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A Grieving Father: Chicago dad heals himself through writing about his experience and others’ across U.S.

Wed, Jun 26, 2013

Grieving Dads to the Brink and Back is a moving piece, presenting an accumulation of stories from fathers who have lost their children, and their subsequent recovery processes. Author and current Chicago resident Kelly Farley (with David Dicola) traveled around the US conducting interviews with fathers about their personal losses and societal expectations. Farley himself lost two children in a span of 18 months, and has used his book as a way to help other fathers who have experienced similar substantial losses. The goal of his book is expressed within the preface;

Grieving Dads: to the Brink and Back aims to bring awareness to the impacts that child loss has upon fathers. It is also meant to let society know it’s OK for a father to grieve the loss of a child. Society expects men to react differently than women. As a result, men oftentimes grieve in silence, usually when they are alone. A father shouldn’t have to hide his pain or feel ashamed to show his emotions when dealing with the loss of a child.”

Grieving Dads: to the Brink and Back has recently been awarded first place as the 2013 Best New Book on Men’s Health by the National Indie Excellence Awards. The book also took first place in the 2013 General Non-Fiction Awards, and was the Chicago Writers Association’s 2012 Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

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StreetWise was lucky enough to ask Farley a few questions, and to hear his reflections about his work.

StreetWise: You write about the conventional wisdom surrounding the grieving period for fathers. How do you think this conventional wisdom can be abolished within society?

Farley: Great question and an issue that will take time to fully be resolved since it spans generations and cultures. However, I think the first step is realizing this issue exists within our society. There is no doubt that men and women are “given” particular roles. Some of these roles have dissolved over time, but the one role that still remains firmly in place is the “man of the house” role. The man is supposed to keep a stiff upper lip and be a pillar of strength for the family. This is an honorable role and one that I too subscribed to, but it isn’t realistic in some cases. The death of a child is one of those situations. The entire family is impacted and to think one person has to carry the load for everyone is not possible.

It is too important that society understands that sometimes the pain is so great, that not only do big boys cry, they need to cry as part of the healing process. Men are programmed from when they are little boys to not “show weakness” whether at home or in sports. There is nothing wrong with being tough or strong, but the definition of these words need to be redefined and that is done by books like this where there is an element of transparency amongst the men to let other men know they are not alone. The book also provides insight for the women and care givers in these men’s lives. We need to redefine how men are expected to respond to adversity.

StreetWise: You present the stories of other dads throughout the chapters of your book. Is there one dad in particular whom you identify with most?

Farley: On some level, I connected with every grieving dad in this book and the others I hear from on a daily basis. However, there was one guy that stands out as someone who I had the most in common with as it pertains to my blue collar upbringing and expectations we placed on ourselves to “man up.” His name is Joe and he is the father that lost his son in an ATV accidently while on vacation with his family in the Rocky Mountains. We were about the same time out from the death of our children and seemed to have traveled very similar paths. We were both in a good place and had come a long way from the days of anger and guilt regarding the deaths of our children.

StreetWise: While conducting interviews and writing this book, what struck you as the most influential story?

Farley: The one story I still have a hard time reading is the story from Michael regarding the death of his 5 year-old daughter. His daughter had gone through and beat cancer only to die months later from the flu. He speaks so sweetly about his little girl, and how he can still picture them together at their cabin picking berries while he can feel the “sweet weight” of her on his shoulders. That story really triggers emotion in me, even just talking about it now.

StreetWise: Did the other men’s stories help you with your own emotional and mental recovery?

Farley: Yes, no doubt. The whole process of sitting down to write my story, traveling around the United States to sit face to face with these men and tell our stories was very therapeutic for me, personally. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, writing this book as a resource for other men gave me a sense of taking action. I am a firm believer that there is healing in helping others.

StreetWise: You refer to your wife and other fathers’ wives throughout the book. What role did your wife play while writing your book?

Farley: My wife provided me the encouragement and support in this project. She didn’t travel with me or even read the book until it was complete. We were both on our own path to recovery. She left a 15 year-old professional career to follow her goal of becoming a Special Education Teacher. Both of our children would have had special needs, so she wanted to help the kids that our kids would have been friends with.
We could have both thrown in the towel and dropped out of society, but we decided to become better rather than bitter. We are each other’s greatest support.

StreetWise: reflecting on your own recovery process, if you were to give advice to other grieving fathers, what would you suggest?

Farley: Do not be afraid to ask for help. It’s OK to show emotion. It’s OK not to be the person you were before the losses, it’s not possible. Tell your story to whomever will listen, no matter how difficult it is to get the words out. The emotions your story will trigger are natural and part of the healing process. By not allowing yourself to release these emotions, you will not be able to fully recover. Go to support groups and surround yourself with others who understand your pain. The last thing I would say is this: find a cause to honor your child. I have spoken to thousands of grieving dads and the one thing I noticed is that the difference between the dads that are doing okay versus the ones that are still very stuck, is this: the dads that are doing okay have found a cause to direct their energy to.

By Sarah Berz
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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