Have a Listen to the Fatherless by Suicide Series

I'm pleased and proud to share this audio series of stories, insights, and survival today, which is the 34th anniversary of my father's death. Please have a listen and share them with your loved ones. 

I didn't realize it when I set out from Brooklyn last year. I was too shaken with nerves and jostled by doses of self-doubt to see it then. As I think back, it wasn't until my bike and I were broken down in Missouri that it dawned on me: when I launched the project, I had also invited the spirit of my father to join me on this year-long journey.

Though there have been times throughout my life when I felt his presence -- some force or sensation of spirit or mental apparition -- they were few and far and far between. Generally, I just felt abandoned and deeply forsaken by him. But once Fatherless by Suicide was launched, and folks generously invested in it, and men started to sign-up to be interviewed, I knew that my father and I were in this grief-healing dance together. In many ways, it would be the only thing we would ever do together. 

I'm glad we did it.

Over this past year, we've been reunited and intertwined in a way that ended up transforming my life and my understanding of his life, and ultimately, his death. I'm still surprised by it, but it happened through a daily ritual and commitment around this project that we -- my fellow collaborators, supporters, and allies -- embarked upon together last Fathers Day.  Before then, I woke each day trying to avoid thinking or talking about him. Since I began the project, each day I've woken to thinking about him, and often talking to him. It started with the questions I would want to ask the guys who afforded me the privilege to interview them.  To end each interview, I asked every guy two questions: If you could say anything to your father, what would you want to say? and, if you could hear anything from him, what would you want to hear? 

Naturally, each guy had a different response and approach to the questions. Some wanted to tell their fathers they loved them while others didn't want to say a thing to them. It was in my third interview, that my heart and mind got challenged in ways that were new to me. It was with Mike while sitting cross-legged on his kids' bedroom floor when he said that he would want his dad to know that he forgave him. 

I was stunned.

I've never thought of forgiving my father. That was a transformative turn for me, and luckily, each man who I met with afforded me a similar mind-stopping, heart-expanding moment. It was as if each interview was like a rejuvenating pitstop where I was afforded needed healing insights and perspectives from these men. The more men I met and interviews I did, the more comfortable I was in my own skin. Not just as an interviewer, but as a person. 

This year has been full of tectonic shifts within my personhood. My former self, who sought a sense of worth by entertaining others or facilitating their experience, got quiet and learned to listen with more intention and to be comforted by silence. My longing for answers and the subsequent, exhausting mental hopscotching to understand my father's choice or reasoning to kill himself grew quiet and allowed my feeling self, my physical body, to feel pain and sadness. I'll spare you more on the personal transformations, but I note them and their importance because as my quiet, humble, attentive self grew, my conversations with these men got to new, unexplored layers within me. Perhaps terrain that was new to them as well. 

Ultimately, memory is malleable beast, and many of our interviews explored that. Some of these men lost their fathers just weeks before we met, others nearly seventy years ago. The world and our sense of place in it shifts with time, and so does our stage of grief and healing, or desire to even engage with our losses, I suppose. 

For me, maybe it is because I don't have any memories of my father and that I'm forced to make up his voice, inflection, and mannerisms. By the time that I got my bike back and running, my father was with me as we entered the great state of Kansas, our homeland. It was there where he and my mom were raised, became high school sweethearts, married, and had a baby boy who had an affection for hats and dump trucks. One scorching afternoon, as I was riding around his hometown of Wichita, it was as if his voice spoke over my rotting mufflers and directed me to the house where he grew up -- and where he chose to die. 

So much happened during that day, and you can hear much of it in Episode 11; but, it forever altered my life and my relationship to my father. That morning, I ordered his autopsy report, which informed me that he shot himself three times, not five. I also learned his height, weight, and time of death. All new to me.

Later that afternoon, per the subconscious directions I assume he was whispering to me, I found his childhood home and convinced the current owners to give me a tour (not mentioning my motivation, of course). I was able to enter the room where he took his life and see what I assume was the last view of his life. 

I felt a weight leave me that day. It is hard to describe. Neither a burdensome nor desired weight; just a weight that has always been with me, unintentionally slowing me and thwarting the agility of my mind, I'd assume, but certainly my heart. I did a little ceremony that hot Kansas night and said goodbye to him. 

Well, sort of.

You see, our work wasn't done. We still had interviews to do and another three thousand miles to travel before the interviews would be done. So with each morning, I would wake with my coffee, a map, and my imaginary father sitting next to me. After each interview, I would reflect on the man's story who I just heard and have a dialogue with my imaginary father about it. Often, I would reference part of an interview and connect their experience with my own. 

Some examples are how Justin spoke of his challenge to open-up to the possibility of love; Michael on his love for his father and how his father - both the good and the bad attributes - shaped him and his gratitude for who he was, in part, because of his father; Mike's palpable forgiveness of his father; Luu's deep longing for security after his father's death and absence at a young age; Paul's anger about how his mother was treated after his father took his own life and reflections on how mental health support has evolved in the 65 years since his father died; Franklin's clarity of purpose that he's gained from his father's death; Max's unwavering honesty about his feelings about his father and questioning of his own choices; Chad's sharing of how he felt relief when his dad died, knowing that the chaos and physical abuse towards his mom had come to an end; Doug's perspective and challenges with forgiveness and his rebirth of life and love with his creativity and growing family after his father's death; Luke sharing his conflicting emotions around his father on the fifth year anniversary of his death; and, Jeremy, who I interviewed just weeks after his father's death, on beginning to grapple with the loss of his father, yet finding forgiveness. 

Each of these interviews, and the many insights that I gathered along our journey, became long conversations that I had in my head with my imaginary father. That was one of the gifts of riding the motorcycle from interview to interview - it forced my mind to go where it was least comfortable -- towards evaluating how my own father's death has affected me, and ultimately, how I could choose healing and forgiveness over anger and resentment. 

Now, don't get me wrong: the journey isn't over and it's not always coming up roses when I think of my father, but I have been deeply moved. When I envisioned this project, I hoped it would be a resource to help reduce the shame and stigma for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Most importantly, I hoped it would provide support to others - particularly men - who were trying to navigate their path to healing after a suicide. I'm confident that it is a valuable, noteworthy contribution. Though the stories are anchored in these men's exploration of how their fathers’ death by suicide has affected them, they are stories of life, survival, and the pursuit to find solace and healing in the wake of their father’s deaths.

I've sat with these men's stories alone for too long, listening, transcribing, editing, re-editing, and re-listening many times over. Before I started, I wasn't sure what I would ask, let alone if anyone would afford me the opportunity to interview them. I didn't really know how to record good audio, and certainly didn't know how to edit, and I definitely didn't know how to talk about my own feelings about the loss of my father and how it still affects me. In hindsight, it's clear to me that this was my first attempt at being truly vulnerable in my life, and it paid off. 

I'm so grateful for each of the guys who I met and interviewed along the road. Their courage and wisdom humbles and inspires me. 

Thanks to the 170 generous donors who invested in me and this project, the dozens of friends who hosted me along the journey, my motorcycle saints who kept my bike and me upright and on the road, and allies who helped enhance my project design. I hope each of you takes a moment to celebrate your role in enabling these stories to be shared.

A most special thanks to my mom, who gave me life, saved my life twice, and nurtured me to the man I'm proud to be -- and supported me thru the tough twists of this journey. 

And, the journey continues -- and you're still part of it!

For starters, I hope you'll share this project with your loved ones. These stories and insights are ready to set sail. Please be the wind by sharing this post and/or the stories with your loved ones by sending them an email, posting on Facebook, or messaging via the Twitter bird. You can even subscribe on iTunes for your podcast feed (and help out by giving a review).

Importantly, this week is Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, with September 10th as World Suicide Prevention Day. Thankfully, there are great resources available to us all now, such as these suicide warning signs we could all be mindful of, tips on how to talk with someone who may be suicidal, and a host of emergency services for folks in crisis or loved ones supporting them. I hope you'll join me in exploring these tips and embracing their suggestions, as well as sharing them far and wide. 

As for me and my plans for this day, I woke in my new house in coastal Maine next to a woman who I love and who has loved and nurtured me throughout this year. As our love grows deeper, I can not only see how I'm able to love her more fully because I embarked on this project, but how I remain in awe of how she loves me so well, and in ways I didn't know I needed. It's been a profound year on so, so many levels. 

