My mother gave me a bag of presents to take home with me. As I sorted through the gifts to leave the ones for my son with him, I saw a real jewel. In the bag she had given me my father’s journal from 1953.

My father was not a journal keeper. But for that one year of his life he kept a journal. It was a requirement to obtain his Master M Man pin. (In the journal he comments on other requirements he was pursuing, such as reading a book–his choice was Talmage’s Jesus the Christ.) If Ardis sees this maybe she can tell us more about the Master M Man program.

Anyway, I read the small book on the plane coming home, and it was fascinating. It was an important transitional year in his life (five years before my own birth). At the beginning of the year he was still in the Air Force and finally he gets discharged after over four years of service. He had served in Korea, Japan and Mississippi, but by this point he hated the service and wanted out. He became engaged to my mother, and they got married in the Idaho Falls temple. He worked for an Idaho starch plant (and hated it), and then he started his college education (he was 22 turning 23 in this year) at Idaho State. And by the end of the year they were pregnant with a baby that would become my oldest sister.

It was interesting to see similarities between his experiences at that age and mine. I got married about a year before he did. While at his crappy job all he could think about was going to school; he had an intense intellectual curiousity and couldn’t stand the thoughtless tasks he was assigned as a laborer. I had a similar experience with my first post-mission job until I was able to go back to BYU.

He never went on a mission. The bishop talked to him about going, but by that time he was already engaged. He still thought about it, but money was a significant impediment. (This wasn’t like in my ward where if a young person wants to go you can count on the ward footing the bill.)

But I was completely flummoxed by the fact that he had been engaged for about a month before he mentioned the fact in his journal. And he first alludes obliquely to his wife’s “condition” at a time which, by my calculation, would have been at least a couple of months after they would have learned they were pregnant. Only a man would forget to mention in his journal that he was getting married or was going to have a baby!

There were interesting cultural things. He was an assistant scout master, but he was also earning merit badges himself; apparently back then you didn’t have to stop being a scout at 18. He lamented that there was nothing good on radio anymore, and TV had not yet come to the valley. Several times he pined for TV to come.

Once he was married, he really enjoyed going shopping with my mother on Saturdays. They worked hard to make their GI Bill money stretch and to build a food storage. As I was growing up, my family had an entire room in our basement devoted to food storage; that devotion to this principle was honed by necessity in the first months of my parents’ marriage.

He commented on lessons and talks that were good, and also those that were boring (more of the latter). He showed especial disdain for talks that were simply read over the pulpit–a sentiment I share.

Anyway, I only knew my father as a highly educated professor of education. To see his innermost thoughts from a time before he had ever set foot in any college classroom, struggling with life decisions, and reflecting attitudes very similar to my own really fleshed him out for me as a human being.

This is the only journal I have from him, and it is a treasure I shall cherish.


  1. Awesome stuff, Kev. It is a bit sad, that for all of the journals I have read, I still don’t write even close to regularly.

    I got my father’s mission diary recently and it has been great fun.

  2. Nice post, Kevin. I have finally prevailed upon my dad to keep a journal and write something of a memoir. When I was in Texas I did see my grandma’s journals, which she kept very well and regularly for decades. Good detail and regularity. I’m excited to one day read through them all.

  3. What a cool thing to have been given. I would love to read my mother’s thoughts when she was home with young kids.

    Actually, that’s why I started blogging- with the hopes that someday my kids will care what was going on in mom’s old noggin. They probably won’t give a hoot!

  4. Thanks for this, Kevin. Your mom is extremely generous to give the journal to you. She must trust you.

    My guess is that as the years pass, the journal will become even more dear to you.

    So, are you a journal writer?

  5. Mommie Dearest says:

    How do you preserve an archival copy of your blogging? I spilled Diet Dr. Pepper on something that came out of my printer and found out that it was most definitely not archival. And digital data on a hard drive or disk isn’t archival. Sorry if this is a threadjack.

