My Father Before Me: A Memoir by Chris Forhan

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It feels wrong to review someone’s intimate memoir about their father’s suicide, more about how growing up with his father felt. I am glad I don’t have to worry about star ratings on my own blog and can just write a review. This is a raw remembrance not just of the devastation of losing his father but the little ways he started to vanish before he committed suicide. I spent some time wondering if the outcome would be different today, where we are better able to talk about feelings and find help but then I also thought- we are still in the dark ages in a sense in helping people. This memoir, excavating Chris’s past, and his father’s own upbringing begs the question though-  just how much does dysfunction lead us down dark paths, out of reach of our loved ones.

Writing a memoir is to be vulnerable, writing about your father’s suicide I imagine is like sandblasting festering wounds. It’s surely therapeutic to get it all out, but the introspection it requires, revisiting every moment of what if, what if something I said or did made things intolerable… well.. I can only imagine the painful process. I felt so much sorrow traveling into the past of Chris and his family, particularly his own father’s parents. It echoes many stories of the common man and woman, families that plod through their own dysfunction and tough times, try to raise children despite being disappointed by partners and family. There is so much loss, how can one family bear so much? It was a reminder of my own grandparents on both sides and their own past, mothers and fathers dead from war, or illness or poisoning (that’s true for my great grandmother, poisoned by her own sister) but that’s another story entirely.
Having read the losses Chris’s father was dealt early on, maybe his depression and desperate act didn’t ‘come out of nowhere.’ I got to a point where the other half of the book just made me sad. You know starting the novel that his father commits suicide, but for the families sake you just wish it wasn’t so. It effects everyone of his siblings and himself- even if his father wasn’t always present. The family of silence, while my own is full of noise and opinions, I do know what silent families do to children. Maybe that is why so many turn to writing, to finally deal with their emotional turmoil, to tell their truth, to dig through their past and try to find reason. Sometimes reason means nothing, sometimes it’s everything. I find more than a book about suicide it’s how our generations seem to just carry on rotten traditions unknowingly. You learn to accept silence, or to buck up and ignore your pain, or to excuse a spouses or parents absence neglecting yourself. Children learn this, and on and on it goes. One has to wonder what could have changed such an outcome.
How brave Forhan is to expose something most families were taught long ago to feel shame over. How wise to not continue the silence. Heavy read. This isn’t tidy, you don’t get over loss ever. You learn to face it, but in any life there are never truly solid answers nor reasoning to why we end up doing what we do. But it’s small comfort to those left behind.

 

Scribner  Publication Date: June 28, 2016

 

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