claude Van Damme.
After half an hour, I went downstairs to my dad’s study, where he sat behind his newspaper.
‘Look what I’ve found!’ I announced. ‘It’s that diary you bought me to keep when I was 16.’
There was a pause.
‘What? I wasn’t that bad was I?’ I asked hopefully.
‘It was… difficult at times,’ came the diplomatic answer.
That turned out to be the understatement of the century. My dad has kept a diary for most of his life, and he pulled out his own from that year. Soon we were reading out excerpts and comparing different entries of events. There were lots of laughs, some reminiscing and a good few winces – mostly from me. Reading back, it had been like two aliens living together under one roof and coming together in clashes and battles of wills.
‘Most of the time, I was at a loss how to deal with you,’ he told me. ‘With
daughters, there are things going on emotionally that men don’t recognise. I knew you were testing boundaries. I got it wrong sometimes, but all I could do was set the appropriate boundaries and hope we’d all get through it.’
Reading through his own diary, I was appalled at how I’d treated him, my mum and my younger sister. As the main disciplinarian and holder of the family wallet, my dad bore the brunt of my moods. In one entry he writes gloomily:
‘Jo wants not a father but a cross between a cash dispenser and a doormat.’
There were frequent arguments about homework, curfews and sky-high phone bills. I was horrible to my dad, but I also needed him.
I’d been devastated when I’d been dumped for the first time that year. My diary entry had instantly transported me back, remembering that awful sick feeling.
‘I just feel so empty inside. Dad was really nice about it. I couldn’t stop crying.’
Dad had been the one who’d found me sobbing by the phone. He’d given me a big hug, told me that my ex ‘wasn’t worth it’ and cancelled his plans so he could spend the evening ferrying me around to see my friends. That night he had written in his own diary:
‘What can one say? Only time will heal the wounds. It is one of life’s first lessons in an adult world, and a hard one. My heart goes out to Jo, who is being tempered on the anvil of life.’
Back then, I never considered my dad as an actual human being with feelings of his own. Both of us had used our diaries to pour out our frustrations and worries. It was very cathartic – I was normally shouting at my parents or ignoring them – and it helped me feel calmer. It was a very perceptive move on Dad’s part.
Like Dad, I have gone on to keep a diary into adulthood, on and off. It’s a good habit that has helped me through various times.
Dad and I have a good relationship these days, aside from the odd argument – we both like to be in charge! But I still have pangs of regret and guilt about the way I treated him back then. Has he forgiven me, or does he still bear the battle scars from having the teenager from hell?
‘I can look back now and say it was honestly worth it, even the bad bits,’ he says. ‘I’m very proud of the person you’ve become. There was always love there. Never forget that.’
I won’t, Dad. Too often we can take our parents for granted, no matter what age we are. When I was 16, I did think my dad was an old ‘wrinkly’ who had no idea about my life. Reading back, he’d understood me a lot more than I’d realised.
Finding our old diaries has made me appreciate again how lucky I am to have a dad like him – and, hopefully, they might give hope to parents going through a similar situation!
‘There was always love there. Never
Dad with me at the ‘difficult’ age of 16our diaries1991
i have a greater understandingof Dad now i was a moodyteenager2018