As a father to three sons, I have embarked on a mission to impart in them life lessons of the utmost importance. These are my stories.
Life Lesson #66- Journaling Important Experiences
It was an epic weekend. We were in the Black Hills of South Dakota, not far from Mt. Rushmore. My childhood friend Nick was getting married at the Sylvan Lake Lodge. Like the best of weddings, it was a de facto reunion- a gathering of buddies from our hometown of Bozeman, MT. We hiked, reminisced, and laughed.
One night several of us and our wives stayed up really late and experienced one of the funniest moments of my life when John attempted to make a s’more over a toaster (an ill-advised endeavor) and Don accidentally dumped the whole works into the coils. A fire hazard has never been so hysterical.
It occurred to me a day or two into the long weekend that I needed to capture what was happening. I didn’t want any of the fun to escape my memory later. So I found some paper and started my very first vacation journal. It was just bullet points, but I later typed them into a Word document and filed it in a folder that today contains close to 100 such docs.
That weekend Jen was pregnant with our first son, Josh. So the start of fatherhood is a bookend on a habit that I am passing on to my sons: journaling important experiences of their lives.
I actually learned the virtues of vacation journaling from my father. He took me and my brother, Jeff, on numerous backpacking excursions and he logged most of them, detailing each day’s events, weather, and menu.
He usually incorporated trail maps to illustrate our routes and campsites. When I was in high school my dad took us on a trip to Australia that included stops in San Francisco and Hawaii. He chronicled it all in a spiral notebook.
As it turns out, my dad journaled our athletic careers as well. Jeff recently unearthed in a storage unit copious notes, with accompanying photographs, on our middle and high school basketball games. He did the same for Jeff’s tennis matches and my college rowing races.
Inspired by that Black Hills experience, I now journal all sorts of things, often in the form of lists. I’ve compiled best chocolate chip cookies and sandwiches. I keep past New Year’s resolutions. I record memorable Olympic moments (summer and winter). My favorite movies (and movie scenes) are gathered in a lengthy doc. I have a collection of cocktail recipes (most of them Pohlman originals). My beer log contains my reviews of several hundred brews, all rated 1 to 10 mugs. When I encounter a resonating quote I either type it into a doc or handwrite it in a small journal. A few years ago I started a catalog of my favorite places.
Several of my journals are more specific to family and parenthood. I keep a list of holiday traditions, past and present. I recorded the spoken words, phrases, and sentences of my sons from infancy through toddlerhood (as a neurodevelopmental psychologist and fan of Jean Piaget, I couldn’t resist).
Each year I collect the personal Songs of the Summer for everyone in our family, which serve as time capsules and promote an appreciation for music. And, of course, I have an extensive inventory of things my sons need to know before moving out of our home.
So just to be clear . . . I like to journal.
But why is it important for my sons to take up journaling? First, it’s a practice that has been shown to have mental health benefits. Journaling has been used therapeutically with adolescents, as well as with young children, such as to address trauma and navigate life transitions.
Journaling will serve my guys well later in life, such as processing career or relationship challenges.
When it comes to vacations and adventures, journaling helps with being present and achieving mindfulness, which amplifies the joy of an experience. Knowing that you’re journaling boosts the receptivity of your antennae.
You notice, and then record, the small details and fleeting moments that make excursions special- the funny thing said, the delicious food tasted, the mountain sunset seen, the seaside thunderstorm heard.
Our vacation journals are like family archives. They provide a snapshot of where our sons have been developmental. The guys share the act of delving into the journals, which solidifies their connections to each other as well as their memories.
Sometimes I take my laptop on a vacation and journal day-by-day, either in Word or PowerPoint (which makes integrating photos really easy). Otherwise, I take handwritten notes in a spiral, like my dad used to do, and then type them up when we return home.
Either way, it takes me a few days to pull everything together and polish it. My ritual is to print a hardcopy each for Josh, Gabe, and Luke. They eagerly anticipate getting their journals, sometimes bugging me to accelerate the production schedule.
I feel like Santa Claus on Christmas morning when I give my sons their vacation journals. They unwrap their presents by finding a quiet nook in the house to read every word and survey each image. They have come to crave the reliving of the fun they had.
My sons have become copy editors of sorts. Despite my best efforts and perfectionist tendencies, I make mistakes and the guys find them. We didn’t have ice cream that night for dessert, we had cookies! It was Josh and Gabe who won the corn hole tournament, not you and Gabe. We took an Uber there, not a taxi.
Now when we’re on trips my sons suggest things for me to include in the journal. The next step is for us to collaborate. We might rotate the duty by trip, or assign each day to someone for chronicling.
Ultimately, I’ll hand off the responsibility to them, freeing me up to journal other things. After all, that list of magnificent chocolate chip cookies isn’t going to write itself.
Be sure to check back next month for another of Craig’s Life Lessons for his sons. Have a suggestion? Something you are teaching your son or daughter? Please share in a comment!