My Father Before Me cover

Chris Forhan ’82

Scribner: 2016


As Chris Forhan approached his mid-forties, feelings about his dead father began erupting in dreams and poems. Ed Forhan killed himself at age 44 in 1973, leaving behind his wife and eight children, including his son Chris, without explanation. Questions left unanswered in Chris’s family for so many years drove him to face, with an unrelenting eye, the legacy of the father who had abandoned him at 14.

As Forhan writes: “…A suicide leaves behind it a wake of silence. I have wanted to fill that silence.”

This memoir, told in crisp and emotional tones, winds through Forhan’s life as he witnesses his father’s unhappiness and unexplained absences and then, after the suicide, Forhan’s long struggle to understand the reasons and to penetrate the stoic resistance to the subject.

Forhan unravels his father’s life story, and then his own as a kid in Seattle, and eventually at Washington State University, where Forhan connected to poetry and other writers while working for the public radio station. He found that poetry had “risen from that silence,” and spoke to that which is “wreathed in uncertainty.”

That self-expression led Forhan, now an award-winning poet and professor at Butler University, to write this heart-wrenching book that drills to the core of silence in families, the hidden mysteries of the people closest to us who are often distant.