For now, I'm going to go grab an apple from the yard and hike up the mountain across the street from our house. Once I find the right spot, I'll read my father a letter I've been writing him for quite some time. On this day 34 years ago, my father, Christopher Magill Tatlock, took his own life. It was a tragic decision. For everyone. But his death doesn't define him, nor his life. Nor mine. But it sure altered the essence of my experience as a human and affected me in ways I hadn't even imagined, and certainly never understood until now. 

It wasn't until I met these men and learned to listen and feel more fully that I began to focus in on some of that. I reckon the healing around my fatherloss is a life-long journey, but it is one I'm now more prepared for, and in some ways desirous of. To grieve my father has enabled me to love him. Therein lies the rub for me. 

For now, I'm proud and happy to share these stories with you. Maybe this will be the only batch I record and share, or maybe the audio installation project I'm seeking support for will get funded and there will be an immersive experience coming to your town. Or maybe we will do another series of interviews, or even better yet, another fella will embark on his own quest and conduct more interviews.

Who knows, but be in touch if you've got ideas. 

With deep gratitude and a more open ear and tender heart, 

Chris

Have a listen to the first episode below, and then delve into the whole series



Suicide Statistics and the Language We Use - Or Shouldn't

Suicide is a public health issue that we can all play a part to help prevent, as well as reduce the shame and stigma survivors of suicide face. That's part of what I started the project, and why I'm excited to share stories of the men I had the privilege to meet with. 

Before I decided to do this project, I read a few dozen books and articles on suicide. In this post, I share a few of the most noteworthy facts and figures I came across, and also some historical context. The numbers and statistics are devastating, but on the bright side, there are more programs, services, and trained professionals available to support folks in crisis than ever before.

For starters, suicide has been around since we’ve been recording history. For many cultures, from Vikings to Eskimos, it was seen as the final action that garnered respect and promise of an afterlife. For example, so many Christians took their own lives as martyrs who believed they would enter heaven that the church was forced to redefine suicide as a mortal sin. A similar belief is still present in some cultures, and continues to motivate many to take their own life.

Worldwide, more people take their own life than who die be murder, war, and natural disasters - combined. The World Health Organization reports over 800,000 people die each year by their own hand. Worldwide, it is the third leading cause of death for people from 15 to 44 years of age. The numbers are not definitive because suicide statistics are tough to track. Not only are many deaths reported as accidents – not sure if suicide was the real intention; but, experts believe many don’t report a loved ones death as suicide for fear of shame, stigma, or even financial retribution. For example, it is quite common practice that a family cannot cash in on a life insurance policy of someone who killed themselves within two years of initiating the policy. To put this in context, there are five types of classifications of death that a coroner can choose from: natural, homicide, accidental, suicide, and undetermined.

Here in the United States, suicide is the fourth leading cause of reported death of people between the ages of 15 and 64. Overall, it is the tenth leading cause of reported death, and the numbers continue to climb. In 2013, the last year that we have the full statistics, 41,149 people took their own life. That’s whose death was documented as such. We know that nearly 80% of them are male and they are mostly white. Per capita, Native Americans account for the most suicides by race. 

We also know that there are four male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt. Though reporting may not show the full picture of the number of people who attempt suicide, nearly 500,000 people visited a hospital last year for injuries due to self-harm behavior. This suggests that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.

If you can think of the way an individual could take his or her life, it has probably been done. However, The National Center for Health Statistics has enumerated at least 44 general categories of how people die by suicide. Only here in the United States do most people turn to a gun to end their life, with 60% of reported deaths are by bullets, like my father’s was. After guns, people mostly die by hanging and toxic poisoning (overdosing).

When I was reading-up about suicide before I started this project, I learned that Emile Durkeim, who as the founder of Sociology, made his argument for the discipline through his research on suicide. I’m not sure why, but it made me feel a little bit better. This is a tough topic to delve into on an emotional level, for sure; but, intellectually, it is mind-boggling.

Anyhow, here are some other tidbits of intel that were interesting to me. One out of five or six people leave a note of some kind. China is the only major country in the world where men and women die by their hand in equal numbers. Hungary has the highest death rate per capita of any country. Nevada has the highest number in the states. There’s a reason the term ‘Blue Monday’ took hold – it is the day that most people kill themselves. Mornings are the most common time of day.

Once suicide occurs in a family, it is assumed that it becomes a known option of death. This may account for the fact that family members who have lost a loved one to suicide are eight times more likely to kill themselves.

Lastly, have you noticed a word that has been missing throughout this post? Turns of phrase like, ‘died by their own hand,’ ‘died by suicide,’ and ‘killed themselves’ are designed to remove the common phrase ‘committed suicide.’ That is a turn of phrase that I have always had a hard time with and one I’m happy to kick to the curb.

Why’s that, Chris? Well, I’m glad you asked!

It makes it as if my father or any other person who took their own life was a criminal, like ‘he committed a crime.’ Well, he died. Whether it was impulsive or after years of manic depressive tendencies or hospital treatment for a chemical imbalance, it doesn’t matter to me. That is how he died, and though it is a tragedy, it is not a crime. I refuse to lump my dad into that. I’m much more interested in how our society enabled his mental health issues to go untreated in 1981, let alone how the 41,149 others who took their lives in 2013, the last year we have the reported numbers. 

After all, ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Their death is a tragedy, not a crime.

On that, let’s talk about depression.

Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from some form of major depression. If we were to include alcoholics who are depressed into this picture, we’re looking at over 75 percent. We know that 25 million people suffer from depression each year. That’s more than the number who suffer from coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses, with 80 to 90 percent of people responding positively to treatment. 

If you or a loved one is in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you’ll be connected with a trained counselor. They can also connect you to mental health services in your area.  The line is available 24/7 and is for people in crisis and those who support people in crisis.

Numbers from fact sheets via American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and World Health Organization, as well as George Howe Holt's tome November of the Soul, The Enigma of Suicide.

Also, a coalition of groups recently released a fantastic resource, Reporting on Suicide, with a host of clear recommendations on how to write and report on suicide. 

And, if you want to have a listen to some of this, here you go 

Powerful Video to Support Survivors of Suicide

Last year, before I started the project, I reached out to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for advice. Serendipitously, I met with Eric Marcus and his colleagues who work to support survivors of suicide, people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Eric and his team were very supportive and thoughtful about my project, and some of the men I met were directly through their outreach support. At the time of our meeting, they were also excited about a video documentary they were making for Survivors Day. I can see why. 

Please note: The film is appropriate for most middle and high school–aged children to watch with a guardian.  It is not intended for children under 12, or for children or adolescents who are currently struggling or suicidal.  Guardians, please use your best judgment when deciding whether to let those in your care view the film.

To watch with English, Spanish, French, Danish, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, or Traditional Chinese subtitles, click the CC button in the right-hand corner of the “Play” bar.

Visit AFSP to learn more.

An Update - One Year Later - Fathers Day

Hello friend,

A year ago today I launched Fatherless by Suicide and asked for your support in order to meet with men who have also lost their fathers to suicide. Thanks to you and other generous folks, I met with men across the country who afforded me the liberty to record and share their stories.

I'm excited to share what I heard and some of my experience along the way. Though I was planning to launch the first podcast over Fathers Day weekend, I've decided to launch the podcast in early September, on the anniversary of my dad's death - September 9th, which, ironically, is the day before World Suicide Prevention Day.

Tomorrow, I fly to Budapest for work, which is a city that has long-held one of the highest rates of death by suicide in the world. I'm not going there for the project, but I'm bringing my recorder along just in case - surprisingly, I continue to encounter other men whose fathers died by their own hand and have impromptu conversations about their experience of fatherloss.

For now, I wanted to write a quick note to express my appreciation for all of your support, and to share this update and keep you apprised of project developments.

Next weekend is Fathers Day and I'm guessing many of you are preparing in some way to celebrate the father in your life. For those whose fathers are no longer with us, I hope there are many memories you have to marinate on and that they tickle your heart.

For me, I'm reminded of when my first interviewee, Justin Pace, told of his experience celebrating his mother during Fathers Day growing up without a father figure. It resonated with me then as we talked on a hot summer morning in New York City nearly a year ago, and it still resonates with me now. Have a listen below, and I look forward to sharing more from Justin and the other inspiring men I met with you in a few short weeks...

Lastly, not many of you know, but my mom has had a few surgeries over these past weeks. The latest was on Monday to remove breast cancer. I've been fortunate enough to be with her and be inspired by her resolve. She's recovering well and her dream-team of doctors are confident that they removed that unwanted, shitty guest from her body. They are awaiting the full pathology to determine how long she'll be receiving radiation treatment, but it certainly is not how she was planning to spend her first full summer after her deserved retirement.

Please keep her in your thoughts and well wishes during this time.

All my best,

Chris

The Thawing of All the Things

I recently looked up the definition for thaw. The word has been on my mind recently.

You see, I live in Maine now and I have time and the scenery to think about these things more easily. I love it here. This is my third time living in Maine, but first time living through a winter or waking with the sun rising on the sea – often frozen sea.

This winter has been a record one for snow. Oldtimers tell me it is one of the worst they’ve experienced – or best, depending on your outlook. I have grown to embrace the snow, the solitude and the seasons.

Yesterday, I was having a picnic on a floating barge in the harbor. The sun was hot – hot! – something I hadn’t felt on my face since November. The ducks were dancing and the birds were singing spring. It was lovely and picturesque.

It was there and then, while bobbing in the harbor and eating a donut, that my mind returned to the importance of thawing.

A few weeks before I was on that same barge moving side-to-side in order to break the frozen sea apart so I could hear the crackle of the saltwater. Spring felt forever away.

The thaw is all around me now, but it is also within me. I will not try to crystallize how I’ve been feeling about the project and what these past few months have been like as I’ve re-listened to all of the gracious, thoughtful men I had interviewed and my own audio diaries, but I will say: the seasons have been within me as well.

When I stared this project, I wanted to break some of the ice around my own heart and get into the dark places that I had avoided. I have. I am.

As I listen back to these heart-expanding interviews, I’m reminded of how tentative and nervous I was. I knew I needed to embark on this journey, but I had no idea what it would yield. As I rode more miles, met more men and made my way west, I could feel the shifts within me. They were tectonic at times and often threw me for emotional loops. They have all been for the best, but certainly not always easy.

As part of the thawing around me, the buds on the trees are making their presence known. The streams are making their way to rivers. The sap is flowing. The seeds are being gathered and plots prepared.

As part of the thawing within me, I’m editing all of the interviews with these courageous voices and starting to fine-tune my own. Some days are good, and some are exhausting. This is how all good things come to be, I’m reminding myself. This is what it takes. You gotta till the soil to get the goods.

Enough with the metaphors, but damn: I love them.

I wanted to give an update and and say thanks for all of your continued support. Many of you have reached out to check-in and see how I’m doing and asking about the project and how it and I am coming along.

I’ve edited eleven interviews and I am still hoping to do more. My plan is to launch a podcast for the project. I’m debating on the name; so, if you have suggestions, please send them!

Each episode will feature one of the men I’ve had the privilege to interview, their story and some of my reflections. I also plan to interweave stories from the road – both across the country and along my own interstate of grief and loss.

I will launch the first few episodes on Fathers Day. It will be a year after I launched the Kickstarter project that so many of you shared and generously supported.

Moving forward, I will work to write more updates. For now, I’m going to keep working on the project and taking these picnic breaks in the sun to listen to and appreciate what I’m calling, ‘the thaw of 2015.’

Happy thawing and springing,

Chris

Miraculously, We Made It to the Bay - Celebrate With Me

What's your favorite invention?

This is a question I have often asked over the past decade while facilitating workshops or gatherings for human rights activists. My answer always varied based upon my mood, but ultimately steered towards coffee production as an homage to my elixir of choice. But after yesterday, I think I will always choose duct tape.

During my last 300 miles, my burgeoning MacGyver skills, a few tiny wires and shreds of duct tape were holding my clutch cable together. Not a good scenario, and admittingly, not the wisest of moves. Before I set out, I debated between being land-locked in rural California waiting for a part to ship, or pushing forward for the last stretch and trusting in my bike, the Gods and Goddesses of the open road and all the guardians who seem to be helping me along this journey. I thought about it, and I decided to go for it. Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, I'm happy to report that it worked out. Yesterday, as light rain helped coat this drought-ridden Californian soil, I pulled safely into the Bay Area and into the arms of a few of my dearest friends.

These past few weeks have been incredibly rewarding, trying and inspiring. This short update is to let you know that we've crossed a significant milestone: My bike and I made it across the United States! I feel a bit like this:

Good to be back amongst the giants

Good to be back amongst the giants

As I type, I'm writing-out the long list-out of 'to-do's' and starting the logistic dance that will be my next few weeks and months. (Good news for everyone nearby, I'm starting with laundry.)

However, for now, I'm feeling fantastic and full of gratitude for everyone that has helped ensure this project could get off the ground and my bike and I moved safely across the winding black slab of concrete that webs its way through our exceptional country.

I wish I could contact each of you directly, but please accept this brief update and gratitude note as a consolation for now. Specifically, a huge thanks to all of the donors who've invested generously in this project, those who've spread the word and all of your thoughtful emails and notes of support. A massive appreciation for all of the exceptionally thoughtful friends who've hosted me over the past three months. Without you, this period would of been much more trying and exhausting and a whole lot more boring - and much more expensive (over the past three months, I've only paid for two nights in a motel and one depressing night in an RV Park).

Most importantly, a huge thanks to the men I've had the pleasure to speak with and learn from. I'm looking forward to sharing their stories, insights and perspectives with you. I've learned so much from them and continue to grow in ways I wasn't able to foresee, and I believe once you hear them, you will as well.

To be clear, the project is far from complete - I am looking forward to doing two more interviews while I'm here in the Bay Area, and I will be heading back East to do some work and conduct a few more interviews there as well. Currently, I'm planning on doing more outreach over the Fall and working my way through the South in the Winter to meet with more men and further expand the project's diversity of voices and insights.

Though, today - right now - this is a noteworthy moment!

This is a great milestone and one that inspires pause and reflection...and celebration. Please take a moment to mark this great start to this project and a safe, adventure-rich and inspiring journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific and over the 12,000-foot Independence Pass in Colorado, down below sea level into Death Valley and then rising-up through it to the trunks of the largest trees in the world. My emotions and mind have had an equally rich series of twists, turns and ups and downs.

I look forward to sharing more details on what's happened and what my plans are for the project, but for now: A big thanks, a hug and a high five.

Oh, and though I'm in the Bay amongst the sea of orange and black, Go Royals! If you're here as well, come on by Amnesia on Valencia at 19th street tonight after the game to hear my favorite Bay Area band, Gaucho, and find me for a hug and a dance.

Aspens in Aspen seem apt to share.

Aspens in Aspen seem apt to share.

Attempting to Summit

It is a warm, fall day here in Boulder, Colorado. I just finished my tenth interview, which came together thru a series of serendipitous events. Again. 

My conversation with Doug was heart and mind-expanding. His courageous, thoughtful and creative approach to navigating his father's death and how to heal through delving into his emotions - going directly into the 'dark forested path,' as he referred to it, has inspired me on many levels. (Update: If you're in the New York City area, please go and support Doug's play, A Day for Grace - tickets here).

image.jpg

I look forward to writing more on our conversation and sharing more about his work soon. For now, this is my view of the Rockies right after our interview. An inspirational conversation and apt view to soak it in with.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to enter and cross them. Weather looks like it is on my bike and I's side. Please send all the good thoughts and wishes you can muster our way. They're felt and make a difference. 

Look forward to an update from the other side.  

 

Visiting Where My Father Grew Up and Where He Took His Life

Though I love being from Kansas and strongly identify as a Kansan, it has been a while since I've been back. Over the past week, I've been reconnecting with my former hometown, Lawrence, and my dear, old friends and surrogate families who are still in the region. It has been glorious - lovely reunions, home-cooked meals, late-night talks of love, life and what it is like to embrace the edges of both. 

However, I wasn't planning on being here yet. As I was mapping out my route, I was hoping to head North through the Dakotas and into Montana and come-back through Kansas after I had done more of the project; after I had talked to more men and felt 'more prepared' to go to Wichita. 

