For five to six hours a day, six days a week, for 50 years, Al Bernstein would put down on paper his innermost thoughts. He philosophized about past and present events. In those pages, Bernstein tried to find himself by discovering what's important in life.
When Bernstein stopped writing in 1997 because his wife, Rhoda, had terminal cancer, he had accumulated 70 pounds of 4,000 handwritten pages of notes. He was about to throw it all away when his son, Harley, intervened.
Harley Bernstein took all those notes and over the next several years worked with his father, his brothers and his friends to create a book on his dad's guide to living.
"The information here is subtle, but there's a ton of it. It's loaded up with 50 years of thought," said Harley Bernstein of his book, an ode to his father.
"Happiness on 7 Dollars a Week: A Formula for Living" takes the themes throughout Al Bernstein's writings and shows the reader how to apply those themes to one's life.
The book, released in September 2003, made Borders Bookstores' holiday recommendations list in October.
"I always felt the need to complete my dad's work," said Harley Bernstein, a Vienna resident for 17 years. "It's just a thrill for a son to complete his dad's life mission."
The title comes from the allowance Al Bernstein's wife Rhoda had given him when they were married. Because the elder Bernstein made a mistake when balancing their checkbook when they were first married, Rhoda Bernstein took over managing the household's expenses. She put her husband on a $7 weekly allowance, which he would use to buy paper and pens.
When Rhoda Bernstein became sick, Al Bernstein joked that he gave himself a raise to $10 a week.
Although the book has only been out since September, the father/son pair has traveled throughout the United States to promote the book. From Chicago to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Tysons Corner, they've read passages and hoped people would glean the advice in the book's 167 pages.
"The first thing I noticed was how honest and true he is in the book," said Richard Behnke of Vienna. Behnke, a friend of Harley Bernstein, was one of several friends who listened to or read drafts of earlier versions. "I would enjoy it immensely when he came over and read to us."
AL BERNSTEIN BEGAN writing because when he was growing up in Bangor, Maine, during the Depression, he felt miserable. His father disappeared, leaving his mother with six children. Relatives helped, but the home environment was "love-less," described the elder Bernstein. As a result, he developed low self-esteem.
"I didn't even want to be seen on Main Street," Al Bernstein recalled.
Al Bernstein joined the Army toward the end of World War II to find himself. As he was working as a clerk in the library, he stumbled on some books by Dale Carnegie, including the book "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living." The discovery changed his life.
"He makes it his life mission to have a positive experience with everyone he meets," said Harley Bernstein of his father.
When Al Bernstein married and had three sons, he made sure he spent time with them.
"Our children can learn more from our mistakes than their mistakes," Al Bernstein said.
With his son Harley, he'd go on long walks through Bangor. He would ask Harley about what was going on in Harley's life, while Harley would ask his father for advice.
"I realized that he allowed us to reach him. ... He always allowed us that permission [to be human]," said Harley Bernstein.
It was those walks that Harley Bernstein wanted to re-enact in his book to his father.
"I wanted people to take a walk with this guy," Harley Bernstein said.
When Rhoda Bernstein became sick, Harley wondered if there was anything within those 4,000 pages that would help him and his father cope. He circled 80 recurring themes throughout the notes.
Harley Bernstein then became more determined to publish his father's work. Like his father, he spent days and evenings whittling through the raw material, until he came up with his father's core themes. Harley Bernstein then narrated those themes, using the walks he and his father took as the setting.
IN AN EARLY CHAPTER, as Harley Bernstein describes seeing his old childhood haunts, his father tells him about how he found hope. Al Bernstein said he realized that by changing his perspective in life, he could impact for the better his relationships with others.
"I always felt that dad had a lot on his mind, and I wanted to share it with a lot of people," said Harley Bernstein.
Those who have read Harley Bernstein's book said they enjoyed the advice, as well as the approachable tone, of the book.
"He put in so much writing time, from 12 to 3 a.m. for years," said Jonathon Perrelli of Ashburn, Harley Bernstein's friend. "It has some really great messages for people who are going through grieving."
Behnke said the regular meetings when Harley Bernstein would read a draft to him and several other friends influenced Behnke to read to his son.
"Harley's a smart guy. It's good advice, and anybody could use it."
Meanwhile, Al Bernstein has started writing again, every day, six days a week for four to five hours a day.
"If it'll do some good for people, it's worth it," said Al Bernstein of the book.