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