  6. Kevin, I think one of the extraordinary points about this is that your father, ordinarily a non-journal-keeper, was able to keep a meaningful journal starting off cold like that. I see a lot of journals written because someone knows he’s doing something extraordinary and should keep a record — crossing the plains, going on a mission, serving in the military — but because they have no experience and no talent, it’s only a record of miles traveled or bare-bones schedule of the day.

    The Master M-Man/Golden Gleaner (for women) existed from the 1930s to the early 1970s, when MIA was for everybody in the ward over 12, not just teenagers. It was replaced by the “Pursuit of Excellence” program, which still exists, only nobody — but NObody — ever hears of it. Once you’d left the ordinary MIA program at about 18, you were eligible to work for your Master M-Man/Golden Gleaner award. There was a suggested list of goals in spiritual/ intellectual/ physical/ service/ moral areas of life, or you could set individual goals with your bishop. They were serious, long-term goals that took real effort over time — your dad kept a journal for a full year, and there were probably requirements about how often he had to write, and perhaps even what topics he should include (in order to train him to watch, say, for specific answers to prayers). The requirements were tough, and relatively few people in the church earned their awards.

    Master M-Man/Golden Gleaner was prestigious enough that in Mormon-dominated areas it might be listed on a resume — really! — and almost always in an obituary. I’ll bet if you went to lds.org and searched, you’d find news reports of men who were called as mission presidents or general authorities that mention Master M-Man among achievements more often than Eagle Scout.

    That’s something impressive to learn about your dad, Kevin.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the info on the program, Ardis. (I knew I could count on you to provide context on Master M Men!) It’s clear to me from the journal that he is working hard to achieve it.

    Hunter, I kept a very good journal during my mission. Afterwards I tried to keep it up, but in the press of school it sort of disintegrated. So what I do is when I write my weekly e-mail to my family, I print a copy off and put it in a three-ring binder. I’ve been doing that for years and consider that my “journal.” It’s light on personal introspection, but pretty good on what’s going on in my life.

    The question of how to keep an archival record is definitely on topic for this post (but I don’t know the answer; perhaps someone else will).

  8. Sterling Fluharty says:

    The Internet Archive is one model for preserving blogs and web sites. I hope the church builds on this model to archive born-digital diaries and journals.

  9. It’s posts like this that make geneological research mean more to me than just finding out names. It’s the connection we can feel to someone who helped make us who we are that I enjoy, even as I have benefited mostly by the dedication to the research of others.

    A few years ago, my mother sent my siblings and me a copy of a personal history that she had typed while my father dictated it. There were things about him that I had not known, significant things when viewed in light of decisions of which I was not aware until a few years ago when my mother’s on-going battle with schizophrenia became known to us. I always had loved and admired my father, but getting a better look at what he sacrificed in order to “lay down his life” for his wife deepened my respect for him immeasurably.


    Thanks for bringing that back to mind, Kevin. It’s been nearly two years since I wrote that post, and I appreciate being reminded what a great man my own father is.

  10. For those who have ‘journal block’, there is the ‘journal jar’.
    Kept a large glass jar handy, pen and small paper near, write down your thought(s), date the paper, drop it in the jar.

  11. But Ardis, what does the “M” stand for? (Hopefully not Mahan…)

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Dane, that’s funny, because I too thought that Master M Man sounded a little bit like Master Mahan!

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Ray, my aunt wrote an account of what it was like to care for my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease before her death. It was a frank, brutal account, and made me realize that my mother and aunt were true heroes to suffer what they did for their mother. I’m so glad she wrote that so the rest of us could understand.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I just remembered that according to the journal once when he needed money he wished that Jack Benny was his uncle. So 1953!

  15. Mex Davis says:

    My parents were reactivated through the M Men and Gleaner program. Mom was not a member but went with Dad to the meetings and activities. She joined the church while attending, she liked the Saints and the friendships. Dad was in the Air Force at the time and we were stationed at Wheeler AFB in North Africa. We always talk about that time with friends and family but they don’t know about the program and its’ history.

