I discovered the scrapbooks when I’m eight, wedged in a cabinet beneath the bookshelf. They are my father’s life, created by his mother. The books stop when he marries my mother. From boyhood to newspaperman, his mother kept the evidence of a life lived. First-grade report card. Cub Scout awards. Elementary-school class photos. Ticket stubs for football games (the scores noted on them). Birthday cards. Mother’s Day cards he made for her. High school prom photographs. The first stories he wrote for the Tribune. Stories about him from the Omaha-World Herald […].
What will be left of us when we are gone? My father? Bits of faded newsprint amid sheaves of crumbling construction paper. Serrated-edged black-and-white photographs shot by Kodak Brownies. A boy of six, on his back porch, hugging his black dog, squinting in the great American Dust Bowl sun of 1939. A book of scraps. Brittle pages. It was left to me to reassemble him. I learned to make sense of the remnants, to find meaning in the missing pieces. A man of paper.
— After Visiting Friends, by Michael Hainey
I couldn’t help but see the double meaning in Hainey’s words, a man of paper. His father, to whom Hainey is referring, was a newspaperman—a journalist of the written medium. As a child, Hainey’s father dreamed of writing for the newspapers. As an adult, he wrote for the newspapers. Now, deceased, his life is preserved by paper—by the pages of a scrapbook, by photographs, by clippings of articles that he had penned. His life, from birth certificate to death certificate, was defined by paper. He truly was a man of paper.