Throughout my life, I have experienced a wide range of personal ups and downs in Wichita. My parents' life and love started here; therefore, I did. It is where I played with my cousins and got to know my family. It is where my father killed himself.  It is where I fell head over heels over a woman who both expanded and broke my heart. Let's just say, it is a loaded zip code for me and one that has been delicate for me to revisit. I always want it to be 'the right time' and never feel it is.

Well, sometimes you choose timing, and sometimes it chooses you. With the mechanical headaches of late, it became apparent I couldn't go North as I had hoped. It became increasingly clear that now was the time to return to my homeland. For better or worse, winter was making its presence known in the mountains and so it was time to head South and to explore how I would answer some of the questions I ask of the men who participate in this project.

As I type, I'm in an old haunt that I used to visit here with my uncle and godfather. Aptly named 'The Vagabond,' it seems appropriate that I take my first stab at sharing what the past 48 hours have yielded for me. I hope to edit this down and make it more cogent when my heart and mind are less jumbled, but ultimately I just need to capture some of the rawness of what I feel before it escapes me. 

Brace yourself, dear reader: Some of what I'll get into in the following lines may be troubling for you.

You see, my mom always told me how my father died, and I'm grateful for that. From three years old, I spoke of how he took his life when people asked. Ever since then, I've been trying to understand why, what happened and what the details - the facts - were. I've also been trying to learn about who he was as a person, how he grew up and who he was trying to become.

Often when my mom and I would visit Wichita, some three hours away from where I grew up, we would stop at three key spots: Her parents' house, my uncle's house and my father's grave. As I got older, we went less and less to the grave. Not intentionally or to hide who was interned there or memories, but because, for me, it didn't seem necessary. Most pointedly for me, I really dislike being there - his ashes reside in a poorly-lit, stale mausoleum across from Wichita State University's football stadium. Not the most inviting place for me to pause, reflect and do whatever else I'm supposed to do there.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I recall my mom and I talking about where he died. Over the years she would give me more details of my father, his greatness and his shortcomings. She would share age-appropriate information. Eventually, we talked of exactly where he died and she drove me to my father's family's house and pointed-out the room he killed himself in.

From then on, this became an essential stop for me on my Wichita trip. I would often go alone and not tell anyone. I would park across the street and stare, knowing his father was inside and maybe some relatives. My kin, if you will. (I won't go into that tumultuous relationship here.)

When I was 25 or so, I met his father, my biological grandfather, and my aunt. It was a fall day and my uncle drove me to their house and dropped me off. That visit was our only meeting and it wasn't pretty. We fumbled through attempts at pleasantries and they didn't land well. I opted to just go to the room where he died and tried to 'connect' with him there. I was so flustered by the conversation I had with his father in the living room moments before that I couldn't shake my anger. What I hoped to be a moment of deep resonance, of profound love and clarity of some kind, was a big fat dud. I left with a sour taste in my mouth and felt more disconnected and confused than ever. 

Ten or so years later, my grandfather has since passed and there is a new family in their house. It is located in a historic area of Wichita - full of expansive homes with a noteworthy breadth of architecture. I thought of the house and realized it must of changed ownership as I rode through Kansas. Somewhere in the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, I made a commitment to myself to do all I could to get into the house - try to return to the room where my father took his last breath.

So, yesterday I went by the house and saw a woman in the backyard raking up leaves. While I turned-off my bike, I turned-on my charm and approached the fence with an ear-to-ear grin. I harnessed all of my Kansan, good 'ol boy-self and the manners my mom instilled to connect with the current tenant. We made small talk and I told her that I had played as a kid at the house and would appreciate the chance to look around. Miraculously, she loved the idea and invited me in. 

She gave me the overview of her remodeling efforts and how the weeds and poison ivy attacked her skin as she worked to expand her garden. The conversation turned to the history of the house and over the next 20 minutes I played Bob Villa, asking thoughtful, open-ended questions as best I could. She generously answered and would happily elaborate. 

As she gave me a tour, I bifurcated my experience. My analytical self was placating the conversation as needed. Populating appropriate questions with dashes of charm to keep her going. Meanwhile, my heart was getting heavier swiftly sinking. The lump was raising in my throat. I walked slowly, forcing us to move gently, methodically through the house. I took a few photos and commented on what seemed like nice, new enhancements. 

Throughout, I had one room in mind: The furthest Northeast bedroom. 

As we climbed the stairs, we turned down the hall and though cluttered, something sunk in me. I began to realize how this was the hall that my father went up and down, searching for a gun in the house the night before he took his life. I shuffled my feet through this hallway, thinking of my father's state of mind. What he must of been thinking as he checked from room to room to find the gun he knew his sister had recently got. A treasure hunt that would yield his death.

The room where my father took his life. So surreal to type that...

The room where my father took his life. So surreal to type that...

Once we got to the end of the hall, I knew I was in the room. Though the carpet was gone and the furniture was different, I knew this was it. My body started feeling heavier and heavier. My eyes itched. My heart raced. My palms got sweaty. I could feel the cold sweat on my spine. This is shit that I don't feel, even when speaking in front of thousands of people. This was new for me. This was scary for me. 

My guide talked of tearing down walls and expanding this and that. I nodded and smiled. "Just keep her going," I thought to myself.

She did and I went further inward. I took a deep breath and imagined my father there through the night. When did he find the gun? Was it loaded? Did he load it? Did he hold it through the night? Hide it under his pillow? Did he sleep? Did he try pulling the trigger without bullets in it? Did he put it to his head? In his mouth? How long did he hold it there? How many times? Was he wishing we were there so he could take us with him as he had originally planned?

I knew what he ultimately did, but what the fuck was he thinking?! What was his process and how close did he come to faltering? Did he come close to throwing the gun out the window or the ammo down the drain?

"Well, we're thinking of painting this wall here," she said. I jolted back to reality. I was breathing heavily and felt like a blob - I thought of morphing into a gross, green, slimy blob like Chet from the movie, Weird Science.

My mind was all over the place and then I got lucid. It happened when I looked out the windows.

I asked her again about the garden. As she gave me a play-by-play of her hopes for tomatoes, I realized that these four walls, this ceiling, this floor were likely my father's last view. I wasn't sure which one it was and then I looked out of the East-facing window. I hoped that was his last view. On a September morning 33 years ago, he took his life and right there. I was standing in the room where he last stood.

Standing as his offspring, who is often told that I look like him, I reflected on how I have explored this earth longer and much more than he did. There I was, standing looking East and hoping 33 years ago he was watching the sunrise when he pulled the trigger. Hoping he had some brightness to help illuminate the darkest of dark places that anyone can go.

I took photos out of the windows and will cherish them forever. Regardless of where he ultimately pulled the trigger and died, I will carry-forward the hope he had the sunrise to go out to.  I just wish he had more strength or capacity to watch and marvel in it, not go towards it.

Likely my father's last view.

Likely my father's last view.

Before I knew it, she was showing me the bathroom and I was outside meeting her husband and five dogs. Everything after that room was a blur, but a necessary experience. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity and I hope they never know about my father and his death. I hope they paint those four walls radiant of shades and grow copious amounts of tomatoes. I hope children are conceived in that room. That an opus is recorded there. That miracles happen there. I hope that there is nothing but light there, because my dad isn't there and my memory of him and what I will carry forward isn't either. I'm grateful for the clarity that our serendipitous tour enabled. 

When were were outside, I asked her husband to snap a picture of me in front of the house. I wanted to it to be a hypothetical one of me and my father, as if I were returning there with him to have a pleasant stroll down memory lane with him and afterwards we were taking a happy, father-son photo.

He would be 65 now. Maybe a fantastic father. Maybe a miserable bastard. Maybe retired. Maybe my business partner. Maybe we would have just worked out some of these damn kinks in my motorcycle. 

All I've lived with since he took his life is a never-ending series of questions and 'maybes.' Something about being there, in the room he died in, and having that experience further quiets all of the the 'maybes' and helps me embrace the realities.

While I'm on the topic of reality checks, I just went to the Sedgwick County Clerk's Office and retrieved my father's autopsy report. I've been in some surreal bureaucratic experiences, but waiting for your father's autopsy to clarify how many times he shot himself certainly tops my list. 

After a 20-minute wait starring at the American flag, the clerk found it on an old microfiche slide. She printed me a copy. I payed $2.75 and learned that my father shot himself three times, not five, in the chest. The first shot was on his right side, away from the heart. His second shots went straight through the heart - 42 and 43 centimeters from his heel.

I've now have seven certified pages of facts on the ins and outs of how my father died. For a moment, I wished there were other offices I could visit to capture clarity to other questions I have. Then I didn't. 

There are no more answers I'm going to get from anyone else. The only answers I'm going to get - and should focus on - is how I want to more fully embrace my own life. 

I tucked the autopsy report in my jacket, started up my bike and gave thanks to my father for giving me life and said to him via the ether that I'm sorry he got to the place where he felt the only option was to take his own. 

Then I headed West to get a better view of an exceptional Great Plains' sunset.

 

 

Serendipity Strikes: The Kindest Motorcycle Surgeon Rescues Me

Sure, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Over the years, I’ve tinkered a bit, which usually went something like me poking and prodding around until I had to tow my bike to a notoriously gruff mechanic in Brooklyn and pay him out of my ears to get me out of the trouble I got myself deeper in. Over the past decade, I’ve had two motorcycles and knew virtually nothing about them or bikes in general. That was until the proverbial shit hit the fan yesterday.

Before I delve into that saga, let’s start with Mingus - the first motorcycle I had. He came to me like a miraculous gift from the heavens. I was in Goa, India, after working two weeks outside of Bangalore at the InfoActivism Camp. The Camp was a seminal event in my professional and personal life. It was a gathering of 150 human rights activists, lawyers, technologists, creatives and some of the most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. We shared tips and tactics to enhance our human rights campaigns, camped in tents and took over an old, abandoned hotel that once held the Miss Universe Pageant and made it our playpin of idea and skill sharing. It was surreal on many levels, and the first and only place where I had rats climb over my forehead at night.  

Here's Mingus and I after a long day. I wore that blue-fringe tuxedo shirt everyday. It and the mustache helped mitigate the excessive request for bribes. Usually. 

Here's Mingus and I after a long day. I wore that blue-fringe tuxedo shirt everyday. It and the mustache helped mitigate the excessive request for bribes. Usually. 

After the Camp, I headed to the coast to meet with friends in Goa and then join Bergen, one of my dearest friends, to join him for a month riding motorcycles throughout Southern India. A daydream that had been with me since I was a teenager, but one that required me to find someone to buy a Royal Enfield off of within two days.

My generous hosts in India introduced me to Gregor, an exceptionally attractive Frenchman who had opened up one of the fanciest restaurants in the area. Goa is infamous for how its lush tropics and rolling hills meet some of the prettiest beaches in South Asia. It is a mix of rich indigenous culture with dropped-out hippies. When I was there, it had just hit full-stride with the drum and bass clubs and organic juice bars. A predictable development. 

I met Gregor during our dinner and asked him if he knew anyone who had a motorcycle they would rent or sell me for the journey. He just so happened to have had his second child and his wife was not keen on him riding his bikes anymore. To make the situation sweeter for me, he had found an old, beaten-up and rusted Enfield under a tree in the countryside and spent the better part of the year restoring it.

After copious amounts of cloudy French liquor, he agreed to sleep on my offer to buy his bike and promised me he would have an answer in the morning. The next day, I meandered down the overgrown path to find him with his rusty, yellow Enfield and a key for me. With a 25-liter tank, its 350cc engine looked like the largest Harley you would find in Asia. It was a beast.

I jumped on the bike and took it for a spin with my buddy Bergen in-tow. It rode beautifully and after a delicate negotiation, he agreed to sell me the bike with assurances I would pass it on to a local human rights organization that would grant him access to it as he desired – or as his wife would allow him. With that, Bergen and I were off the next morning and had one of the most rewarding and inspiring adventures I’ve had. Throughout, Mingus – which I named for its beautiful, exceptional timing like the great legend, Charles Mingus – never gave me an issue. I rode it for six weeks without even a mechanical hiccup.

Mingus spoiled me silly and I had hoped all bikes would be as stable, kind and classy as it. Sadly, that hasn't been the case and my current bike is teaching me the hard-won lessons of motorcycle ownership and maintenance. I’m still trying hard to get Zen about it.

Fast-forward six years and a few thousand dlollars later, I’ve got my current bike. Unnamed but incredibly loved, s/he has tested me for four years, but never more than the past few weeks.

I have always loved the look and feel of old BMW bikes. I swore to myself that I would get one when I had enough money. When I did, I jumped head-first in the murky water of vintage motorcycle ownership. While living in Brooklyn, I bought my bike from a middle-age banker who needed to offload his 1979 BMW R65.

Over the years, it has survived two hurricanes, a few tip-overs in New York City and the pothole-riddled streets of Brooklyn. The bike was conceived when I was, and I always thought that was a romantic notion, never more so when I embarked on this project connecting with other men who lost their fathers to suicide. There are many reasons why I chose to motorcycle cross-country to meet and interview these generous, courageous men. Mainly, I love riding bikes, love the diversity and splendor of the United States and I figured riding would help me clear my head after each interview so I could better reflect and retain insights that I would gain from the conversations.

Well, that was the romantic notion and hasn't been the reality of late. These past few weeks have been exhausting. Cracked mufflers breaking off in Canada, parts flying off on the highway, wiring breaking, fuses exploding and a failure to start have all been part of the journey. However, nothing compares to the most recent challenge: The bike dying on me randomly. Often.

As I made my way from my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, to Wichita, the issues got worse. It felt like everything was coming to a head. As I was trying to mentally and emotionally prepare for visiting my family, paying respects to my father’s grave and hopefully getting the chance to get into the room where he actually took his life, all I could do was pray my bike would make it the next 10 feet.

So, yesterday morning I was riding to the house where my mother grew up so I could go down memory lane. On my way there my bike sputtered and died. Again. I pulled over and tried to adjust what I knew and got it starting again, but only for a few minutes. As I was tinkering and praying to the gods of metal, oil and grease, a man pulled up beside me on a gorgeous, new BMW. Chuck introduced himself asked if I need help. I begged him to tell me there was a good BMW garage in town. He told me not within 150 miles, but that I may be in luck.

He told me how there was a weekly breakfast gathering of BMW motorcycle enthusiasts the following morning and that was my best bet at getting help. He gave me his phone number, the address and wished me luck. I got my bike started again and continued on memory lane. Slowly.

This morning I showed up at Riverside Café in Wichita to find a table of mostly retired motorcycle lovers. They jumped right in, eager to help me as a Kansas boy who has returned from New York and was trying to get back on the road. One particularly generous soul made a few calls within minutes and got ahold of Tom Gard, the man who saved my bike and kept me and this project rolling.

Hours later I rolled-up to Gard’s house in north Wichita. He invited me to ride my bike back to his garage and let his adorable dog lick my hand until it was raw. When he opened his garage gates, it was like he opened the gates of motorcycle heaven. Inside, he had a mechanic’s wet dream of an operation. Lifts, drills, welding equipment and more tools than Ace Hardware. This man was the real deal and as he inspected my bike with genuine zeal and curiosity, he transformed from a mere mortal to a genuine Saint.

Saint Gard in his sanctuary.

Saint Gard in his sanctuary.

Over the next five hours, Saint Gard performed a series of miracles on my bike and gave me the education I had craved for. As I looked over his broad shoulders, I was in awe of his confidence, agility and wisdom. We started with taking apart, cleaning and re-tooling my distributor and ended with re-setting all of my valves and carburetors. Along the way, he explained everything to me and let me jump in with him as best I could.

The surgeon's set-up.

The surgeon's set-up.

I went in with a bike that couldn’t keep its fire and felt like it was on its last leg and bringing me and the project down with it. Five hours later, I left with a powerful, humming engine that had been reborn. Though it may be commonplace for Saint Gard, for me, I witnessed a miracle. In addition, I had one of the most beautiful affirmations of human kindness and tenderness.

When we were done, I was spellbound and speechless. I was overwhelmed by Gard’s thoughtfulness, openness and commitment to getting me back on the road. Along the way, he taught me more about bikes and how to learn the feel of my own bike more than I could of imagined. I used tools that I didn’t know existed and he helped me find the courage to continue on, but now I would be taking more informed risks. Most importantly, Saint Gard gave me a great dose of that older, male energy and wisdom that I have been craving for decades.

I’m grateful for Chuck stopping to check on me when I was broken down and for inviting me to the most fortuitous breakfast I’ve had on the trip. I’m grateful for Bill for jumping right in and calling Tom Gard – and for picking up my breakfast tab. I’m grateful for Saint Tom Gard for him simply being him and for giving me more gifts than I can adequately articulate. Ultimately, I’m grateful for all the support that enables me to be on this journey – from the kind words, emotional support and financial backing that keeps fuel in all of my respective tanks so I and this project can keep rolling forward.

Me and Saint Gard

Me and Saint Gard

I’m back on the road, heading to Denver on Friday, and riding with a bigger grin, recharged mind, body and bike. Here’s to the road and where it will take me, this project and who will enhance us on the journey…

 

 

Riding Back to Kansas in Style

While here in Columbus, Ohio with my friend Todd and his wife Genevieve, I've eaten exceptionally well, slept in a proper bed with those crisp linens that make you feel like royalty when you get in them and played with power tools. A great trifecta. 

After my muffler cracked off Lake Erie in Canada, I got to Detroit and found worse roads then I had experienced then when I rode through Southern India on my Royal Enfield, Mingus. One of the hundreds of fierce, aggressive potholes in Detroit took an important plastic cover off my bike with it and left my fuse box exposed. Not wanting to blow another fuse or deal with more wiring issues from rain or snow, I turned to Todd for help.

I was in the right place. Todd is a woodworker who knows his way with the grain. He has a big workshop, leftover wood and the all-mighty Dremel Tool. We traced-out my two favorite creatures and spirit animals of sorts: The Kansas Jayhawk and the Seahorse. Throughout my life I've found joy in solace in both. 

Being a fan of the Jayhawk was inevitable growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, the birthplace and home of The University of Kansas and its mythical mascot. As a kid I would give high-fives to the life-size Jayhawk at games, who must of been a Freshman on the verge of heat stroke most of the time, and wear it proudly. 

Here is a great overview of the evolution of the Jayhawk. Don't worry, I won't go too much longer on my shoebox of love for the Jayhawk, but take a look. I'm partial to the 1912, dapper-J who's got some sweet shoes and cute grin. The Depression-Era Hawk is looking rough, but the 1941 Jayhawk, the WW2, "Don't F*CK With Me" Hawk juxtaposed with the post-war, happy Hawk is pretty interesting to me. Seeing how the zeitgeist was embodied in the design of a mascot. 

Anyhow, we got the wood and power tools out, mapped-out new covers for my bike and clamped them on with some dense foam behind to keep the wood from rattling and also help keep that pesky rain and dampness from getting to my fuse box. On the right-side of my bike, you'll see this

Jayhawk-bike

On the left-side of the bike, and then one that I approach to get on, I put my spirit-animal of sorts, the Seahorse. I've always loved the grace and agility of the seahorse and have spent many hours transfixed in front of aquariums admiring them. Over the years, and I'm not sure when or how this developed, I began shift my mind to the floating seahorse with its itsy-bitsy fins on its back, gliding through the sea when I was stressed or needed to recalibrate my thoughts. 

With that, I decided to etch-in a Seahorse, but add a fun twist: A Unicorn's horn. This was my first attempt at the Dremel Tool and it got a bit rowdy, but here you'll see the great UniSeahorse!

And here's me and my great friend Todd, who is opening Acre, what will be a most exceptional Farm-to-Table-to-Go restaurant in Columbus. Please stop by, say hello and get nourished when you're in the area.

Motorcycle Camping and Invading a Formidable Canadian Tick Castle in the Rain

- Detroit, Michigan -

The last 48 hours have yielded a range of highs and lows; like being on an old, loud wooden rollercoaster. Or, on my bike.

After I replaced my clutch cable, sorted a few electrical problems, and adjusted my idle and carburetors, I felt I was making progress. Great progress for me as I was finally getting over my fear of tinkering with my bike. You see, I've been fumbling along, not fully embracing the opportunity to learn more about my bike and I knew this trip would help set me on the necessary track to get over some fears and get a handle on something I've always wanted to know more about. 

On my list of, 'What I Wish My Dad Taught Me,' learning the ins and outs of cars and bikes makes the Top 20. I drempt of passing greasy tools back and forth, talking of fuel lines, enhancing performance and other such things mechanical folks speak of. So, I thought this trip would force the issue a bit and I would hopefully pass down my own hard-won lessons to my (hopefully future) son or daughter, if they fancied it. 

Well, any of the positive feeling I had of making healthy strides got a blow to the gut when I saw that my muffler had cracked and was barely holding on by two centimeters of chrome. Not good. Especially not good when you're 30 miles away from the nearest stoplight. In rural Canada.Surrounded by skunk road kill. 

That was my morning yesterday. It looked a bit like this. 

image.jpg

The night before I camped on the Canadian coast of Lake Erie after seeing the raging Niagara Falls, watching the throngs of plastic poncho-wearing tourists get drenched and processing my last interview in Vermont. 

My conversation with Max was really moving and insightful. After his father died, he read for a few weeks straight all that he could about suicide and shared some pearls he found useful in processing his father's death. We talked of the method our fathers chose to take their lives (like most men who die by suicide, guns) and inferred what that said about them and what he'd read about that. This is something I had wanted to talk more about but hadn't. It was good for me and I was grateful he brought it up and opened up about his own thoughts, feelings and perspective. 

Anyhow, aspects of our dialogue kept spinning in my head during a few long rides and as I pulled into a desolate campground, hoping to make camp before the fast-approaching rain hit me. Again.

I found a dreamy campsite - willow trees providing extra rain cover and a nice fire pit. I set up my tent with a smile, whistling Van Morrison's 'Domino' and when I returned to my bag I found hundreds of ticks -HUNDREDS. 

Campsite 5 was an inhabited tick castle and I was an intruder they knew how to deal with. Within seconds I shook out, stamped out and beat down as many ticks as possible. It was war and all I could think about was John Goodman in 'Arachnophobia' and winning this war with a grin. 

But, I didn't win. I'd like to think of it as a draw. Regardless, I was reminded of how nature always wins. Always.

Smartly, I retreated to Site 7 and re-set up my camp as the first drizzle fell. It was my third day of cold rain and bone chill. I had had enough and needed some semblance of warmth. Immediately. 

I got on my bike and headed to the park store to get wood - the only store within 20 miles. It was closed, and wasn't opening for four days. I could see my saving grace: Dry firewood in a barb-wired, eight-foot gate. 

I climbed it like a wet cat being chased by a one-eyed junkyard dog named Brutus. Once inside, I assembled a small stash to give me warmth for the night, threw it over the fence and returned to camp to make a fire in the rain. It was glorious and gave me the warmth I needed to help me tuck-in for a long night of cold, windy rain. 

image.jpg

As I type, I'm in an adorable cafe in Detroit praying that my friendly mechanic can create a patch of wonder to hold my muffler on and keep me on the road (and save hundreds of dollars and days of waiting). 

While l'm here, I'm hoping to explore Detroit with old friends and have an interview with Fox TV here about my project and to support Detroits's branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with their annual walk to help raise awareness about suicide prevention on the 21st. 

Please send good thoughts to my mechanic and the organizers of the walk! I'll report back.

 

 

Ithaca to Niagara Falls to Detroit

Just a quick update from the road after leaving New York, seeing Niagara Falls and making my way through Canada to Detroit. I'm in one piece, but my bike isn't. I'm still sporting a smile, especially while I have a bunch of kids behind me giggling at getting sprayed by the mighty falls. (Oh, no doubt that the Canadians have a better view of the falls.)

After a few long, cold days of riding in Northern New York, I made it to Niagara Falls and watched the throngs of tourists get sprayed and giggle.

After a few long, cold days of riding in Northern New York, I made it to Niagara Falls and watched the throngs of tourists get sprayed and giggle.

