Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of six grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels “Freaks” and “Pearl” and three short story collections, “No Strings Attached,” “Brooklyn Family Scenes” and “Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.”
Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,
I’ve kept journals most of my life, starting back when I was in elementary school with those black-and-white marble-covered copy books. In hundreds of journal entries I’ve explored just about every topic, humorous and serious, trivial and monumental, from my first crush to the pain of divorce to the deaths of my parents. And so many of those pages are filled with stories of each of you, and more recently, about each of my grandchildren.
At certain times over the years, circumstances prevented me from being there for you. Divorce had something to do with that. It was all a little scary for me. And so I became a certain kind of parent – “non-custodial” with “liberal visitation,” as defined by the courts – though seeing you only on alternate weekends and every Wednesday was far from liberal enough. Between visits, I missed you and I thought about you a lot.
In keeping the journals, my intent was to hold onto the time we had together. Writing it all down in a journal was my attempt at leaving a record, as I learned to find my way, of how I felt, what I was thinking and just how much I loved you. I got to say much of what I might never have gotten a chance to say aloud. The journals capture our jokes, how we played kazoos in the car, our attempts at haiku.
“The trees are turning/ I wonder if they’re dizzy/ changing all their leaves?”
I’ve filled more than a dozen books over the years and started a dozen more. Even today, I write in my journals. My journals eventually led to the four illustrated books that I hardbound and gave to each of you.
“Jennie” was for you, Janine, because you were so unhappy after Mommy and I separated.
“Jennie and Rollo”was for you, Ian, to help you get along with an older, sometimes bossy sister.
“Jeff-ery” was for you, Jesse, because you were having a hard time with the divorce and it was all about a little boy who was always getting into trouble.
“Maggi, Queen of the Coyotes and the Wolves”was for you, dear Mikki — it came from a dream you described in detail when you were still little.
Each of the stories was special to me because it was written especially for each of you. If you loved them then, I know in the coming years, as you watch your own children grow, that you will treasure them even more. .
And then there are the poems and stories I have written for my grandchildren, Brianna, Matt, Hailey, Joseph and, the latest, the new kid, little Evan.
You have yet to read my journals.Maybe I never told you this, but here goes. If my journals prove anything, it’s what you’ve brought to my life: an inspiration that goes beyond words.
P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow