Christmas time is practically upon us and, sadly, for those that know about my personal life you will know this will be the first Christmas I have without my father. Just a little over half a year ago I lost my father to suicide. I still don’t know what to think about it all. What caused him to be so miserable that he poisoned himself, put a noose around his neck, and shot himself in the head? Some people “try” at suicide and fail. If anything is certain, my father really, really wanted to die.
That was his choice.
But here’s the thing though … for years I had thought of suicide as a purely selfish act. Think of all the loved ones who will be devastated, I thought. Think of the burden you’ll place on them. Think of all the broken hearts and the devastating holes you’ll leave in the lives of those closest to you; of those who depend on you; of those who’d never be the same without you. What about all of us?!
What about our feelings. Our needs? What about us? Then I realized, we were the selfish ones. What we have to realize is that suicide isn’t about us.
You see, the thing is, after my father took his life I didn’t have any inclination to ask “what about me?” because, simply put, his suicide wasn’t about me. It was about him. It was something he felt he had to do, for whatever reason.
It was his choice.
Sure, I have questions. When someone disappears from your life suddenly, you always have questions. Where’d they go? Why’d they leave in such a hurry? Why didn’t they say goodbye? But lamenting “Why me?” is trying to make something that’s not even about you, about you, and that’s selfish.
My father wasn’t particularly ill either. He didn’t have cancer or anything like that. He was in relatively good health for his age, although he had developed type II diabetes over the years, but he was taking medication and had it under control. He had recently retired from his job of managing Northern Telephone Co-op for over seventeen years (and twenty-two years in the telephone business), and having been a practicing lawyer prior to that. As for finances he was well off. In fact, a week prior to his death we had even been talking about him coming out to Japan (where I live) to visit—since he had mentioned that he had enough free flier miles saved up for a round-trip flight. It sounded like he might be coming out for a short summer visit, and I was getting excited to see my father again, even though we had spent the previous Christmas at his place—and, luckily enough, he had met my daughter, his granddaughter, for the first time.
Then, just like that, he was gone.
|My mother and father with me at one years old.|
My father wasn’t your typical suicide either. He wasn’t overly depressed (as far as we can discern) and he wasn’t suffering physically (as far as we know). He didn’t have chronic pain like some people, but after his retirement, living alone (as was his way) he did seem to become a tad lonely over the years. But if you know my father, he was one of the most anti-social people you could ever meet. He preferred solitude to having to deal with people on a regular basis, and don’t even kid yourself about getting on intimate terms with the man, he was impossible. He only let family and age-old friends in, and the occasional friend of his children. For all intents and purposes, being alone suited him. It’s one of the reasons he never re-married after he and my mother divorced. He preferred it that way.
He was the 40 year bachelor, and he enjoyed the life of doing things his way. He loved his toys and his gadgets; his sports cars and his computers. Oh, and he played video games, too. Avidly. I don’t know many other 60 year old fathers that do that, but as long as I can remember my father always loved video games. Every Christmas he bought my brother and I the latest gaming consoles and, what’s more, he’d always sit down after watching for a while and he’d play with us.
In fact, some of my fondest memories are going Christmas shopping with my father for video games. I remember one year, sometime after the Nintendo 64 had come out, we had gone to a local Target for some last minute shopping. It was the holiday season after the popular James Bond video game ‘007 Golden Eye’ was released, and they had a testable demo out on display to play. Of course, there was a long line of adolescents waiting to play, and my father stood in line watching eagerly, waiting for his turn.
Next in line for his turn, my father patiently waited for a small boy in front of him (maybe around 10 years old) to move it along. But the boy kept beating the levels and kept progressing through the game. And you know how kids zone out when playing games, right? My dad had waited patiently in anticipation for over half an hour, yet the kid kept on playing. So, finally growing impatient, my father gently shoved the kid aside and took a hold of the controls.
I was browsing the CDs nearby, and watching my father out of the corner of my eye, I started laughing out-loud.
“Did you just push that kid?” I asked.
“Maybe. What of it?” My dad answered, without taking his eyes off the game.
“You can’t push peoples kids,” I informed.
“I was teaching him something,” my dad stated wryly.
“Teaching him something?” I asked, perplexed. “What were you teaching him?”
“To respect his elders,” my dad informed as a matter-of-fact like.
“Ah, I see,” I replied, and then I went back to browsing the new CDs.
I still laugh about it to this day. Simply the image of a 48 year old man pushing a 10 year old out of the way to play the new game at the store—how delightfully absurd—and what a perfect Christmas memory, too.
Yeah, that was my dad. But I loved him.
And now he’s gone. And this will be the first Christmas I have that I won’t be able to call my father and wish him a merry Christmas and tell him that I love him. And it kills me inside.
But never once have I felt like his suicide was a selfish act. It was no more selfish than a person scratching an itch, if you think about it. No more selfish than choosing a Pepsi over Coke. It was his life to live, and he chose to write a different ending than most. You don’t have to agree with his choice of ending, but it doesn’t make it any better or worse than any other person’s choice.
It took me a while to figure that out. But it helps to remember, we’re all just stories in the end.
And as much as it hurts, at the same time, I cannot deny him his choice. He had his reasons. I just wish he would have been more open about what was going on in his life and shared them with us so we would have understood, at least to some small degree, what he might have been going through that ultimately compelled him to take his own life.
But there’s no changing back the course of time. And as a non-superstitious person, I do not believe I will ever be reunited with my father in some magical place where I can have that happy fairy tale ending that so many people seem to long for, but honestly—in my mind—that shouldn’t even matter. What matters to me are the memories we made together when we were together. A lifetime of precious moments encapsulated in brief flashes of memory built over years of familiarity, of growing to know one another, as father and son. That is all I have left of my father.
It seems to me, the best thing we can do is simply strive to keep our loved ones, and the ones we have lost, in our hearts and our memories for as long as we are alive.
I know it may be somewhat morbid to reflect on one’s own mortality amid all the holiday cheer, and I don’t mean to put a damper on anybodies festive spirits, but if in an unlucky twist of fate I did happen to bite the big one tomorrow (god forbid) the only thing I would wish for is that my daughter recognized how much her daddy loved her. And hopefully, she’d have some fond memories of her old man to keep with her and which she could hold onto and eventually pass on to her children.
As for all the young boys and girls hogging the games in the stores this holiday season, please make sure to share with the big kids too, no matter how old they are. And parents, please beware, like my father before me I have no trepidation of pushing your ungrateful, snotty-nosed, game-whore of a child out of the way at the store when it’s apparent you haven’t instilled in them the basic politeness of sharing—and respecting their elders. I mean, it’s the least I could do to help out this holiday season … so if you see me in the store shoving your nerdy kid out of the way … you’re welcome.