Art Imitates Life

On Monday, August 29, my novelette, Old Love Does Not Rust launched. Why a Monday launch date?

That date happens to be the 40th anniversary of my father’s death, something that feels long ago and only yesterday. I lost my dad to suicide. He was 56 years old. He was the strongest man I knew, my hero in many ways, though flawed in his racism, which I rejected without rejecting him. It reached the point we could only talk about horses and baseball, but that was enough.

He was of a generation where men didn’t discuss their problems and certainly not with a counsellor or therapist or psychiatrist. I wish he had been. I wish he’d eased his pain some other way than what he did.

After his death, I found myself needing to understand why. That’s an almost universal desire of those left behind after a suicide. He left no note, and all I could do was apply my research and analytical skills to it.

He and my mother had a troubled marriage, had always had that. They had their moments of happiness, but they were few and far between. I once asked him why he didn’t divorce her, and he said he couldn’t because she wouldn’t be able to live on her own. She was an alcoholic.

He had a contentious relationship with one of his business partners, one that kept him awake at night.

He’d fought in a major battle of World War II at the age of 18, something he’d never talk about unless questioned pointedly and then with reluctance.

I had already left home, and my brother was making noises about doing the same. Being a father to my brother and me was the most important thing in my dad’s life. And that was because his father died when my dad was three. My father always talked about his father so vividly that I thought that he must have had an amazing memory, but in truth the memories were likely stories he’d heard from his older siblings—he was the second youngest of 10 children. He picked the anniversary of his father’s death, August 29, for his death.

So, the specific why eluded me, which put me on a path to self-destruction for a while, but I got help. I came to understand we would never know why. That’s the pain for anyone who’s had a family member commit suicide. It’s a pain beyond description. I’m a writer and a good one, but I’ve never been able to find the words to describe it. Add this pain to the pain you already feel for losing a parent is the closest I can come to it.

He came from a culture and background where you didn’t admit or show weakness. I still struggle with that myself. In everything, I have to be strong, even when dealing with his funeral arrangements when my mother had to be sedated.

Getting help is so much easier now than 40 years ago. The stigma, which I never understood, is thankfully much lessened. Yet, my family succumbed to that stigma. My dad’s obituary read, “died at his home.”

Now you can get help 24 hours a day by calling the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline. It’s an easy number to remember – 988. You can talk or text or chat online with a volunteer who will listen and arrange the help you need. The website is 988lifeline.org.

The most important word in that url is “life.” In the 40 years without my father, I’ve accomplished some of the most significant things in my life, things he would have been proud of. If his pain had let up long enough he could have chosen life and been here for it all.

As dark as living may appear to be, there is hope. If you need to, call 988 for help and hope.

Now what does this have to do with publishing my novelette on this anniversary?

As I said, my dad sorely missed knowing his father, and a couple of years ago I was thinking of how I wanted to acknowledge the anniversary of his death. I’m a writer, so a story it was.

I came up with a story of how my character Alexei Bukharin could finally “meet” his father, who died in the Battle of Stalingrad a few weeks before Alexei was born. He, too, only had stories of his father from his older siblings and a portrait of his father in his mother’s house. I have one of the few photographs of my father’s father hanging in my house. Art imitating life and life imitating art.

I was able to mix in some history, another thing my father, a history buff, got me interested in, and I ended up with a gift for my father, one I couldn’t give him physically but one that I could have had he lived. And I did it the only way I knew how – by writing.

This is the power of story.

Some time this week, then, raise a glass to Master Sergeant Frederick W. Duncan, or as I call him, an original Antifa. In his memory, if you need help or someone to talk to about your depression, call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline. Please. You honestly don’t want your family to go through what mine did.

You can find Old Love Does Not Rust HERE.