The Anniversary of My Father’s Death, My Mother’s Resilience and the Quest for Buoyancy

Greetings from misty Montpellier, Vermont. I’ve just left Maine after two glorious weeks of packed days and nights. After my fifth visit, I’ve come to refer to the Camden area as my ‘Bermuda Triangle of Happiness.’ When I’m there, great things happen and I feel more alive and buoyant – I am on a perpetual quest of feeling buoyant, which feels like an apt endeavor now more than ever.

 

Anyhow, I wasn’t planning on staying for such a long time. I arrived after a completing my sixth interview and my seventh, which was scheduled for Maine, had a family commitment and he had to cancel. I knew some of the men would cancel, but this was the first and it shook me a bit.

A few days before, I had back-to-back interviews that I found quite moving and I felt like I was in a great rhythm with the pace and flow of the interviews. I was also just starting to swiftly troubleshoot technical hurdles and had altered the flow of my questions that I start and end each interview with. It felt I was embarking on a golden era of the project.

Then it didn’t.

As I was pulling out of the gravel drive of the loveliest cottage I’ve stayed in, my clutch cable broke. Fitting timing on many levels: I had just read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and had an opportunity to rub elbows with some serious mechanics and BMW Motorcycle enthusiasts at the annual Owl’s Head Transportation Museum’s Antique Motorcycle Show. While there I picked the mechanically inclined brains of some thoughtful men with inspiring facial hair and felt the bike was in a great shape. Sadly, it* had a surprise (*my bike, though loved, is still missing its name).

Despite this setback, timing couldn’t have been better. I got to stay for a dear friend’s epicurean birthday brunch and over wild blueberry pie I learned that his father had replaced his own clutch cable just two days ago on his 1981 BMW Airhead. Over coffee he gave me a quick tutorial and helped me get the necessary parts. To sweeten the affair, he invited me to join him to bake pies on an old schooner, the Isaac H Evans, for four days and nights of sailing around the islands of mid-coast Maine. While my replacement parts shipped, I shipped out to sea with a fantastic crew and 15 knitters for their annual knitting cruise. The quota of adorable was off the charts.

While at sea, I had long, bone-chilling swims in the north Atlantic, saw stars on stars and stared meditatively at the oceanic horizon. The extra time allowed me to reflect on my interviews thus far and each of the six participants’ faces and words weaved in and out of my mind. Now I can see how the clutch cable breakdown was a gift to the project and me.

Before I got to Maine I had experienced my most difficult interview. When I returned to meet my oldest friend and trusted confidant, she helped me by comparing my process with hers as an academic, researcher and writer by noting that I was in the ‘data gathering stage,’ not the time to analyze and draw conclusions. Her sage advice resonated then and especially took hold while I was on the schooner. Instead of trying to find ‘patterns’ or deduce the ‘common themes’ or other analytical endeavors which I’m prone to do, I just focused on how connecting with these other men, hearing their stories, learning from their experiences and seeing some of them cry, some of them laugh and some of the embrace their anger and frustration was helping me to feel and breathe into my own emotions around my father’s death.

From the get-go I knew this project would be a bit selfish and its structure would keep me tethered to my own process. Each interview would help me see a new angle on my own loss and probably see some new areas of strength that I hadn’t appreciated – from my mom, friends and even myself.

There are many reasons why I wanted to go cross-country to meet these courageous men who would join me for this emotional dance and discussion on fatherloss by suicde, but traversing the country via my motorcycle – which was built the same year I was conceived –would add an extra strong dose of embracing the moment. When my bike broke down, I had to get down to the problem and find solutions. When the rain came, I changed clothes or directions or found the nearest baked pie to wait it out. (Mostly the latter.) When a new participant got in touch, I would alter my route to ensure we could meet. 

One fixed destination that I was working my way towards with this trip was the anniversary of my father’s death, September 9, 1981; just a few days ago. I assumed that this year’s anniversary would have more weight than ever before. I also hoped that as I was in the midst of these interviews, I would have more insights and clarity on how I feel about his death. Though that may be true, I spent this anniversary with an exceptional new friend exploring coastal gardens in Maine, slow-cooking a delightful dinner and swimming in a quarry. A dreamy day for me. 

I thought of my father some, but my mind mostly returned to my mother and how the anniversary – to me - is more of a testament to her strength, resilience and abundance of love than his decision to take his life. I don’t recall how I felt at three when my father died; particularly how I felt the minutes and hours after I heard he had taken his life, but my mom does. Fortunately for me, each year she shares a bit more about that period of her life – our life – and each time she does my awe and appreciation of her reaches new heights.

It was on this year’s anniversary we got fantastic news: Her biopsy came back negative. I reckon it is the first time in her life that September 9th could have a positive ring to it for her or I. It is through this project that I’m becoming more clear about how the death of my father doesn’t define me, but it is a strong part of me and how I understand to live and make the most of the life I’ve been afforded.

So, on the anniversary of my father’s death, I toast my mom, her exceptional fortitude over the years and steps towards optimal health. Hopefully her cancer-free screen will continue to be an anniversary that we celebrate, even on one of the hardest dates of our lives.

 

 

 

 

We've Begun - My First Three Interviews

Well, this past week has been a whirlwind, and I wanted to share a quick update with you.

I returned from running a week-long training for human rights activists and journalists in Azerbaijan to officiate one of my oldest friend’s wedding at the historic New York City Public Library and then to conduct my first interview for Fatherless by Suicide. All of these initiatives would naturally inspire a mix of emotions, but nothing compared to how nervous I was to have my first interview with another man who lost his fathers to suicide.

So, on a steamy Friday morning I packed my audio gear and rode into Midtown Manhattan to meet-up with Justin, a dynamic, inspiring young man who happened to be in New York City from Europe for work. Justin had been one of the first men to contact me and was enthusiastic about the project. His communication and support helped put me at ease, and though we only had a little over an hour before he had to leave for his flight, we had a fantastic, eye-opening conversation. I am very grateful to have had such a thoughtful, engaging and insightful collaborator to jumpstart this project.

Fortunately, the momentum has continued.

Just a few days ago, I had interviews with two inspirational men whose stories and perspectives helped recalibrate how I think about my own father’s death, the language I use about it and my own grieving process. My first conversation was the charismatic and hilarious, Michael Thomas Walker. Michael's an accomplished actor and playwright who lives here in New York City and he wrote BUBBA, a play that explores his father's death. He'll be performing it as part of New York City's exceptional International Fringe Festival, starting August 10th. Please check it out and help fill the house. 

Though I wouldn't recommend doing two interviews in the same day, my conversation with another Mike later that evening was incredibly moving for me. We met at his house and because of background noise challenges, we sat on the floor of his children's room. Mike spoke about the loss of his father, who had attempted suicide twice before, and shared tender moments he had with him as a young child and how that affects how he parents his two young children. As I was listening to Mike speak of his forgiveness of his own father, there was a tectonic shift of sorts happening in me.

There's no timeline for grief and processing loss, but as I imagined, learning directly from other men who've also lost their father has already had a profound impact on me. I look forward to sharing more of their stories and their pearls of insights about their journey after their father’s death as soon as I can. 

For now, I’m doing the final preparation with my motorcycle, recording gear and interview set-up. Though it changes a bit everyday – thankfully because more men are reaching out to participate regularly. In a few days I'll be leaving New York City and heading to see my dynamo mom in Philadelphia and will be doing some more interviews in the Tri-State Area. 

Please continue to share and talk about the project with friends and family. You'd be amazed as to how those conversations are what helps inspire men to reach-out and join this project.

Thanks for all the support and for your role in helping make this project a reality. If you have ideas, suggestions or feedback, please be in touch via the comments below or fatherlessbysuicide@gmail.com

 

 

We Did It! Thank You for Your Support and Investment

As I type in the final minutes of my Kickstarter campaign, I have a warm heart and feel a bit overwhelmed - in the best of ways. Thanks to your generosity and commitment to help see this project come to fruition, we can celebrate a fantastic launch of Fatherless by Suicide.

Thank you!

funded-kickstarter.jpg

Though I've spent the past decade helping human rights organizations raise millions of dollars through my work, I haven't asked for financial support to enable a personal project since I was 10 years old and raising money for our itchy polyester baseball uniforms back in Kansas. This process was a lot more difficult, challenging and risky, to put it mildly.

