March 7, 2018
For my Father…June 15, 1945-March 5, 2011
The son and grandson of Swedish immigrants, a second generation American, seven years ago I lost my father to suicide.
In that moment of finding him, revolver in lap, I also lost my faith. Faith in our government, faith in our political system, both its parties, my faith in justice, and my faith in God. Simultaneously, I inherited his name, I inherited his demons and insecurities, and I inherited his PTSD that day.
My dad was a loving father, husband and grandfather. He was a man that struggled with very real battles in life, from the jungles of south east Asia to the corrupt concrete jungle of the teamster controlled Los Angeles of the 80’s. No stranger to defending himself and his family by any means necessary, he was also the first person to defend the weak, give money to the needy, buy a stranger a meal, and tell you that he loved you with tears in his eyes. A true sheep dog in a world of wolves.
I still remember sitting next to my dad, watching my young son play in his pool at 2 years of age. The postman walked through the side gate and handed him a letter from the IRS. A demand letter for $620,000…. penalties and interest for a tax deduction taken in 1983,1984, and 1985. A deduction that was legal at the time, and actually taken for him by a professional CPA. Collective deduction, $23,000 for each of those years. The government had just won a lawsuit against a large corporation that had taken similar deductions, but had appealed for over 20 years. A precedent was set. Congress had not signed tax statutes of limitations for those years-out went the demand letters, dis allowing all similar deductions and enacting penalties plus interest.
Truly, this couldn’t be correct? Can the government do that? Somebody must be able to help! My father and my mother fought the IRS for 4 years. Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with tax attorneys, spoke to congressmen and state representatives. At every turn, they were told that this seemed unfair and un-American even, but “sorry, I don’t have the authority to make any changes.” The penalties increased. The tax liens started being filed. His business here in Oregon started to flounder. He was being crushed by a system without voice or representation. In an era of hope and change, he was losing hope…
Meanwhile, I had recently gone through a divorce and was having struggles of my own. Lost in confusion, self doubt, and frustration I struggled to stay involved. I struggled to help counsel. Sitting in a cafe with my dad, shortly after losing a friend in a helicopter crash I was verbally venting. With a smile on his face and tears in his eyes, he just said; “Son, my friends fell like rain over in Nam. I don’t know how I came home, but someone or something has been trying to kill me ever since. I know this hurts, but I’m proud of you and I love you. I’m sorry.”
I did not know it at the time, but he had made the decision to take his own life in order to cash in a life insurance policy that did not have a suicide clause. The government now had him lien’d for almost one million dollars. It might as well been one billion.
On March 5th, 2011 - He received a letter from a creditor threatening to begin foreclosure proceedings on his commercial property. His only livelihood. Two weeks away from his life insurance expiring, He drove to our shared office space. He placed a note of instructions on my desk, put his old army photos in my safe, and sent me a quick text message. A few seconds later, he was gone. Blink of an eye, fall of a hammer. Gone.
It was 1:23 PM, PST-a Saturday afternoon. Even to this day, as I recall running through that office door, I can still smell the acrid sent of gunpowder hanging in the air and the iron taste of atomized blood tugging at the back of my throat. I hear myself screaming in some detached manner… like the noise was coming from someplace else, from someone else. 911 on the phone, having me check his pulse and asking over and over again if I was sure he was dead. Screaming at the woman that “his brains are all over the wall!”
After standing over him for what seemed like an eternity, I tried unsuccessfully to close his eyes. Shaking and in shock I said a short prayer over him, told him I loved him and that I forgave him for what he had just done. I placed my hand on his forehead and promised him that I would do what he had just asked of me. I would clean it up. I would make sure mom was taken care of, and the business was made solvent again. I said goodbye to my father, and walked out to a world that would never understand. One that seemed much darker and much less important that it had the day before. The demons came that night.
Seven years have now passed since that afternoon. My dad’s family has fractured in the wake of those actions. There has been another suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, anger, arguments, accusations, pain, and abandonment. More death. But there has also been Love, Joy, and the miracle of Life!
Almost 6 weeks to the day of my dad’s passing, I walked into our local Starbucks and sat down at a beautiful woman’s table. That woman and I had smiled at each other and traded awkward moments for almost 5 years. She had moved away, and now come back! Early that morning I had screamed at the God that had let all this happen. Complained about being alone, and challenged him to put Emily in my life. If he did, I would finally take care of the rest. She was there that morning, and she would become my wife within the year. More than that…. she would become the rock that I clung to when the storms raged in my mind. The person I walked around town with at 2am when the nightmares kept me awake and the crying and shaking fits took me. She and my young son saved my life. Within another year, she would become the mother of my next son. Another child who heals and fulfills me more than he’ll ever know. One that will unfortunately never know his grandfather.
Ultimately, you never really know someone until you put your finger in their wounds, feel their sorrow, and know their grief. It is those things that forge a person and burn away the disingenuous crust of life. My family, my sons, my WIFE…gave me my faith back.
My work and my passion for creating with my hands has given me my sanity back. Building is my healing, and the way I process this world and its unforeseen events. Being a maker has been and continues to be my therapy. It is my livelihood in more ways than one. This career made my father proud.
Today on March 5, 2018, 7 years to the day…I honor all of that. Today, I honor my father and the sacrifice he thought he was making for his family. Today, I honor my family and today I see where I’ve been and I share that openly now as part of letting it go. Our bodies refresh every 7 years, all the way down to a cellular level. Not one cell remains in my body now that was there then, we are all made anew. I want to be new.
We do not inherit a name from our fore father’s, but rather temporarily borrow it from our children. This is my family name and now you know me.