Thanks, Dad!

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…

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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

for­get that’

Dad with me at the ‘dif­fi­cult’ age of 16our di­aries1991

i have a greater un­der­stand­ingof Dad now i was a moodyteenager2018

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