Choosing to share the story of my father's death and be open about how it has impacted me has been a challenge my entire life. I knew that asking others to share their stories would be a bold undertaking. However, I didn't fully appreciate how many twists and turns there would be on the emotional roller coaster of crowd-sourcing the outreach and funding for this project. 

I chose to use Kickstarter because I felt it would be the best way to introduce the project on a familiar platform, enable people to swiftly share it and encourage my friends and community to breathe life into my idea. The outpouring of support has been remarkable and affirming. This process has been profound for me and I want to thank each of you for your generous investment of your resources, ideas, words of encouragement and support.

I'd especially like to thank my mom for her unconditional love and guidance throughout my life, and for her support and invaluable insights throughout this process. Also, a special thanks to my core team of closest friends and allies who've nourished me and this idea over the years, and who sprung into swift action with feedback, ideas, edits, camerawork and a flood of financial and outreach support. Lastly, a huge thanks to the most essential partners for this project to thrive: The similarly affected men who have and continue to reach-out to me in order to add their voice and story to this project. I'm eager to meet and share with each of them over the Summer. 

Project Highlights Thus Far

  • We have raised over $10,800 together, and with that, I'll receive a bonus $5,000 bump to help me dedicate more time on this project(!); 
  • Over 160 of you donated;
  • We met my original goal in under 72 hours, but you all far exceeded it and kept going;
  • You shared the project over 550 times on Facebook;
  • I have set-up interviews with men in six states, and connecting with more each day;
  • Allies, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, have helped share the project with their national staff and extensive network of bereavement group facilitators; and, 
  • We are just getting started! 

Thank you for putting gas in my tank - literally and proverbially. I fly tomorrow morning to do a training in Azerbaijan. When I return - and because of your support - I'll be conducing the first of my interviews in the Tri-state area and then starting my trip across the country. 

Please keep apprised of the latest via my blog at www.FatherlessbySuicide.com 

Most importantly, please continue to share the project.

Continue to talk about this project with friends, send emails to folks who may be interested and encouraging similarly affected men to add their voice. Together, we're going to make this idea an impactful reality. Along the way, we're going to help support others who are living in the wake of suicide. 

With a warm heart and deep gratitude,

Chris Michael 

NB: Oh, and if you missed the Kickstarter campaign but still want to contribute, please donate here. Each investment makes a difference and will allow me to focus more time and energy on this project. 

 

If You Know Someone Who Lost Their Father, Please Send Them This

Finding and connecting with other men who lost their fathers to suicide is our biggest challenge. A few friends have asked, "What should I say to my friend?" So, I wanted to share this draft email that I would encourage you to edit and share along with a personal note to any men in your life who lost their father to suicide. Thanks!

Add Your Voice to "Fatherless by Suicide," A Collaborative Storytelling Project by and for Men Who Have Lost Fathers to Suicide

Hello,

I am Chris Michael and I invite you to participate in an audio documentary project I'm doing with men who have, like me, lost their fathers to suicide. 

Starting in August, I will be traveling by motorcycle across the country to meet and interview similarly affected men to create a collaborative storytelling project, Fatherless by Suicide. I believe that stories are how we understand our world, our place in it and how we can enhance it.

I lost my father to suicide when I was three years old, and I’ve spent the three decades since avoiding the topic and my own emotions around being fatherless. Throughout, I've yearned for conversations with other men who lost their fathers to suicide so I could learn how they've navigated their path to manhood, healing, and—for those who are now fathers themselves—fatherhood. 

In addition to meeting and sharing with similarly affected men, this project aims to support other men whose fathers died by suicide and also reduce the shame and stigma around suicide and improve our ability to better support the millions who live in the wake of it. 

Get Involved and Add Your Voice

If you have lost your father to suicide, I'd like to meet with you this summer and incorporate your story and insights into this audio documentary project. Learn how to get involved and set up an interview at www.FatherlessbySuicide.com.  I also welcome your ideas and feedback—and I greatly appreciate your support as well. Please be in touch via www.FatherlessbySuicide.com or fatherlessbysuicide@gmail.com.

The suicide of one’s father is a painful legacy to work through. I hope that this project will help to address that challenge.

Many thanks and with hopes that I have the privilege to meet with some of you in the coming weeks and months,

Chris Michael

P.S.  If you’re not interested in participating but know others who have lost their fathers to suicide, please don’t hesitate to forward this email on to them. 

Thank You for a Monumental 72 Hours - Let's Keep it Going

Hello there,

I want to share a heartfelt thank you and an update with you all after this Fathers Day weekend. For you dynamo dads out there, I hope you had a great one.

Thank you so much for your generous investment and support of my project. In just 72 hours, you all have helped me reach my initial goal, and most importantly - you've helped me connect with other men who also want to talk and be part of this project!

It has been an overwhelming experience to go from pretty darn silent about the loss of my father and topic of suicide for decades to putting myself and this project out there with a heartfelt request for support. That vulnerability is not the most comfortable, but necessary and totally worth it. Especially auspicious to have this happen during Fathers Day weekend, which is something I have worked to avoid over the years.

We're Just Starting - Please Keep Sharing and Supporting 

The project has been shared over 275 times on Facebook and is being circulated by email. This is a great start!

These two vehicles are the best way for me to connect with other men. I'm hearing from men who want to participate, people who lost a loved one to suicide who want to help confront the stigma and shame around suicide and folks who see how this project hopes to help join the chorus of voices working to prevent suicide. Please keep doing all you can to spread the word.

Special Requests for Support

  • Share this with bereavement groups or gatherings of families affected by suicide;
  • Share this with your faith community and ask it to be included in their newsletter; and,
  • Share this with any mental health-related groups you may be part of. 

Lastly, Your Donations Still Make a Huge Difference

Though I've helped raise millions of dollars with the human rights groups I've worked with, this is the first time since little league baseball that I've asked for money for me. It's hard - or, I find it surprisingly difficult.

I saw Kickstarter as the best tool to help spread awareness about this project and meet other affected men - and that remains the main goal. However, fear of not reaching my goal ensured I put a low number instead of one that may be the most realistic without me 'swiping to suffice' on my credit card.

Know that each dollar donated will enable me to further fully invest in this project. Please help keep the generous investments and donations flowing - I promise to make the most of it.

Thank you so much and if you have any questions or ideas of how to enhance this project, please email me via Kickstarter or at FatherlessbySuicide@gmail.com

All the best,

Chris

Help Me Launch Fatherless by Suicide

[This was the first email I sent to friends and family asking support.]

Hi everyone,

I hope this finds you and yours doing well. I’m writing to ask for your support on an interview project that I just launched today on Kickstarter - Fatherless by Suicide.

For those of you who don’t know – and that’s likely most of you – my father took his own life when I was three. His name was also Chris. He was 32 years old. 

The story is complicated, but the autopsy yields the only hard facts I know - my took his life in his family’s home in Wichita, some 200 miles from my parent’s home.

His death isn’t the beginning of my story – that starts with my parents as high school sweethearts and respective heartthrobs; but, it is the part of my story that I haven’t shared much, nor allowed myself to explore.

After three decades of dancing around the topic of suicide and how my father’s suicide affects me, I’m planning to embrace my own story and invite other men who have lost their father to suicide to share their story and insights with me.

Frankly, I’m a whole mix of emotions that I rarely have – I'm scared, excited, nervous and damn curious. Though it is unique, uncomfortable territory for me, it’s exactly where I want to be. It is where I need to be. I’d like to have you in my corner.

If you’re interested in supporting me, here are some great ways:

1)   Share this project. The only way this project will exist is if you help me meet similarly affected men and encourage them to participate. Please share this email and Kickstarter Invitation for Support far and wide, and if you know a man who also lost his father to suicide, please share this with him directly and invite him to be in touch.

2)   Donate what you can. I got my first credit card this year and will ‘swipe to suffice’ my need to see this project through. However, your generosity will help me get the equipment I need and help cover my travel and expenses. I’m thrifty and will ensure your generosity is optimally leveraged.

3)   Host me. I will be zigzagging across the United States on my motorcycle to meet and interview fellow collaborators from July thru October. If you or your friends or family would be interested in reducing my Motel 6 or RV camping experience, please be in touch.

Thanks for any support and generosity you can invest to help me and this project.

Wishing a happy Fathers Day weekend to all you great papas out there - and those who are no longer with us.

Hugs,

Chris