An award-winning poet revisits the suicide of his father.
Forhan (English/Butler Univ.; Ransack and Dance, 2013, etc.) was 14 when his middle-age father, Ed, the head of finance for Alaska Lumber and Pulp, went into the carport of the family’s home, ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe of his car to the driver’s window, and lay down across the front seat. The author’s mother, Ange, discovered her husband the next morning. Forty years later, when Forhan reached the age at which his father died, he realized that his father is only “a scattering of fragments.” So he decided to track down anyone who could help him understand why Ed would have chosen, without a word of warning, to abandon his wife and eight children. The resulting memoir is a poignant exploration of Ed’s strict Catholic upbringing, his problems with diabetes, and, once he became a father, his increasingly erratic behavior—slipping up at work, staying out all night, incurring gambling debts. The book also charts Forhan’s maturity, from his years as a Boy Scout to his early TV news career and growing doubts about Catholicism. The book’s main flaw is that Ed often isn’t at the center of the story and thus feels at times like a supporting player. These absences, coupled with long digressions on more mundane events—such as the free koi Forhan received from a radio station or the tourist sites his family visited on a trip to Disneyland—dilute the book’s power. But there are still many affecting scenes here, especially of the author finding solace in poetry and his discovery that a poem can communicate “a sense of openness, of receptive attention to a life that enchants and baffles.”
It’s difficult to lose a parent, let alone write about the loss. Forhan describes his family’s healing and acceptance with warmth, humor, and an admirable lack of bitterness.