Why My Dad Killed Himself

Tue, 27 Nov 2007

Last Thursday night, right after Thanksgiving dinner, my father poured a glass of wine for his wife Karen and gave her a kiss. Then he went out, as he often did, to sit on the pier and enjoy the city lights reflecting on the ocean.

Friday morning, after looking all over the house for him, Karen found my father in the garage, hanging by his neck from the rafters.

He did not leave a note. The family is in shock. They can’t understand why a healthy, fit man who had everything would commit suicide.

At age 63, my father spent the better part of his days on his sailboat, tooling around the harbor, racing other sailors, and coaching disabled kids. He had a comfortable retirement income while his much younger wife worked part-time. They were happy.

Dad was famous — briefly and locally — thirty years ago as an Olympic athlete. In the past decade, he won the world sailing championship in his class for three years running. He was applauded for his volunteer service at the local yacht club. His friends and colleagues remember him as a pillar of the community, a champion, and a highly intelligent, educated man who didn’t mind hanging out with the common people.

Family secrets

I remember my father as a cruel and emotionally disturbed man who dealt out pain and punishment to his wife and children whenever it suited him. He started with me before I was old enough to talk. When I was seven years old, I made a sassy remark and he knocked me down, grabbed me by the hair and pounded my head against the floor until I passed out. It wasn’t the first time he beat me unconscious, nor was it the last.

We never discussed the beatings. Not even when I had a breakdown and tried to commit suicide at age 12. Or when I tried again at age 14. That year, he tried to smack me around one more time. I finally fought back and delivered one hard and fast punch to his solar plexus that doubled him over. That was when my parents decided to hand over custody to the authorities, who determined I would serve an indefinite sentence in a mental hospital.

My parents agreed with the juvenile court that I was delusional, a pathological liar, violent, immoral and incorrigible. That meant everyone could comfortably ignore my accusations of abuse and neglect, and when I raised the issue with counsellors and court workers, they took my statements as more evidence of my illness. Of course, this was the 1970’s, when child abuse was not often recognized as a serious or widespread problem.

I spent my teenage years in a locked ward at a mental institution, while my parents carried on with their lives as respected members of the community, coping bravely with the burden of a sick and demented child.

Multi-generational trauma

Of all those who knew him, I may be the only one who is not surprised at my father’s suicide. The family’s deepest secret is the death of my paternal grandmother when my dad was in his twenties. She was depressed and drinking heavily, and one day my grandfather packed his bags and told her he was leaving her. Soon after, she swallowed a bottle of prescription pain killers and washed them down with a bottle of wine.

When I finally understood the mystery of my grandmother’s death, it struck me that my father might take his life the same way. He, too, was an alcoholic who suffered from depression. Fifteen years ago, in a rare moment of candor, he told me he was tormented by guilt about the way he treated my sister, my mother, and I. Then he changed the subject. It was the second to last time I saw him, and he never mentioned it again.

My father’s drinking habits didn’t raise many eyebrows down in Florida. Every day, he would crack open his first beer before noon and drink steadily until he stumbled into bed at midnight. But there was nothing unusual about that. Sailors love their grog, and the yacht club was known for its weekly keg parties and prodigious boozing.

The last time I saw my father was September 15, 1999. He picked me up in Vancouver and we drove up to Whistler. We sat on the patio in the late summer sun, ordered burgers and beers and talked about nothing. He stared in puzzlement at the massive hotels, construction crews, traffic jams, raw earth and fresh asphalt, trying to reconcile this scene with his memories of a rustic little village tucked away in the wilderness. The pub’s speakers pumped out Welcome to the Boomtown.

I made my peace with my dad years ago. After the visit to Whistler, he sent me a couple letters, but we never spoke again. With the help of a trauma counsellor, I was able to work through the pain of my childhood and the grief of my father’s rejection.

I spent this past weekend trying to comfort his wife, my mother and my sister. I told them no one could have known what he was planning, since we can’t read minds or predict the future. Even if we could, who has the power to fix someone who is broken?


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11 Responses to Why My Dad Killed Himself

  1. Trainspotter

    Live for love.
    Love for life.
    Rest in peace.
    Peace Zoe.

  2. Jason

    Yah my dad killed himself to when I was 15.

  3. Anonymous

    I feel happy that I found this, more so happy that I am not so alone. My dad shot himself when I was 11. I can clearly remember those abusive moments and his fits of rage. His father shot himself when he was only 20, too.

    I tried to kill myself by swallowing a handful of pills when I was 14, but was unsuccessful with my attempt. I still find life unbearable, at times. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I have my moments. I hope things have gotten a lot better for you.

  4. george felic

    Ok I hope this is for real. My dad killed himself and is 31 year old. I hope that maybe by writing this. I can get better and all of us.
    Well I can’t find the words and I find myself guilty for what my papa did.
    It sucks for me

  5. george felic

    Ok I hope this is for real. My dad killed himself and is 31 year old. I hope that maybe by writing this. I can get better and all of us.
    Well I can’t find the words and I find myself guilty for what my papa did.
    It sucks for me

    O yea last thing it will be stupid to do the same thing that they did in my book.
    Let’s hang and do it the normal way please . Let’s live and take all the wonder that this would and god gives us. please please

  6. Anonymous

    I’m 44, my dad was 69 when he shot himself in the head (jan. 4, 2011). WhenI was 19 I learned from my sister that she was raped by my father on numerous occassions. I already was living on my own when I learned this and was actually working with my Dad’s two companies selling annuities. I got the call just as I was leaving for the office. I felt compelled to deliver punishment to my father for all that he did. I attempted to destroy his companies through varies methods and immediately seperated myself from him for 11 years. During these years I often thought of doing the world a favor but never did. Feeling completly alone and having no real direction in life I thought maybe it was time to forgive my father and reconnect to see if he had changed and hoped that he tried to do something to make amends with my sister (who had also attempted suicide twice and failed). When I first met with my dad after not talking for 11 years, I realized that he desperately wanted to have a successful relationship with at least one of his children. He was on his thrid marriage and had children with all. The fact is that not one of his children had any great level of respect for the man. When I realized the need, I also saw an opportunity to reignite our relationship for my personal gain while knowing that my presence would be a constant reminder of all that he had done wrong. I also strongly believed that he would eventually be so overwhelmed with guilt that he would take his own life. We worked together for the next nine years. I saw changes with my Dad and knew hee felt great remorse for so many if not all of the things he had done wrong. He helped me in so many ways during those years and saw so many great qualities that I had never imagined he could have. My father was generous to strangers in need, to those he knew that didn’t necessarily need, he was a self made man. Most importantly I felt that he had tremendous remorse for all that he had done. I was right, my presence in his life was a constant reminder of the pain he caused others and for himself. The 3 story lakefront weekend home, the boat, the cars, the house overlooking the golfcourse, hundereds of awards from insurance companies for being top producer and the love I gave to him unconditionally to the end wasn’t enough to keep him from shooting himself in the head. I;m confused if perhaps it was my thought years ago of which manifested into reality years later. Our thought’s are the most powerful energy that exists. Dad, I love you and appreciate all that you have done and continue to do!! You said you didn’t want to grow old and obviously you meant it. You take care of yourself and I’ll do the same. I have a wonderful wife and 20 month old son to grow old with. I’m thankful for all that I can bring into this world and share with others. I found the treasure of life is all that you can give to others. Thanks for this site as it helps just typing down some thoughts. I pray that you find the comfort that you seek and desire in life. With Greatest appreciation.

  7. Anonymous

    It always seems to be a cycle of depression and booze and hate. 3 generations before me have ended their own lives. My father killed himself when I was 18. I tried (half-heartedly) when I was 15. My sister told me that she had thought about it a lot when she was younger as well. I really hope we don’t fall back into this cycle. It almost makes me not want to have kids because I don’t want to pass on this horrible gene. And it seems as though this cyclical curse exists in most stories like mine. I just want this pain to end,

  8. anonymous

    i am a 19 year old girl my father killed himself when i was 14 he was depressed because me and my elder brother were growing up and due to some loss in his business he could not provide us a lavish life he always told my mom he can never say no to his children when they ask for some thing but he never shared his sorrows with us i just want to say papa i love you and i really miss you i wish you could have just once discussed your problem with me i swear i would never have asked any luxury from you. you are the most important thing in my life and i am working hard to be a doctor so that your dream can come true

  9. Anonymous

    My pops killed himself last year on oct 28th 2011. He overdosed on pills. His Kidneys and liver where dying and he did not tell anyone but my sister who did not tell me or any one else as it was my fathers wishes that no one else should know. My father asked me and my wife to move in 6 months before he passed away and i said we would. needless to say i miss my father as i also made peace with him in 2002 when we bought our first house and in 2003 he came to visit us and to see the place. he was proud of us, my wife and i as he told me when i took him to the airport.My mother had other plans after my father passed away a matter of fact 3 hours after he passed away.
    i do not talk to my mother anymore and i feel bad i could not keep my fathers wish and promised i made to him. I have not talked to any of my brothers or sisters since my fathers passing. I miss him and it has been hard and will be the rest of the year. i thank you for you all sharing as i now know i am not alone.

  10. Katarina

    It’s good to know we’re not alone. I’m from Portugal. My dad tried to kill himself as yours, but mymum saved him. One ear latter, he tried to kill himself again. I lost him one year and 8 mnths ago, in a train. I felt horrible.
    I always think about him and when I look at his photos I can’t forget what happened. I really would like to talk with someone whose passing by the same thing. If there’s anyone else who wants it too, here is my FB account or my e-mail: Katarina Domingues. ( katarina_domin [at] hotmail.com )

  11. Buffy

    I haven’t really grieved yet. My father shot himself the day before thanksgiving. My mother lost it for a few hours. They made her go to the hospital to be evaluated. In the mean time I was trying to talk to the investigator and coroner about the clean up. I was told homeowners insurgence would come out and help. Hours later and mom coming home soon I found out know one comes out to help. So I took it apon my self to clean up before mom got home. I guess I really haven’t delt with any of this.

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