  16. The entire matter of journals and diaries is a rich, complex issue with thousands of marvelous untold stories for every one we manage to see and salvage. When teaching courses in women’s journals and memoirs, I groaned at the vision of how much we are losing every day of the world, as diaries and letters, notebooks and journals and scraps of personal history are tossed out, or allowed to mold and crumble.

    One woman, putting things in order after her mother’s death, methodically went through the diaries her mom had kept daily for 50 years as a pioneer Iowa farm woman. The daughter wrote down birth and death dates, then BURNED the rest. I thought seriously of hiring someone to steal the remaining diaries and see them safely to a history archive.

    A close friend had lost her father when she was one year old. The family had not a single page of his writing, not a letter, not a diary entry of any sort. Relatives told her that she inherited her considerable brains and drive from her father, but she knew nothing about how he thought or who he really was. One day she found one of the few novels he had read, and in the margins were several pencilled comments. She read and re-read, and read again these precious scraps.

    Unlike almost everything else, from exercise to dieting to learning a skill, writing a journal pays off HOWEVER rarely we do it. Many of us start a journal, write a few weeks or months, and then leave blank page after blank page. More would be great, sure. But even a very little can be a treasure. I often think what even a month’s worth of her father’s journaling would have meant to my friend.

  17. Dan Richards says:

    Kevin, my grandfather received the eagle scout award in his 40s, I think.

  18. The Venturing Bronze, Gold, and Silver awards are available to young men through age 21. Great great goals there (my newly-called missionary spent this summer post-BYU earning the Bronze, Gold, and Silver in the religious studies area… read the Quran front-to-back, visited an Imam and a Buddhist priest, and did multiple service projects.)

  19. Oh. I should add. The Venturing awards are also available to young women of like age.

  20. I haven’t been able to find the M-Man requirements specifically for 1953, but I’ve found them for the early ’60s and will post them at Keepa later this week or early next week.

    So far as I know, the M stood for “Mutual” (one source said “Mormon”).

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Ardis. If you think of it, put up a link here when you do your post. I will read it with interest.

    I assumed that the M stood for “Mutual,” but that was just a guess on my part.

  22. Great story, Kevin! I’m an indifferent journal-keeper. There are lots of reasons why, but one of them is that my kids (or whoever reads what I write) will be appalled at what trivial things concerned me and what an idiot I was. It’s comforting, then, to read how happy you’ve been to learn some of the small details of your father’s life. Perhaps my kids will be similarly forgiving and interested.

    Elouise (#16), I love your “even a little bit is good” perspective. This is also much more motivating than the (in my impression more common) push to journal constantly or consider yourself a failure.

  23. esodhiambo says:

    Ardis–the Pursuit of Excellence program has been heavily pushed in my stake for at least the last 5 years. I thought it was an RS program–is it meant for men too?

  24. I meet people to this day who refer to my Father as ‘Bishop…’, which is strange to me – as by the time I reached Priesthood at 12 he had gone inactive, and still is.

    Early on in my mission he sent me his mission journal, amongst other things – and it is a disgrace to say that I never found the time to read it. Part of this was down to me being a fairly young 19 yr old, who frankly didn’t get the significance of those items, coupled with a training companion who likely would of burned it if he had ever seen me read it – considering as he did that any form of communication from back home was a mere distraction from the work.

    Only reading this am I reminded of it. I assume this pack that he sent me is with my other belongings, old mail, my own journals etc. but now I’m feeling a bit unworthy to go and dig it out.

    I’m glad you got yours when you could appreciate it.

  25. The requirements for becoming Master M Men and Golden Gleaners are posted at Keepa.

  26. Kevin, something went wrong with my link — could you fix it, please? thanks.

  27. Kevin Barney says:
  28. Pursuit of Excellence superseded the Master M Man/Golden Gleaner program in 1974 (http://tinyurl.com/qytg56), but I’ve never heard of it. Does it still exist today somehow?

  29. 1975 Ensign article on Pursuit of Excellence program:

  30. And here’s the Pursuit of Excellence pamphlet still available from LDS distribution services:

    I’m surprised I’ve never even heard of this…

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    I think it still exists, but I had never heard of it either until this discussion.

%d bloggers like this: