Crashing

My Dad loved riding a bike. I loved it too—but I did not love the crashing part.

When we moved to our house on Headgates Road, I started noticing my Dad’s interest in biking. Always the one to buy the most tricked-out, high-tech equipment associated with anything he did, my Dad went out and bought a 21-speed mountain bike shortly after we moved into the neighborhood. Before long, he would affix a headlight and a speedometer to the bike, upgrade the seat, and buy tires that would allow him to bike through the deepest of snow, the muddiest mud, or the gravelliest gravel.

The Headgates Road neighborhood really is a biker’s paradise—even more so now than it was when we first moved in. There was minimal traffic throughout the neighborhood, and it offered a ton of side streets and cul-de-sacs that were free of everything but the local traffic. The neighborhood was always pretty well-lit, and as more and more people desired to move to that part of town, the development of new homes brought with it more streets and sidewalks for my Dad to ride on. Our neighborhood was also perfectly located adjacent to Rentschler Park, a forest-like preserve with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Eventually, an expansion of the neighborhood connected our home to the park via a service road, and now, it’s even more grand. Many folks take advantage of the new bike path that connects Rentschler Park in Hamilton/Fairfield Township to Waterworks Park in Fairfield—a path that winds for about 12 miles along the Great Miami River.

Even before all of the paths were added in, though, Dad was a biker at heart. Oftentimes, that was how he relaxed after dinner. He would scarf down a delicious meal cooked by Mom, guzzle down a can of Coca-Cola (or two), and then hop on his bike for an evening ride as the sun would set.

Dad was always willing to have me—his “little buddy”—along for the ride. From the time I was little, I always had a bike, and Dad always encouraged me to ride it. I remember how happy he was when I ditched the training wheels, and how he always threw caution to the wind and encouraged me to be adventurous. He was that Dad who always encouraged me to pedal faster, pop a wheelie, or jump on a ramp, even though that call to “go wild” never really sunk in. I was always a pretty cautious little biker. I enjoyed it, but I also appreciated the bones in both my arms and legs and didn’t want to do anything to put their operational ability in peril.

On those nights when I did join Dad for a bike ride, he was always patient. He always waited for me to catch up to him. He never treated me like I was a nuisance or annoyance, even though in hindsight I can see that I probably was. If I went on a ride with Dad, it actually worked out for him because he ended up getting two rides in that night. After dropping me off at the house to grab a post-pedal-popsicle, he would hop back on the saddle and cruise out again for a few more miles in the setting sun.

Dad loved everything about a bike ride. He loved the exercise. He loved the rhythm. He loved the wind in his hair; and then, when his hair was gone, he loved the wind on his scalp. He loved spending time in nature, and a bike allowed him to cover more ground and appreciate even more of it. Of all the times that I saw my Dad on a bike, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile.

Except for that time when I went over the handlebars.

Have you ever flipped over the handlebars of a bike? It sounds more fun than it is. I mean, I guess the element of flight is fun; it’s the crashing part that’s brutal. Usually there’s some kind of painful cracking or bruising or loss of fluids that doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But it’s the risk you take when you ride a bike, and if you’re as uncoordinated as me, it’s a risk that comes with pretty bad odds.

My Dad was always the parent leader when it came to bike rides with all of my neighborhood friends, and there were many times that Dad would effortlessly lead a group of seven or eight grade schoolers—all with different biking skill and capability—on a trail ride through the hills at Rentschler Park. There were a number of different neighborhood playmates that I biked with: Devin, Brittany, her brother Jeremy, brothers Matt and Ryan (or “Peanut” as we always called him), and Anthony and Greg (otherwise known as “The Twins). It was funny that my Dad was often the adventurous “leader of the bike pack” considering that I was the absolute least adventurous kid on that list. All of my friends were much more risk-attuned than I was, and I think that’s why my Dad liked hanging out with them and liked that I was around them as well. Deep down, he had to secretly hope that some of their no-fear-nature would rub off on me.

As a kid, Dad always made these bike rides so fun and so enjoyable. Like he did at any family gathering, vacation bible school playtime, or church softball game, my Dad was a consummate entertainer. He was always on board for whatever silliness it took to propel my little legs on that bike. If it meant he had to pretend that he was a villain and I was the good guy chasing him, he’d do it. Or if he had to pretend that he was a rabid wolf that had somehow learned how to ride a bike and give me a 20-second headstart to get away as he foamed at the mouth and snarled, he’d do it. Dad loved having fun, he loved being outdoors, and he loved making people laugh—and taking me and all the neighborhood kids on a bike ride was pure joy for him.

Dad would often take us on a bicycle caravan through the infamous “Pinecone Trail” at Rentschler Park, a beautiful mile-and-a-half-or-so trail that includes hills, bridges, stairs, and narrow pathways that wind through tall trees along a stunning creek bed filled with rocks and calmly cascading water.

There’s not a caution sign to be had on that trail, and Dad absolutely loved it.

I don’t know how he did it, but Dad would ride that entire trail without getting off his bike seat once. He would pump his pedals up steeply-graded hills. He would whip through hairpin turns nearly skidding into tree stumps. And staircases? He didn’t even get off his bike at staircases!!! He’d either skirt the staircase and ride down the hill to the left of the stairs, or in a dangerous “kids, don’t try this at home” fashion, he’d just find a way to ride down the staircase on the bike.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have a daredevil spirit as a kid, because my Dad would have been a really bad influence on bike rides.

It didn’t stop him from trying though. Deep down, although he never would have admitted it, I think my Dad always wished I had a bit more of a rebellious streak in me. I think that my Dad wanted me to not be so cautious, to get a few more bumps, knicks, scrapes, and bruises. I know that my Dad loved me, but I also think that he often wondered how his only offspring could have ended up being so timid. Dad would goad me on during most of those bike rides, as I was inevitably the kid at the back of the line slowing down the entire chain of young peddlers and praying to my God and any others who would listen for a juice break. “Come on Bub,” he’d yell. “We gotta get home before it gets dark….heck, at the rate you’re going, we gotta get home before the sun comes up again!”

Every now and then, I’d get frustrated with Dad for pushing me to be a bit more adventurous when we rode bikes. I’d yell back at him and tell him that there was no way I could possibly pedal any further, and then tell him to just leave me for dead (did I mention that I had a flare for the dramatics as a kid?). Dad would bid me adieu and tell me to say hello to the coyotes that came out at night, and I’d pick up and pedal frantically to catch up to him.

But every now and then, the adventurous streak would flare up. It wasn’t much of a streak, but a streak nonetheless.

I don’t remember how old I was on this particular trip, but Dad had taken my friends and I out for a bike ride through the woods, and we were making our way home. The paths had been cleared and redirected as a result of some new housing developments in the area, and to Dad’s glee, the woods had been cleared to provide a new exit from Rentschler Park that involved speeding down a long, sloping hill, coming up another hill, and then flying down a much steeper hill on the other side to link up the newly-paved bike path.

It was a daredevil’s perfect ending to a long bike ride.

And I almost peed my pants just looking at it.

Per usual, Dad went first, hooting and hollering the entire way. My more adventurous friends followed, and before I knew it, I was the only kid at the top of the hill. I could feel the cold sweat forming across my body, and for a momentary second, I flirted with the idea of pretending to faint and collapse. However, I was afraid there might be snakes in the grass, so I ditched that plan quickly.

“Come on, Bub! It’s fun—you’re gonna love it!” Dad and all my friends continued to yell. After a few moments of back-and-forth in my mind, I decided I’d give the hill a chance. I’d keep a steady hand on the right brake, but it was worth a shot. No one else in front of me had injured anything, so I figured it had to be okay.

Slowly, I let go of the brake handle and gravity started to work its magic. I added a little pedal power to the proceedings, and before you knew it, I was gone faster than the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs. There was no point in peddling because my silvery-blue Mongoose would have busted apart at the bolts had any more speed entered in the equation.

I sailed down the first hill, hit the trough at the bottom, and went up the hill in front of me. To my surprise, I had picked up so much speed that my bike barely slowed as I went up that hill. Upon reaching the crest, I didn’t even have time to pause and soak up the view from the apex, and before I knew it, I was cruising down the other side at an impressive rate of speed as a smile started to emerge on my face.

Maybe Dad was on to something about this whole “safety be damned” approach to living!

But then, it happened. The grass near the bottom of the hill hadn’t been mowed in quite a few weeks, and burrowed within that tall, green grass was an elevated manhole cover for a nearby water processing building. Unlike the manhole covers you see in the city that are flush with the ground, this one stuck up out of the ground by about a foot.

That’s enough to send you flying if you don’t see it. And I didn’t see a thing.

With an unsuspecting smile on my face from the happiness of finally overcoming a fear and finally feeling triumphant, I nailed that manhole cover without even realizing what had happened. The momentum flung me over the handlebars of my bike, and I landed flat on my back atop that manhole cover. Then, as if the crash itself wasn’t enough embarrassment, the bike continued to flip into the air and then landed on top of me with a thud.

For what I lack in grace, I can make up for in my ability to let out a guttural shriek of pain—which I promptly did after regaining my breath.

The disastrous display left me unable to breathe. My wind was completely knocked out, and I wretched and convulsed on the ground grasping at my chest like I needed an octuple bypass. That was, of course, after my friends and my Dad had run to my side and flung the bike off of me.

All joking aside, I was in about as much pain as you could imagine one would be in after smashing into a manhole cover on a bike and landing atop an unmovable metal and concreate structure. My back had bent in a way that it shouldn’t have bent. I was sore immediately, and knew that this pain was going to last for a couple days.

Aside from the physical pain that I was in, my little ego had also been bruised. It’s never fun to do something stupid; it’s definitely not fun to do something stupid in front of friends that you want to admire you at such an impressionable young age. I had put my lack of athletic ability on display, yet again, in front of my friends who already teased me for being as uncoordinated as a baby giraffe in high heels. I couldn’t help but cry in this moment, and I was waiting for my Dad to ride up and laugh as well.

But good Dads don’t tease when they know that their child is bruised—physically and emotionally.

Without a word, Dad threw his bike to the ground and ran to me. He picked me up into his strong arms, and just held onto me until I could catch my breath again.

“It’s okay, Bub,” he just said until I could breathe again. He started to ask me what was hurting, and I told him that my back really was in a ton of pain. Because my Dad knew me well, he knew when I was faking and when I wasn’t—and in this moment, he knew that I wasn’t.

Without missing a beat, Dad sprung into action mode. I was amazed at how quickly and expeditiously he organized the troops and got us on the move.

“Alright guys, I’m going to need one of you to grab Ty’s bike and walk it home, along with yours. Who’s got it?”

One of my friends piped up and made their way over to my bike, and before I knew it, Dad had picked me up and rested me atop his bike handlebars. We still had about a mile to go to get home, but Dad pushed me cautiously and carefully while cradling me the entire way. I whimpered a bit (because that’s what wimpy little kids like me did), and Dad just kept talking to me to try to get my mind off of things as the hot summer sun started to set.

“Well, Bub,” Dad said, “if it counts for anything, you got some real good height on that front flip!”

Even in the middle of tears, you can’t help but laugh at a line like that.

Eventually, we made it home. Over the next few days, both the bruises to my back and to my ego started to fade—and, in time, my friends and my Dad never let me live down the “bike flip” incident. Every time we saw a manhole cover within 300 feet of us on a ride, they made sure to warn me.

But a good Dad swoops in, picks you up, and carries you when you’re not able to walk. That’s what I felt with my Dad on that day, and more importantly, that’s what I felt from him every time I crashed—both physically and metaphorically.

My Dad was always there to pick me up when I crashed. He did it that day of the bike debacle, and he did it on so many other days. He did it when in moments when I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. He did it after I would fail at an athletic event (he sure had a heck of a lot of opportunities to come to my aid in that category). He did it when I was in college and started having an identity crisis after giving up on my career trajectory of becoming an educator that I had professed since I was young. He did it when I suffered from my own, paralyzing, nine-month bout with clinical anxiety.

Dad never judged. He never criticized me or accused me of wrongdoing or fault when I was hurting. He just swooped in, picked me up, and carried me until I could walk again.

That’s what great Dads do. That’s what my Dad always did—both for me, and for others. That’s what I wish I had done for him more often.

When my Dad crashed as a result of his depression, it was a hard crash. Over time, we were able to see a pretty predictable pattern. My Dad would succumb to his clinical depression, he would shut down, and would even escape by leaving without telling anyone where he had gone. He was afraid to let people know that he was hurting. He was afraid he’d somehow disappoint them. I hate that Dad felt such shame—he didn’t deserve to.

Quote Tile - CrashingOver time, I learned—we all learned—how to support Dad when he crashed, and I think we learned by watching how he supported all of us. We didn’t get it right every time, but we tried to be there for him because that’s what he always did. My Dad was the guy who was just there for people. He listened, he didn’t judge, he empathized, and he gave us all reassurance and confidence that the crash didn’t define us. That’s what we all tried to do to support Dad. It was imperfectly executed, especially by me, but we tried. We gave it our best effort.

And even though my Dad isn’t here any longer to support me or the people he loved when we inevitably crash, I think one of the best things we can do to honor his memory is to just continue being there. To swoop in when we see someone who is crashing. To serve them. To bolster their spirits, their mind, and their attitude. And, even though it takes a lot of work, we should be there to pick them up and carry them until they feel good enough to walk again.

That was the Scott Bradshaw way. It wasn’t my Dad’s crash that defined him; it was the way he helped others who were crashing that captures his true story.

I love my Dad and miss him desperately, especially in those moments where I’ve felt the same pain of crashing like I did on that day many years ago when I sailed over the handlebars. In a different way, I have felt my Dad there carrying me in all the years that he’s been gone. I have felt him, in those awful moments, continuing to carry me when I can’t walk. When you live a life as big as the one my Dad did, the love doesn’t stop when the heart does. I’m thankful for a Dad that was there to let me crash—because I learned from it. I’m thankful for a Dad that encouraged me to take risks, even if there was a high likelihood that a crash would occur. But more importantly, I’m thankful for a Dad that never turned his back on me when I did crash.

And…I’m pretty thankful for helmets, too.

Dad and I on Dirtbike with SB LogoDad, The comfort I felt in your arms walking home after my failed-and-unintentional-bike-stunt was a feeling that I can instantly snap back to at any moment—and it’s a feeling that I desperately miss. You were my rock. You were my safe haven. You provided protection from the dangers of the world, but you encouraged me to not play it safe. Dad, thank you for giving me the feeling of safety that allowed me to ride freely. Thank you for being there on all those days when I needed you most. I never questioned whether or not you were at my side, and even since your death, I’ve known that you were there. I think about you each day and wonder what life would look like if you were still here. Even though there’s sadness at that longing, I know that you’re in a place where the pain you experienced here exists no more. I’m thankful that you’re basking in the glow and warmth of Eternity where the pain of crashing is no more. Dad, I love you, and I miss you like crazy. Thanks for always being there for me—both in this world, and in the next. Until I can thank you face-to-face, seeya Bub.

“…and if you give what you have to the hungry, and fill the needs of those who suffer, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the brightest time of day.” Isaiah 58:10 (NLV)

Wrestling

“ONE!”

Slam!

“TWO!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-A-HALF!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THREE-QUARTERS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-SEVEN-EIGHTHS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THIRTY-FIVE-THIRTY-SIXTHS!”

“Dad, I don’t even think that’s a real thing!”

Slam!

“THREE!” Slam! “Pinned you again!”

“Alright, let’s go again,” I’d respond, knowing that there wasn’t a chance I’d ever win.

This was the common refrain that echoed through the Bradshaw family room after dinner on an almost-nightly basis, drifting up the stairs into the kitchen where my Mom was likely cleaning up after another delicious, home-cooked meal that she had crafted. Dad always said he needed time to digest, but I’d pester and bug him until he’d rise up out of the recliner acting like he was too full, and then in a super sneaky sweep, he’d catch me off guard and the evening wrestling match would begin—no entrance music or bell needed.

For a little, skinny kid who realistically had no chance at ever winning a wrestling match (or any physical competition for that matter), it’s perplexing to think that I actually challenged my Dad to wrestle so frequently. Must have been early-onset-Napoleon-complex. A board game would have been more of an even battle, and even then I’d still be at a disadvantage; but a wrestling match between a seven year old and a 30-something year old wasn’t that evenly matched. While I was wrestling against my Dad, I’d try to emulate the moves that I had seen from my all-time favorite WWF superstars….even though I wasn’t supposed to know what a WWF superstar was.

Mom never let me watch wrestling—rightfully so. Have you seen what happens on an episode of Monday Night Raw? Wait, is Raw still a thing? The name might have changed, but the lack of actual “wrestling” likely has not. The stuff is pure trash. There’s rarely a punch that lands within three feet of someone’s face (I will applaud the acting, however), and there’s more time spent talking into a microphone than there is jumping off the turnbuckles. It’s essentially a soap opera with simulated violence and more fake blood.

Although, a few of those steel-chair-smashes to the cranium did look awfully life-like…

Yes, I have to admit that against my Mother’s absolutely-justified and entirely-well-advised orders, I did sneak in a few episodes of WWF* wrestling from time to time (*that’s right, I liked wrestling when it was a “Federation” in the days before they admitted it was pure entertainment and changed the name). I’d quickly flip the channel if I saw her come into the room, but then it’d be right back to The Undertaker getting stunned by Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock delivering a dramatic People’s Elbow to the solar plexus of Triple H with Good Ole JR screaming “OH MY GOD! HE’S KILLED HIM!” from the ringside announcer’s table.

Okay…maybe it was more than just a few episodes.

On occasion, I’d watch Monday Night Raw in my bedroom with the door shut, telling myself that I’d need to keep quiet if I wanted to throw Mom off the scent of the electric mayhem and debauchery on the 14-inch television set atop the dresser in my bedroom. Around 9pm, the festivities would begin, and I’d be able to keep quiet until about 9:07. By then, some ridiculous plotline would have been introduced (I SWEAR I SAW VINCE MCMAHON EXPLODE INSIDE THAT LIMO!!!), and I’d be jumping up and down on the bed from pure excitement trying my best to hold in the shrieks of enthusiasm.

Panic would set in as I’d hear Mom coming up the stairs. “What are you doing in there?!” Mom would yell through the closed door.

READING DR. SUESS!!!” I’d scream back as I jumped up and down on the twin box spring, just as Mankind shoved Mr. Socko down the throat of a guy who was definitely going to need some Listerine.

I’d always, inevitably, get caught and I’d be banned from watching wrestling again. Fortunately, I was able to recreate my own matches in the basement with Dad (minus any steel chairs, ringside graves, or beer trucks equipped with firehoses of course…). Looking back, I enjoyed those matches way more than any match I ever watched on television. No ridiculous WWF plotline could ever entertain me more than a wrestling match with my Dad. Our family room floor was better than any sold out arena because my Dad was a supreme entertainer.

I can always remember the laughter when Dad would have me jump off the couch like I was jumping off of a turnbuckle (sorry Mom, but this is why the armrest cushion padding was always a bit smushed on that one side…). He’d pretend like he was asleep or mortally wounded until the very last second before I would jump. Somehow, he’d spring up and catch me in his arms, spin me upside down, and pin me on the ground without doing too much cranial damage. I’d laugh, even though I was losing—frequently.

Aside from the fun, Dad would also challenge me to “get mean” and toughen up while I was wrestling with him, making sure that I never gave up even though he rarely (if ever) let me win. I wasn’t a very “mean” kid, and I think in some respect, my Dad never let me win because he wanted to toughen me up and have me prepare to wrestle in bigger battles that would inevitably come my way throughout life. When all was so seemingly perfect in my childhood, I don’t think either one of use could have ever envisioned the toughness we would both need to build to face what was looming for our family on the horizon.

I couldn’t have guessed that wrestling would define so much of our lives—both my Dad’s and my own. And it wasn’t the physical wrestling that ended up defining us. It was mental wrestling—and it’s still going on to this day.

It wasn’t until I learned that my Dad suffered from severe, clinical depression that I realized how much he struggled and grappled with his own emotions. He was constantly wrestling inside his head with fears of inadequacy and doubt. In his darkest moments, he was plagued with questions of whether or not he was enough, even though God and everyone in his life tried to encourage him. Mental illness is a unique enemy. I won’t say it’s any more or less difficult than other things we all face in life; I’m just acknowledging that it’s unique. If you’re struggling at work or school, you can go home and find rest. If you’re struggling with a friend, you can distance yourself. But our heads are always with us, and for the individual who is mentally ill, there’s no off switch. Those feelings can be so unrelenting, and at times, it can feel like there’s no escape. I honestly believe that’s why my Dad’s response when his depression reached its peak was to physically escape from the world around him—even though that approach offered little hope of long-term success or wellness.

I believe the most difficult part of my Dad’s wrestling stemmed from the fact that he was facing off against an invisible enemy and he didn’t always ask for a partner to tag in and help. As I grew older, I learned not to blame my Dad for his mental illness, and I was fortunate that at the time of his death, I never dealt with feelings of blame towards my Dad for the way he died. Don’t get me wrong—I was angry. But not at my Dad. I was angry at depression, mental illness, and a disease that cut his life entirely too short.

But just because I didn’t blame my Dad doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity, and at the top of the list is a wish for my Dad to have reached out to get the help that he needed and deserved. My Dad would take medication to help with his depression, and then when he would start feeling well again, he believed he no longer needed the medication to help him (a vicious cycle that many, many individuals struggling with mental illness deal with). Because my Dad was a strong guy who could fix just about anything, he also didn’t seem to have it in his DNA to go and see a therapist or professional counselor who could help him talk and work through his illness. My Dad was a helper in every area of his life, and I think that led to him not being able to ask for help himself when he needed it most.

I hate that my Dad often wrestled behind the curtain. I hate that he felt such unbelievable shame that he couldn’t bring it upon himself to share his struggles with others or seek professional help in the form of counseling or psychological therapy. It’s like watching that tag team wrestling match in which the guy in the middle of the ring clearly needs to tag his partner, but he just can’t bring himself to admit that he might need the assistance.

Watching my Dad wrestle has taught me a lesson—a lesson I never thought I’d need to learn about how we deal with mental illness, but also how we deal with grief.

Since losing Dad, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling as well. Unfortunately, I think it’s the burden that many of us who lose a loved one to suicide are dealt. Could we have done more? Could we have said more? Could we have loved more? What could we have done to build a shelter for the storm forming on the horizon? It’s a difficult place to be that’s riddled with guilt, sadness, and perpetual questions.

However, I believe there’s great growth in the wrestling that happens in our lives. It isn’t always pleasant, and we often leave bloodied and bruised, but time and life circumstances can provide perspective if we are willing to seek it out.

I firmly believe that when it comes to our thoughts and beliefs, we have to wrestle with them in order to understand why we believe them in the first place. That’s why I think so many people struggle with Christianity in America—it’s always been something that’s just there and accepted, which means we often take it for granted and don’t wrestle with the deep tenets of our faith to understand what they mean and why they are important. I’ve seen this principle play out in my life in so many different areas. I firmly believe that the best lessons I’ve learned in the college classroom have been the ones that I’ve had to fight hard with to comprehend. The best books I’ve read have been the ones that have challenged me with complex characters, extensive vocabulary, and elaborate plotlines. And even when I think back to my own childhood, my Dad was my greatest wrestling partner because he was stronger than me and because he didn’t let me win. I learned something in the struggle.

And wow, have I wrestled with my Dad’s death. In the dark night of the soul that often accompanies our weightiest grief, I’ve struggled to come to terms with how a loving God—in control of every aspect of the universe He created and every son or daughter who lives in it—could allow mental illness and suicide to defeat my Father. There are some moments of wrestling in which I can answer that question quickly. I can accept the fact that God loves me, loves my Dad, and in no way intended for this to be the way his life on Earth ended.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to more difficult moments of wrestling. Sleepless nights full of tears when the answers are elusive have been a regularity in the months and years since losing Dad. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you’re there now.

God, in my opinion, calls us to take those burdens that we wrestle with and let Him carry the weight. That doesn’t mean that we stop wrestling. It doesn’t mean that we stop the questions with the clasp of our hands in prayer, but it does mean that we trust Him to eventually help us find the answer, and we believe that there’s a purpose to our confusion, grief, and lack of understanding. The answer may not come when we want it, and it may not come in the form we hope for—and we should be grateful for that. It will come in a way and at a time that is more perfect than we could ever imagine.

The result of our wrestling is not automatic or instantaneous peace—it’s a path forward. That path may look difficult and be quite unwelcome. That path might include regular counseling, medication, a dedicated health regimen, forgiveness (both for ourselves and others), or confession. But any path towards health is better than a wrestling match that never has a resolution. I’d rather risk a loss or misstep here or there, or even brief momentary pain, than to be caught in a perpetual state of not-knowing.

When it comes to mental struggling or emotional wrestling, God never puts us in a tap-out position. We might be in pain. We might be hurting. We might need to reach out and tag in a partner to help us. We might have to ask our ringside coach for a bit of advice or wisdom. But God never wants us to tap out. He gives us all the strength and resources we need in those instances if we are just willing to admit that we need it.

For those of us who struggle with mental illness in any of its forms and manifestations, we must believe that there is a purpose to the wrestling. We don’t need to welcome the pain with an ever-present smile, because that’s phony. I don’t trust people who act like they embrace pain—there’s a whole different set of clinical disorders to describe that. But even though wrestling can be painful and might not yield an immediate victory, we realize and recognize that there’s a deeper purpose and more intricate plan tied to every aspect of our lives that will, eventually, reveal itself to us. With that perspective, like any good athlete, we learn to welcome the wrestling even if it’s difficult work. We learn that our greatest beliefs will only be strengthened if they are challenged and grappled with. Most importantly, however, we acknowledge that wrestling is worth it when our teammate—God—always provides a way out, even if we can’t see it in the midst of our struggle. The wrestling isn’t always fun, but it’s worth it.

When we wrestle well—meaning that when we recognize that in our struggles we are never on our own and when we are willing to admit our difficulties and ask for help—we learn and we grow tremendously. We build spiritual and emotional muscle that helps us to overcome some of life’s greatest difficulties. Even though my Dad might have eventually been overtaken by his mental illness, I’m confident that he did wrestle well throughout his life. He is not defined by that one failure, but he is defined by all the years within which he lived healthy and happily. He is defined by the wife he loved, the son he raised, the people he helped, and the God he served. One day on my Dad’s record of life cannot and will not erase the fact that for fifty years before that, he wrestled victoriously. And as long as I live, I’ll remember those lessons that my Dad taught me in his everyday life, as well as in our mock family room Wrestlemanias.

And even thought you might not always win, never forget….jumping off of a couch “turnbuckle” is a ton of fun. When your significant other or parent isn’t home, give this one a try.

Dad Burying My Head in Sand with SB LogoDad, Remember how much fun we used to have wrestling on the family room floor and laughing as you constantly beat up on me?! It doesn’t sound like as much fun as it really was, now that I write that. Dad, I appreciate that in wrestling, and in a lot of areas of my life, you never just let me win. You always made me earn it, which made me value the struggle and see the purpose of it. I’m glad that, for so long, you wrestled well. I know there were probably many days when you felt like your depression would overtake you but, somehow, you found the strength and the purpose to fight on. I’m grateful that you modeled that kind of strength, and I want you to know that when I think about your life, I think about these types of victories—not the way in which you died. I think about how proud I am of you for fighting as hard as you did for so long. Thank you for always allowing me to see the purpose in wrestling well and fighting through those difficult moments. It’s ironic that the lessons you taught me were preparing me to navigate life after losing you. I don’t always do it perfectly—I fall well short on most days, in fact. But even in your death, you have been a great Father to me. Thank you for loving me enough to teach me how to wrestle well. I miss you terribly, Dad. There have been so many moments where I just wish I could be back to those moments of being your young son again. But I know, in my heart, that we will have those days again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill out hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 (TLB)

Who Was Jim: Guest Blog by Nancy Eigel-Miller

Ty: Sharing your story, in my estimation, is essential to the grieving process.

For those who lose a  loved one to suicide, sharing your story with someone who has felt and lived the same pain is life-giving.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with and listen to the story of Nancy Eigel-Miller.

1N5 LogoSometime last year, I was searching for local resources to give to students and families that I speak with who are hoping to learn more about mental health, when I stumbled across 1N5. To my surprise, I discovered that the organization was founded and headquartered right here in Cincinnati, and the founder also happened to be a fellow Miami alum. On a whim, I sent a message to Nancy Miller to let her know how impressed I was with the work her organization was doing, and asked if she’d be interested in grabbing a coffee.

Over a dark roast at the Mariemont Starbucks, Nancy and I got to know one another. As you can imagine, she talked about 1N5, and I talked about Seeya Bub; but more than that, Nancy talked about her husband, Jim, and I talked about my Father, Scott. Our work in suicide prevention may have been what brought us together for coffee, but it was our mutual loss of a loved one to suicide that brought us to the arena to battle against a mutual enemy—and I’m thankful for Nancy’s graciousness, kindness, and mostly, her bravery.

I invited Nancy to share her story of her husband, Jim, here at Seeya Bub, and I’m honored that she agreed. Jim’s story, like my Dad’s, is one that is heartfelt, raw, and important for anyone who is suffering or grieving.


 Nancy: Jim had a big personality. He was loud and goofy, and he could fill a room with his energy. If you think of personalities like Robin Williams or John Belushi, that was Jim. He entertained people. But as we now know from those folks, that personality was likely a defense mechanism.

Nancy and Jim MilerHe was a great father, mentor, and friend. He was a soccer coach, a member of the pool board, and the Director of the Gallagher Center at Xavier University, where he worked for 23 years here in Cincinnati. Kids were drawn to him. He understood them and could always help them through whatever they were dealing with. He was a mentor to more students than I could count. At Xavier, he was in charge of the Student Government, ran the Student Activities Council, and was on the Disciplinary Board. He was always good at working with kids and just knowing when there was something wrong. Whenever a student got in trouble, he would reach out to try to get them back on track. I think it helped him to be able to help these kids. Jim was an amazing dad, too. By the time the girls were in about first grade, Jim started coaching soccer. He was great at it. He would get on their level and get really involved. He was a really hands-on parent, too. He was constantly dreaming up activities that the girls loved, like camping in the backyard, catching frogs, watching their favorite shows and laughing along with them. And he was always that parent who came into class all the time. He was just really close with the girls.

He also had a lot of hobbies. He was a big collector. He had this enormous Pez collection, and he had these acrylic display cases to show them all. The walls in our room were lined with these display cases, and he even had a Pez hospital down in the basement where he would fix broken Pez dispensers. He would take the girls to Pezomania conventions, and Elizabeth now has the acrylic display cases in storage so that she can display in her house someday. Once, when she was little, she was downstairs and got ahold of a rare Pez that somehow got broken. She came running upstairs and said, “Dad, the space man fell apart.” And Jim just fixed it up. He was also fascinated by Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns. We would drive around to find these barns, and he would get out and take pictures for hours, just leaving me in the car to wait. And he was so organized with his collections. All the photos had the dates and locations of when and where they were taken. He took pride in them.

When Jim was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack. He had two older brothers, ages 14 and 18. Jim’s brothers and his mom took his dad’s death really hard. They struggled with depression, but everyone always said Jim was just different. But he was just a kid, so of course he was going to process it differently. He didn’t get a lot of support from home, so people in the community started to take him under their wing and help him out. Later on, in high school, he became an avid runner. He ran the mile and won the state title. He’s in the Mariemont Hall of Fame. He ran all through his adult life, too. He ran 5k’s, organized a group of Mariemont runners to compete in the Little Miami Triathlon, and even ran a marathon once. He would run 8-10 miles a day until, a few years before he passed, both of his knees started giving him problems. He couldn’t run the way he used to, and that really discouraged him. He would say, “My spirit can’t soar anymore.” I’m not a runner, and I never really knew what he meant by that, but looking back now, I’m sure that was one thing that really impacted his mental health. Running was always his saving grace, and when he lost it, I think he lost part of himself.

On July 28, 2008, Jim didn’t come home from work. Every day, he would always get home around 5:30 PM. Both of the girls were out that night. Elizabeth, who was 17 at the time, got back home around 7 p.m., and I told her Dad wasn’t home and wasn’t answering his phone. We got in the car, drove to Xavier, and kept trying to call. Around 9 PM, I called my parents and they came over for the night. Kate, who was 15, got home a little later. We called the police, but they wouldn’t do anything until he had been missing for 48 hours. We were all so worried, so it was a sleepless night. The next morning, we called the Xavier Chief of Police, who happened to be a friend of Jim’s. He told us to come over to Xavier. The Xavier police asked us so many questions all morning until about 11:30 a.m. Then they left for about an hour and a half. At about 1 p.m., they came back and asked me to come with them. They had found out what happened to Jim, and they told me first. He had driven to Chillicothe the night before—that’s where his parents are from—and stayed at a hotel. When they told me what happened, I couldn’t even process it. How could this happen? Jim never spoke of being depressed. He never even talked about being sad. I made the decision to tell the girls right away. Telling them was the hardest thing I have ever done. We clung to each other and asked to go home.

The Xavier folks drove us home. The car ride was silent, broken only by the sound of sobs. Right away, you start questioning how something like this could happen. You start questioning every conversation from the past few months. You try to make sense of it. Jim didn’t leave any kind of note to explain his decision. It was hard not to blame myself. How could I not have seen something was wrong? Did I do something? Did something happen before this? Something at work? Was he sick? Was there something else we didn’t know? But then, it became clear from somewhere outside myself that we were going to be very transparent. We were going to talk about what happened. That decision changed everything for us. We hoped that we could help someone else. The same year that Jim passed, seven other parents of students in Elizabeth’s senior class passed away. The school would always send out notes and ask for prayers for the families, but they didn’t do anything for us because Jim died by suicide. It made me so angry that I went to the school, and they wound up changing that policy. I didn’t want another family to have to go through that experience.

The next few days were a total blur. People filled the house, and there were so many decisions that needed to be made. But I just felt sort of numb. Kate was supposed to babysit that night, and she called that family to tell them she couldn’t come. This random family that I didn’t know very well…they were the first to know what happened. They were the first to come by. And then my mom started making phone calls. People started showing up, bringing food and flowers. The girls and I were sort of in a daze, just sitting in the living room as people filtered in and out. We were adamant, though, to tell funny stories about Jim so that it didn’t feel so heavy all the time. We asked people to write stories about him, and I still have binders full of stories from families, friends, coworkers, students who all knew and loved Jim.

Even with the love and support of family and friends, grief is hard. But I was very clear on what we had to do as a family. We had to have open conversation. Nothing was off limits. We went to counseling, we counted on each other, we had to go down to the depths of our pain in order to move forward. We had to process everything—all the feelings of guilt, anger, fear, frustration, grief—so they wouldn’t resurface later in life. I decided that we were going to walk through the fire. It was the only way we could come out healthy on the other side. I pushed the girls to confront their emotions at the time. We decided we would let our feelings show, so we spent a lot of time crying. But we were always there for each other.

About two weeks after Jim passed, my dad sat me down and said to me, “This is the deal, you’ve had a great life. You had a great marriage. You have great kids and a great support system. You are going to hold your head high and fight through this. We are here to support you, but let’s go.” My dad golfed with a man whose wife was a psychologist. He connected the two of us, and she spent hours with me, educating me on mental health and what I had missed with Jim. She helped me realize that mental health starts at a young age and that Jim, in all likelihood, knew early on that he suffered from depression. He created that big personality as a sort of mask. He entertained everyone else and had to engage at a very high level to boost his own serotonin. He was also very compassionate, which is another common trait in those living with depression. With this knowledge, I decided that I had the ability to help others, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about my experience.

That October, we held the first Jim Miller Memorial Mile, which was more of a celebration rather than a fundraiser. A group of 12 guys that Jim knew put it together, led by a close friend of his. The first year, about 800 people came. The second year, only about 400 came. After the second year, the girls said, “This is going to go away, and we will have done nothing.” We decided we needed to do more, so we started the Warrior Run, a 5K fundraiser. I knew I wanted to help kids because that was Jim’s passion. I also knew mental health issues start early on, yet no one was really doing anything to educate youth on mental health or mental illness. I did a lot of research and discovered the Surviving the Teens program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. When I met Dr. Sorter, the Medical Director of Psychiatry at CCHMC, I knew I’d met a kindred soul. We donated the funds from the Warrior Run to that program, and we as 1N5 continue to support it at an increasing level. Now, Surviving the Teens has transformed into Adapting for Life, and the program is being implemented in 70 greater Cincinnati schools.

We continued with the Warrior Run for a few years until Memorial Day, 2014 when Brogan Dulle and Santa Ono changed my life. Brogan, a University of Cincinnati student, was missing for eight days leading up to Memorial Day. Thousands of people joined the search, and he was found the night before Memorial Day. He had died by suicide. The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote a note to Santa Ono, then President of UC. We needed to do something. Our children were suffering in silence. Santa invited me to his office and shared his own story with me. He had attempted suicide twice in his life, once at age 14 and once at age 29, and was diagnosed with depression. He had never shared his story publicly, but he believed in our mission to promote youth mental health education and stigma reduction. So that’s how 1N5 began. I decided to quit my job and work on the organization full time. Two years later, Santa told his story at the first 1N5 fundraising event in April of 2016.

1N5 has come a long way since then. We started out working with just a few schools, but the more you talk to people, the more you learn that the need is high. We also realized that the youth voice is extremely important in the conversation about mental health. So we started creating #iAM1N5 videos. Through the videos, we were able to create a connection by being real and being open. Suddenly, people realized they were not alone. We wanted to break down barriers to allow people to talk about their mental health. It’s been a building process since then. I realized that with an organization like this, you have to meet people where they are. Different organizations, different schools, different demographics all have different needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. And I never like to say no. I’ve made it a priority to meet with anyone who wants to meet with me, and we’ve made a lot of incredible connections that way. As an organization, we’ve already made huge strides in the Cincinnati area, but the goal is to take it even further. We are currently working with 65 local schools and all 5 major universities in Greater Cincinnati, but we’re constantly pushing forward, constantly asking, “How can we do this better?” My hope for 1N5 is to be in every school in Greater Cincinnati and, ideally, figure out how to take our model and spread it to other cities. Our vision is a community of youth with optimal mental health so that they can grow into their best selves.

My journey has taught me that life is a roller coaster. We are here to learn lessons. Before July of 2008, my life was sailing along until it took a dramatic turn. In that moment, I had to decide how I would handle what life had thrown at me. The choices I made defined both where and who I am today. I put my trust in the universe and the connections that show up. Going through that journey has taught me to live and cherish every moment. Love fully, laugh often, speak your truth, be honest to a fault, guide yourself with a strong moral compass, and believe in the power of the universe. Be open—you never know where someone will take you. Find the good in every situation. I know that I am very fortunate to have a clear head. I do not personally live with mental illness, but continuing to grow as an individual and educating others on mental health is very important to me. Since Jim passed, I have experienced many amazing things. I would never wish this tragedy on anyone, but because of the path that it’s led me down, I am in a much better place and am so thankful.


Ty: Bravery. When I read Nancy’s story, that’s the word that keeps coming to mind for me. From the moment she lost Jim, Nancy dug deep inside and found the bravery to always talk openly with her daughters, family, and friends about Jim’s death. In her grief, Nancy found the bravery to start an organization that is saving lives day by day.

Nancy’s story is a case study in bravery for anyone who is grieving, and a reminder that we can take our pain and turn it into a purpose. 1N5 is transforming the way we talk about mental illness in our schools and with our adolescents who are at such a vulnerable and formative age. Years from now, Nancy and those who serve and support 1N5 will see the fruits of their labors as individuals who were susceptible to suicide no longer follow that path.

But perhaps most importantly, Nancy’s bravery in sharing her story is helping those who are suffering from mental illness to talk openly and avoid falling prey to the stigma that stole her husband and my father. Watch a video published by 1N5 or follow them on Instagram and you’ll find people—openly and willingly—talking about their pain, their struggles, their fears, and their hope for the future. It’s the type of conversation that is freeing and soul-quenching because it helps us remove the masks that we all wear. It’s normalizing the way we talk about mental illness—and ultimately, it will save lives.

Although I never met Jim, I see so many similarities between him and my Dad. They loved life, they loved fun, and they loved their families. When you lose someone who loves that much, it can be hard to bounce back. My heart breaks for Nancy and her entire family because Jim was such a force for good in the world around him—but his memory is living on thanks to the courage he instilled in Nancy and his daughters. And that, in the end, is the hope that all of us who have lost a loved one to suicide share. We hope that, as time wears on, those we loved will never be forgotten. And thanks to Nancy, Jim never will be.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I wish you had been able to feel free of shame. I wish you had been able to talk openly about your mental illness, especially during the times when you likely felt so alone. I wish that individuals like you and Jim could have known, deep down, just how much you were loved and how much you would be missed. But, from a distance, I hope you’re able to see how much you were loved by the work being done in your memory. Dad, you were so loved by so many, and I know that you knew that in the depths of your soul—I only wish that the stigma associated with mental illness had not been there to help you remember that in each and every moment. But, for as long as I live, I’ll continue to honor your memory and work to make sure that everyone who listens learns from your life. I’m thankful and grateful that there is a community of individuals, like Nancy, who are in this same fight. Dad, I can’t wait to tell you how important you are to me and so many other people. I look forward to the day when I can embrace you again and let you know how much you mean to me. Until that day, seeya Bub.

1N5 Logo

To learn more about the amazing and important work being done by 1N5 to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to donate to help their efforts reach even more students, please visit www.1N5.org.

Nancy Eigel-MillerAuthor Bio: Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder & Director, 1N5

Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder and Executive Director of 1N5, created the James W. Miller Memorial Fund in 2010 after losing her husband to suicide. Prior to founding 1N5, Nancy worked in the marketing/market research field for over 20 years where she spent much of her career at Gardner Business Media. Nancy’s fierce passion and dedication to STOP the STIGMA that surrounds mental health and raise awareness by bringing mental health education to greater Cincinnati schools has resulted in reaching over 87,000 students and raising over $1M for mental health programming. Nancy recently received the regional Jefferson Award for Public Service for her efforts in destigmatizing mental health. Nancy then attended the Jefferson Awards Foundation’s National Ceremony, along with 75 other regional award recipients, where she won one of five Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for Outstanding Public Serve Benefitting Local Communities. Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Miami University. Nancy is on the board of MindPeace and the Cincinnati Children’s Convalescent Home.

Shine a Light

On most evenings (and much to my own personal dread on the cold ones), I take our golden retriever puppy, Penelope, for a walk around our neighborhood. Slowly but surely, Penny is figuring out how to walk like a respectable dog.

Let me rephrase that—very slowly, but surely nonetheless.

Penny
Penny Bradshaw (Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.)

More and more, Penny is growing to like her walks. At first, she was always a bit too anxious and couldn’t enjoy the walks because of her nervousness. Paige and I didn’t give up, and after many failed attempts and one fantastic puppy training camp later (thanks Rhino Kennels!), Penny is getting more and more accustomed to her nighttime strolls around our corner of suburbia. She usually gives me a few excited jumps as we begin our walks together (even though I’m pretty sure our dog trainer told us not to let her do this but it really is pretty adorable—sorry Rhino Kennels!). She’s growing more interested in sniffing cars and flowers and fire hydrants along the way. And she has really enjoyed stopping at either of the ponds in our neighborhood if there happens to be a pack of geese or ducks that she can watch intently.

But even with all her progress, Penny still gets a bit nervous. Paige and I laugh about Penny’s nervous “head dip” that she does when she sees something she doesn’t recognize approaching in the distance. I can always tell when she’s spotted something coming her way. If she sees an approaching person, dog, or UWO (unidentified walking object), Penny’s pace slows ever so slightly. Her walking becomes much more deliberate and controlled. Locked in on the figure in the distance, Penny lowers her head slightly and hunches her little puppy shoulders (do puppies have shoulders?!). As we get closer and closer, Penny’s hunch gets lower and lower. Her walking slows even more until, finally, we reach the object. She either lowers her hunch all the way to the ground and stays in a submissive position, or if she’s feeling friendly, she investigates, jumps, and wags her tail.

Most of the time, I laugh at Penny—that is, until I spot something that I can’t identify on the horizon and get a little nervous myself.

My work schedule typically requires that I walk Penny in the evening, and the fantastic winter weather and daily 37-minutes of sunshine that we seem to get in southwestern Ohio at this time of year often require that I walk Penny in the dark. For the most part, our neighborhood is very well lit, but there are some stretches that tend to be a bit darker than others.

A few evenings ago, Penny and I were walking together in the cold when I noticed the familiar hunching behavior of my four-legged companion. Realizing that she had spotted something up ahead, I looked up and spotted something in the distance. I spotted it too, and after a few seconds of quick mental processing, I had identified three possible things that the darkened object on the sidewalk up ahead could have been:

  1. A small, toothy-little creature that was prepared to chew all of our ankles off,
  2. A carnivorous, vicious, prehistoric-style bird that would peck through my ribcage and ravage all of my internal organs, or
  3. A piece of trash.

Naturally, I chose the most realistic option of the three.

It was definitely the bird.

If you know me, you know that I have a particularly strong fear of any creature from the avian realm. I’ve got this whole ornithophobia thing down to a fear-inducing science of pure terror. When I was a child, my Dad used to torment me at the county fair by gleefully dragging me through the chicken barn as I shrieked, bawled, and prayed to my God and any others who might be listening that none of these foul fowls would decide to jump on me and peck my eyes out. When I visit Home Depot, I am that guy who ducks (no pun intended) anytime a bird flies down from the warehouse-style ceiling (WE ARE INSIDE! WHY IS A BIRD INSIDE?!). And one time while on vacation with our closest friends a few years ago, a seagull attacked me and stole the last bite of my delicious Cuban sandwich as I screamed for intervention from the Almighty. I still can’t eat a Cuban sandwich without feeling my heart rate increase. Thanks, bird.

On the night in question, as Penny and I both crept towards the vulture-like bird on the sidewalk in front of us, we each grew a bit more anxious. I could see Penny’s head go lower and lower and lower towards the ground as she slowed her walk, and I felt myself preparing for a bit of a run in the event that this bird did what I knew it was going to do (namely, kill me and my dog in a violent flurry of feathers and squawking).

A light in the distance flickered, and as we got closer and closer I decided to take out my phone and turn on the flashlight so I could look into the devilish eyes of the murderous beast. And once I cast the light up ahead of us, I had a clear vision of our dreaded enemy.

A mangled pizza box.

(But wait….there could still be a bird inside the pizza box ready to fly out and peck our eyeballs out, right?!)

That’s right. The fear-inducing figure in the distance turned out to be nothing more than someone’s old, empty pizza box that had likely blown from a garbage can down the street.

I was relieved, and so was Penny—although she really wishes there would have been a slice of pepperoni with extra cheese left for her. But it wasn’t until we were able to shine a light on the shadow in the distance and realize what it was before we could be free from our anxiety and fear.

And in many ways, I think that mental illness works the same way.

I firmly believe that mental illness is an enemy that, when left in the dark, grows stronger, more powerful, and more all-encompassing day by day. I also believe that, when talked about and brought out into the light, we diminish the stronghold that mental illness can have on our minds and on our lives. With each confession that we are struggling or hurting, we slowly strip mental illness of its power and fight against the culture of silence where it finds its control.

When I reflect and think back on my Dad’s struggle, I can see this playing out in the rearview mirror as I desperately wish I had paid more attention to it. For the longest time, my Dad refused to shine a light on his own depression, but instead chose to bury it deep below the surface—but his motivations weren’t egocentric in the slightest. My Dad was not a man who cared about image or his own ego, and I am confident that the reasons that my Dad felt he couldn’t talk about his depression were motivated by a fear of disappointment—more than most, he was afraid he would let people down.

My Dad was a fixer. A builder. A carpenter, electrician, and maintenance technician by both trade and pure interest, and there was rarely a thing my Dad couldn’t do. My Dad was the guy that everyone called. If you needed a ceiling fan fixed or a shower tiled or a deck built, my Dad was the first call for many. His talents, as I’ve written about before, were abundant, and now that he’s gone, I think I’m even more in awe of what he could do. He was an artist, a craftsman of the highest order, obsessed with detail, quality, and perfection. But above all, he loved being able to make others happy with his talent. And by golly, it was genuine.

Above all, I know the motive for why my Dad helped people. It wasn’t about showing off those talents. It was never about boasting. It was because he had a fixer’s heart, and he liked being able to help others. More than anything, I think my Dad had a deep fear of disappointing people.

This fear of disappointing people was one of his most admirable qualities—but it was also the same fear that, left unchecked, led to him into periods of suffering in isolation and loneliness. Among his many great qualities, my Dad was also dependable beyond belief. If he told you he would be somewhere, he was there. If he told you he was going to fix something, it would be fixed. He held himself to a higher standard than anyone else, and that higher standard could create pressure that was difficult to reckon with. I believe that my Dad had an irrational fear that admitting he had depression and that he was suffering would cause people to think they couldn’t depend on him any longer—and I’m confident that it was that fear, more than anything, that kept him from talking about his illness.

It’s a fear that wasn’t unique to my Dad. It’s a mindset of silence that, unfortunately, is all too pervasive for those who are hurting, suffering, and struggling with mental illness.

When I reflect on my Dad’s story and think deeply about the moments when his depression controlled him most severely, it’s hard not to think of the scary and frightening moments. Those moments when, fueled by his depression, he would inexplicably leave without a trace and runaway, abandoning the home where all the comfort he ever needed lived.

But time gives the benefit of great perspective and holism, and I can simultaneously reflect on the moments immediately thereafter when he would come home, admit his defeat, and seek help. Those moments when Dad would return and when we would talk about his depression, dragging the monster that scared him out into the light to recognize it for what it was and to emphasize, strongly, that there was a path forward—to encourage and show Dad that he could manage and control this—were moments of unbelievable growth. We would recognize Dad’s depression and not deny the fact that it existed. He would visit the doctor, and be vulnerable about what was going on, and chart a path forward through medication and other treatments.

And then, with his depression called out into the open, Dad would get better. It wasn’t easy. It was never a “snap your fingers” type of treatment. It took weeks, sometimes months, for Dad to get better—but in nearly every situation, Dad did get better. And for a while (sometimes a long, long while), things would be at their best. And Dad would be at his best—a conquering fighter who would refuse to let his life be controlled by a powerful, dangerous illness.

It would be those moments when Dad’s depression was out in the open amongst our family in which he would feel most at ease—most comfortable with who he was at his core. During the times when Dad felt he could admit that he was struggling and he could avoid the shame of feeling like he needed to hide his illness, I think my Dad was truly at his happiest, his most content, and his most peaceful state.

Doesn’t it work that way for so many out there who are hurting and suffering from mental illness?

We all harbor different fears. Some of us are afraid of heights. Others are afraid of social situations. The smart people are afraid of birds. But then there are those deeper, emotionally-laden fears that are hard, even embarrassing, to talk about. Our fears of rejection. Our fears of solitude. Of financial inadequacy. Of pain and abuse. Of insecurity. And yes, of disappointment.

When we grow fearful, we often feel we have to wear a mask. And when we wear a mask, we are unnecessarily burdened by the shame of feeling that we have to hide how we feel. We shy away from honestly sharing our fears and insecurities, and as we do, those same fears and insecurities grow and grow and grow, eventually growing to a point that they take over our ability to function regularly.

But it’s the immediate relief that any of us who have suffered from mental illness can all relate to—the “shine a light” moment. That moment when we admit we are struggling while simultaneously taking a deep sigh of relief, knowing that we’ve identified the culprit—mental illness—and realizing that the enemy is exposed. There’s a physical response when we admit we are hurting—our shoulders relax, the tightness in our chest disappears, and it literally feels as if a weight has been lifted from our bodies. Think of it like a pressure valve or a cork in a bottle of champagne. All the pressure continues to build and build and build, and the moment that cork goes pop!, we feel an immediate relief of the pressure. Everything bubbles out and—if you’ve got a good bottle—life tastes really, really good in those first, fresh moments after you’ve opened the bottle.

I think we feel the most relief in those moments immediately after we shed the mask of shame and honestly talk about our fears, insecurities, and feelings. But for many who suffer and especially my Dad, as time wears on, we tend to slowly but surely put that mask back on. Over time, when we aren’t making our mental health a priority, we fall back into the old, comfortable patterns that led us down the wrong road in the first place. The less we talk about how we feel, the less light we shine on the enemy—and the less light we shine on the enemy, the more powerful it grows. And then, before we know it, the goodness that we felt in those immediate moments of relief completely retreats into the shadows. There we are again, stuck in the same place of guilt and inexplicable darkness that we were in before. The mask becomes comfortable again and seems to be a better alternative to being vulnerable.

Dear readers, I lost my Dad to suicide because of this, and I can promise you, there is nothing comfortable about not talking about our fears and feelings. It is a dead-end road, and one we must not pursue.

That’s why we have to talk, and we have to talk regularly. Yes, we must talk in the midst of our illness and in the immediate aftermath, but we also need to keep that conversation going as we begin to feel better, and yes, as we may begin to feel worse. We need to make vulnerability an everyday practice that’s as regular and accepted as brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or combing our hair. I confidently believe that so many of our real problems associated with mental illness are amplified and worsened when we don’t discuss them with others. I wish my Dad had felt comfortable enough to do more of that—and I wish that you would do more of it, too.

If you’re reading this post and you find yourself suffering from mental illness or suicidal ideations, I know that it can feel daunting and inescapable—but I promise you that the power mental illness holds over your life will dissipate when you shine a light on it and when you talk. You don’t have to talk to everyone. You don’t have to broadcast it on social media or in front of a crowd of thousands. But talk to someone, anyone. Shine a light by finding the people you trust most in your life and sharing your fear and worries with them. You’ll be shocked at how good it feels to shine the light on your mental illness—how good it feels to relieve the pressure, pop the cork, and let the feelings bubble out. And you’ll be amazed at how quickly the grip of mental illness is loosened.

It is no secret that, as I write this post, we are living in scary, confusing, fear-laden, and intensely unpredictable times. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a society that was already smoldering with fear and poured gasoline on that fire. If we were fearful a month ago, it’s likely that those feelings have grown much, much worse in the past days as we scramble to understand what is happening across the globe. As I pray for those who are hurting, there has been a heavy weight on my heart recently. It’s a heavy weight for those who are hurting and suffering from mental illness. It’s a worry that the mental illness they suffer from will grow even more powerful because of the unintentional effects of our needed physical isolation. Everyone is hurting, but those who suffer from mental illness may feel even less in control of their lives than they normally do.

In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that there will be good that comes from this crisis. No, I don’t want it to happen, but yes, I believe that the Gospel is meant to invade dark places. Yes, there has been so much good happening in the midst of this difficult chapter. Individuals are more cognizant of the impact of their actions upon their communities and the world. Moments of generosity, I believe, are more abundant than they were previously. Without the convenience of a meal at a restaurant, a workout at the gym, or a movie with friends, I believe we’ve all grown to appreciate the little things that, for so long, we’ve taken for granted. Maybe we all needed a bit of a reminder that, above all and even with its many difficulties, life is grand and beautiful, complex yet lovingly simple.

At the same time, however, our worst fears and our primal instincts for self-preservation have amplified in ways we never imagined. Although outnumbered by the good, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the image of two grown adults in a fisticuffs over a pack of Charmin at a Walmart as long as I live. When I go to the grocery store, I see the panic in people’s eyes that, when the world is right, just shouldn’t be there—and, unfortunately, I’ve felt it in my own heart. And I can’t help but think that, as much fear as we are seeing exhibited outwardly by so many people, the fear that people aren’t exhibiting is even worse, even greater, and even more destructive if it ever bubbles to the surface.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline TileSo if you are hurting or struggling from mental illness that you can’t explain, I beg you to not let these times of isolation prevent you from talking with someone. Find that trusted loved one or friend, call them, and just ask them if you can share your heart. Talk with them about your fears. Not everyone will be receptive, but I promise you that someone will. More than ever before, reach out to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist who can help bring those feelings to the surface in a way that is redemptive. And if the thought of suicide has crossed your mind, I beg you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Never, never let those thoughts linger. Never underestimate their power. Do something, in this moment, that will protect you, your families, and the generations to come. The world is better because you’re in it—promise me you’ll be here.

And lastly, for those fellow believers, I beg you to talk with God. Yes, He knows all, but there is great power in shining a light on our biggest fears and concerns and letting God know that we need help. Reveal the depths of your heart to the One who can reach down, provide solace, and restore peace. And find comfort in talking with him regularly because, the more we talk, the more comfortable and easy it becomes to be vulnerable—which, after all, is how God created us to be.

Together, we can create a culture of light-shiners who refuse to let our hurts grow and gain power in the dark. Now, more than ever, it’s time for all of us to start shining a light.

And please, dear neighbors, pick up your pizza boxes. Poor Penny and I can’t take it any longer.

Dad with Dinosaur and SB LogoDad, My heart hurts deeply when I think about how fearful you likely felt throughout your life. It breaks my heart to know that you experienced such shame which prevented you from reaching out and talking to those of us who loved you. Dad, I just want you to know that we were never, ever disappointed in you. No matter how sick you might have been, and even during the times when your mental illness led you to leave us, we were never disappointed in the man you were. And now, I hope you are resting in the peace of Heaven and allowing God to remind you, daily, that He was never disappointed either. Your life continues to guide me and remind me of the importance of sharing my feelings with others, and although I don’t always do it perfectly, I’m grateful that you’re still parenting me and teaching me daily. I carry you with me every single day, Dad. Thank you, Dad, for showing courage in all those moments that matter most. I can’t wait to tell you, face to face, how proud I am of you for fighting the way you did. Until that glorious reunion, seeya Bub.

 “Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.” Galatians 6:2 (GW)

“Not Yet”

I knew I wanted to talk—I just didn’t know when I’d be ready.

In addition to my job at Miami University, I’ve been a sports announcer for many years, calling games for local high schools and college teams in my ever-dwindling spare time. It’s a passion I picked up during my freshman year at Miami’s Hamilton Campus when I saw a flyer in the stairwell of Mosler Hall looking for a new “Voice of the Harriers.” Inevitably, the more I announced in my hometown and the surrounding communities, the more requests I received to emcee or host other events that weren’t athletic contests. Sports hall of fames, fundraisers, and talent shows started to pack my Friday and Saturday nights, and no matter where I looked, there always seemed to be a stage and a podium with a microphone awaiting me—and I loved it. God had given me a tremendous platform, and to this day, I’ve always tried to thank Him each and every time I get asked to play a part in these events.

Although the inductees have a tendency to get a little long-winded, sports hall of fames have always been fun events for me to host. I try and land a few jokes out of the gate, get a laugh or two when an inductee forgets to thank his wife during the speech, and most importantly keep everything on time so the event doesn’t run too long (a goal that constantly eludes me). The first hall of fame I ever emceed was a cruel reminder of this truth. Prior to the event, the organizers told all of the inductees that they each had about three minutes to deliver their acceptance speech. The very first inductee applied the liberal interpretation of the word “about” and spoke for 21 minutes. There were nine additional inductees after him. The event started on a Saturday night, and I think I made it home by Wednesday or Thursday of the next week.

Selfishly, my favorite part of emceeing a sports banquet has always been the closing. In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ll scour the headlines, Internet, and plenty a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in an attempt to find an anecdotal tale, story, or illustration that will leave the audience thinking more intentionally about how they treat their fellow man or woman. Usually, these stories have some kind of theme or character trait that I hope we can all learn to exemplify more. Perhaps it’s “purpose” or “sacrifice” (…or “brevity” for that 21-minute inductee who is likely still giving his acceptance speech in a hotel ballroom somewhere).

In the days, weeks, and months after I lost my Dad to suicide, I constantly felt God’s call on my life to share Dad’s story. Frustratingly, I felt the call, but didn’t have a compass. Did God want me to share the story with those in my close inner circle? On a national stage? In the written form? And what parts of the story did He want me to share? I prayed and asked, but unfortunately did not feel His direction. It was maddening at times, but simultaneously reassuring. At least God had given me the call; maybe it was up to me to determine the direction?

A few months after losing Dad, I needed to start preparing for another athletic hall of fame that I had agreed to host. This one, fittingly, was to be held at Miami Hamilton. The event, albeit small, had always held a special place in my heart. This was the place where I had been given my start as a sports announcer with absolutely no experience (it was probably a good thing that there were only 50 people at a game that first year as I learned, experimented, made my share of mistakes, and found my way). Even though it never felt like a “big gig,” Mom and Dad had always attended every single game they could, sitting across from me in the bleachers. I can still picture them to this day. I can still picture Dad walking across the court after every single game to tell me I had done a good job. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents followed him to nearly every game. Looking back on it, I realize how thankful I was for their presence; and after that chapter of life was gone, I missed it tremendously. Looking across the court into the bleachers after losing Dad, I could still picture him sitting there in a Miami hoodie, smiling, laughing, and of course, talking to everyone. They were good memories—they still are.

As I prepared to host my first hall of fame dinner after losing my Dad, and I thought about how much that campus had meant to me and the family memories I had there, I realized that I had a fitting story to tell at the close of the event without having to do any research whatsoever. I wanted to tell the story of my Dad and me playing catch together in our side yard. I wanted to talk about the indelible memories that the two of us had made together as sweat poured from our brows in the blazing sunset of most humid Cincinnati July evenings. I wanted to talk about how losing my Dad had made me realize that those toss sessions were more than just an opportunity to throw or hear the pop of a leather Rawlings glove. Those were moments when Dad and I grew closer to one another. Where we shared our frustrations, our fears, and a few laughs whenever I jumped to catch a ball that didn’t require jumping (I’ve mentioned my lack of athletic ability a time or thirty here, so this should come as no surprise to anyone).

With Dad’s death still very, very heavy on my heart, I knew it was the story to tell. I knew that I could go up on stage, acknowledge that I was still grieving and in tremendous pain, and maybe, just maybe, give those in attendance an important reminder—a reminder that life is sweet, precious, and terribly fragile.

In the days leading up to the event, I would sit down at my desk and try to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to hash out the story I wanted to tell. This was well-before I had launched this blog, and writing in my life to that point had been much more academic and stuffy than the story I hoped to tell the night of the ceremony. Each time I sat down, I found my mind and will to write waning. It was unbelievably difficult for me to take the story and memories I had in my head and craft them into an accurate narrative—and it was very disheartening. Night after night I found myself grappling with words, writing whole paragraphs only to delete them, and growing generally more discouraged by the minute.

My Dad’s story—I knew—was worth telling; and I wanted to tell it. I just didn’t know how. And night after night after frustrating night, I just couldn’t write it. This wasn’t writer’s block—this was a writer’s blockade! I simply could not articulate the words I wanted to say. At the time, writing the story felt unnatural, even though I knew I wanted to share it. I tried not to get discouraged, but as the event drew nearer and nearer, I knew that it just wasn’t going to come together as I had wished.

That feeling of uneasiness led me down an interesting path. In my mind, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was a story I didn’t want to craft or script. Maybe God was telling me to go up, and to speak from the heart, and let the story tell itself? After all, the story was in my head. Maybe in the moment it would feel more natural to speak without notes. I’ve always tried to be an authentic and honest speaker, and I began to believe that the best way to share Dad’s story was to do it off the cuff. I’m also very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, and knowing that this story was my own, I wasn’t as concerned with making sure I had every detail scripted in front of me. I knew the details because I had lived them.

Anyone who has seen me in the “backstage” moments before I announce an event knows I’m a meticulous planner, and I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the script. I request it days in advance so I can edit, add in my own directions, adjust, and rehearse. I format it meticulously and identically every single time: size 18 font for maximum readability, Arial font only, bold titles and headers for different program portions, italicized stage cues, clean paragraph breaks with no sentences spanning multiple pages, no text in the bottom third of the page, and page numbers always formatted as “Page __ of __” in the top right-hand corner to keep me on track for timing. I print two copies in case one is the victim of a spill or abduction, paper clip them, and place them both into my lucky padfolio.

(Insert your joke about “meticulously” being a code word for “OCD” here.)

For the first time in my announcing career, I made an exception in my script. After printing out the 20 pages of scripted material, I added a page to the back—no number, no font and sizing conventions. In fact, the page said absolutely nothing. As I prepared, I took out a red pen and wrote across the top of the page “I LOVE MY DAD.” That would be my cue, my directive, the only motivation I needed to tell the story and tell it properly.

The event went as well as any other I had hosted, but during each acceptance speech from the inductees I found myself growing more and more anxious. I was the only person in the room who knew what I was about to do. I was going to share a story so central to my identity that there was going to be no going back once I told it. Over the past few years, public speaking had become something that I was beyond comfortable doing—so much so that I actually enjoyed it. I rarely got nervous anymore, but on this night, I found myself constantly trying to wipe the sweat from my palms as the closing approached.

When that moment came, I confidently walked up to the podium and congratulated the hall of fame class again on their accomplishment. As I do nearly every time, I set the stage for what I was about to do. On that night, I told the audience that I always tried to leave them with a story that would give us all something to think about as we went our separate ways, but that this year, my story would be a bit more personal because it was my own.

I began to tell the story, and I began to tell the audience about my Dad…and within just a few seconds, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. I started breaking down in front of a group of loving but justifiably uncomfortable individuals. I couldn’t even string a sentence together. I was sobbing at the podium, unable to speak. I was crying and sweating and felt the need to throw up. Standing in front of a crowd is not a great time to realize that you’ve made a mistake—but there I was.

I don’t even remember what happened or how I transitioned, but I ended the story abruptly. I think I may have mentioned that I just wanted people to know that my Dad was important to me and the memories I had of him at Miami Hamilton would always be special, and I uncomfortably closed the event and left the stage with my standard directive to drive home safely. A few of the attendees who I knew came up and hugged me and encouraged me and told me how important it was that I had shared this story, but I was undeniably disappointed in myself. Not for the impression that anyone had of me; I was disappointed because I hadn’t done my Dad justice. I don’t know that I’ve ever hustled out of an event as quickly as I had done that night.

The car ride home was isolated and brutal. I beat my fist into the steering wheel at multiple red lights, wondering why my first attempt to share my Dad’s story publicly had gone so badly. Dad deserved better.

I admit that Satan crept into my mind on that night and took up a semi-permanent residence there for a while. I could hear his temptations to give up. You’re never going to bounce back from this one.” “You’re never going to get over the humiliation you feel in this moment.” “You’re never going to have a platform to share your Dad’s story.” “You’re never going to get to a point where you can talk about your Dad without being so overcome by grief that it completely defeats you.” “You’re never going to be able to help other people learn from what happened to your Dad.”

Never. Never. Never. I kept hearing it again and again, and the tears got worse every time I heard it.

But in the days after that event, I prayed. Even though I was upset. Even though I was hurting. Even though, yes, I was frustrated with God for giving me a platform and not helping me deliver the message I wanted and that Dad deserved. And with each prayer, I heard two words in response, over and over again, every time I shared my humiliation and fear with God:

“Not yet.”

Not yet. God’s response to all the “nevers” that Satan had put in my head was more powerful—“not yet.” God was taking something that felt irredeemable and He was promising me a way forward. I heard God telling me that He still had work to do. In those simple words, I heard God telling me that His timing was better than my own. And as much as I hated to come to terms with this, I heard God telling me that He was going to teach me something in the failure I had experienced on that evening. He was going to use that moment of failure, pain, and dissapointment to grow and develop something within me.

And little by little, day by day, I felt it.

In the months that followed, even though I kept the phrase “not yet” in my head quite often, I still succumbed to doubt. But the pain of not being able to share my Dad’s story was an important reminder for me to be patient—a skill that God did not innately bless me with. I thought I was ready; but God knew I wasn’t. He knew that I was still grieving and that the pain of my Dad’s death from suicide was more real and raw than I was giving it credit for. God needed me to take care of myself before I could possibly start sharing Dad’s story in an effort to take care of others, and He was using that experience to remind me of the need to not neglect my own needs.

What was most valuable in those moments, and what I still thank God for to this day, was the “yet.” Yes, I had failed during that first attempt, but I heard God telling me that He wanted me to walk, not sprint. I heard God telling me that I needed to heal before I could help; to build a strong foundation first before building the Kingdom.

My experience and growth in those months of struggle taught me important lessons about sharing my Dad’s story—both in public forums but also in my daily conversations with individuals. These have turned into important lessons for me about grief—lessons that I hope can benefit anyone who might be struggling to talk about the pain they are feeling.

Talk when you’re ready. There is no timeline on grief. There is no guideline for when you should be ready to talk to others or share your story, and we shouldn’t try to force our grief into a timetable that doesn’t work for us.

Looking back on my own situation, I can easily realize that I was trying to force myself to talk publicly about my Dad because I thought that I should have been far enough along through my grief to accomplish this—but I wasn’t. It had been a few months since Dad’s death when I gave it that first attempt, and others in similar situations had moved on in a similar timeline—but I hadn’t, and I just wasn’t ready. Even though there had been time to do some healing, Dad’s death still felt as fresh and real in many moments as it did on that first day when I found out that he was gone.

I used an arbitrary calendar to gauge my grief and healing, which was a horrible thing to do. Grief and healing aren’t measured in years; they’re measured in steps and goalposts and milestones, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to reach each of those moments in our development. For some, healing might happen quickly. For others it might move at a snail’s pace, and for most, grief will actually occur in a non-linear pattern with ups, downs, more ups, more downs, sideways jaunts, and all kinds of inexplicable moments in between. There were hints of God’s “not yet” directive all throughout my life leading up to that night, but I didn’t take them because I didn’t want to appear weak. What a foolish, foolish trap to fall for.

Give yourself grace when you talk about your loss. For a long while after that failed attempt to speak about my Dad, I beat myself up over it. I looked at that attempt as a failure that would always haunt and plague me when I tried to make a difference in the world of suicide prevention. It was a moment at the podium that I didn’t think I could ever bounce back from.

But that was Satan’s distortion, not God’s reality.

Satan tells us that if we don’t get it right the first time, we never will. God, on the other hand, tells us that our failures are building blocks for something greater. On nearly every page of the Bible, you’ll find stories of individuals who failed and went on to do great things to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth, and it’s not the failures that God remembers. Instead, He remembers the moment that we bounce back. He remembers Paul’s ministry, not his crusade to kill early Christians. He remembers Peter as the rock upon which the Christian church was built, not the way he sunk like a rock while trying to walk on the water. He remembers Cornelius the Roman Centurion’s conversion to Christianity, not the atrocities he committed on behalf of the Roman Empire that led him to that moment. The men and women in the Bible show us stories of redemption, but there can only be redemption if there is first failure.

When we talk about our grief, our mistakes do not hold us captive. Oftentimes, it’s the actual process of talking through our grief and the way we feel that reveals where we are hurting. Deeply buried hurts and pains bubble to the surface when we talk, and if we don’t talk, those things stay buried but still hurt us without our knowing it. At times, I’ve talked about losing my Dad (namely to my therapist and those in my life who are closest to me) and came to new realizations about my grief, even if I didn’t articulate everything perfectly. There were things bothering me that I didn’t even realize until I mentioned them; and once I shine the light on them and speak about them, they don’t hurt as bad.

Just as there’s no timetable or manual that you have to follow when you talk about your grief, there also isn’t a set dictionary or writer’s guide that tells you how you have to talk about your feelings. As you begin to talk, be kind to yourself and understand that how you feel might not always come out perfectly. Let’s face it—if we all knew how to talk about our feelings perfectly, my Dad wouldn’t have suffered in silence from his depression. Learning to talk about our loss or our complicated and often messy feelings requires the failures just as much as it does the successes.

You don’t have to share your story with everyone, and you don’t have to share everything. After losing my Dad, I felt the need to talk about him and share his story with everyone I met in nearly every forum that I had; but I realized that it was not productive. I thought, foolishly, that if I wasn’t talking about my Dad, I was forgetting about him or failing to honor his memory. Wrongly, I felt as if I was disrespecting him in every moment that I didn’t talk about him.

As painful as it is for me to admit it, there are some people with whom I don’t talk to very often about losing my Dad. It sounds ironic to write this on a blog that is broadcast to the world at large, but I want to make the story available to anyone who can learn and grow from it. That doesn’t mean that I expect everyone to read it, or that I even expect everyone who reads it to learn from and grow from it. I know God will direct my Dad’s story into the right hands. I’m just the messenger; I’ll let God take care of the delivery.

Even though I don’t control the delivery, it also means that I am in control of the story itself, which is unbelievably reassuring in a phase of life that has felt very unpredictable because of my unexpected loss.

There are some elements of my Dad’s story that I don’t share at all. Those are precious, private details between a lost Father and a grieving son that will always be sacred to me. Setting boundaries on what I will discuss and what I won’t has been one of the most important techniques in sharing my story that protects my own mental health and grief. There are some moments and details, honestly, that are still too painful to relive, even six years removed from losing my Dad. So, I approach those areas with tenderness, and I try to realize that there is something really valuable about self-care when it comes to sharing our stories, especially when death and loss are involved.

And most importantly, I learned that God helps us get back off the mat after we are knocked down. I’m so grateful that, over time, God gave me the strength and encouragement to get back up from the blows that had been delivered after that first unsuccessful attempt.

I don’t remember how much time had passed in between—which in itself is an important reminder to not focus on arbitrary calendar markers when it comes to our grief—but I eventually felt the call to share my Dad’s story at an event I was hosting.

And this time, I heard God clearly saying “Now.”

The story I wanted to tell came to me with an unbelievable clarity, and it honored my Dad in the exact way that I had hoped to honor him in the previous attempt. I was fortunate that there were no cameras around to capture that first failed attempt, but I was beyond grateful that the cameras happened to be there the second time around (special thanks to my good friend Steve Colwell of TVHamilton for capturing this important moment in my life).

Looking back and watching that moment years removed, I still find imperfections—but those imperfections were perfectly honest at that particular moment in time, and I’m happy they are there. I’m happy that my story, in many ways, is still so similar, and I’m happy that in other ways, it has changed dramatically. It’s evidence that I’ve healed in many ways, and that I’m still healing in others. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we grow and change, there is still a firm foundation that God gives us which roots our souls firmly in His presence. I’m glad that God is happy with us where we are, but I’m just as thankful that He never wants us to remain in that same place forever.

And each day, I grow to appreciate more and more those reminders when God tells me “Not yet.”

Family at Joes Game with SB Logo LeftDad, Talking about your death has, at times, been unbelievably difficult because the pain of losing you is still so real. Every day, I want to honor you and the life that you lived here, and I’m grateful that, over time, God has given me the grace and power to do that in my own way. Dad, I want you to know that you are still so loved by so many. Your story is helping so many people. Your death is giving life to other people who are hurting and struggling, and no matter what I do, I’ll never forget you and the lessons you taught me. Each time I talk about you, I can feel your presence, and I know you are watching over me and guiding me. Dad, continue watching over me. Continue to give me that peace and comfort that only a Father can provide. In your life, you taught me everything I would need to survive in the aftermath of your death; and in your death, your memory is still teaching me daily. Your memory teaches me what it means to be a good husband, son, and friend. Thank you, Dad, for being a Father worthy of praise. I miss you more and more each day, and I am anxiously waiting for the day when we are reunited. Until then, seeya Bub.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

“Come Home”: A Guest Blog by Kathy Dolch

Ty: It’s hard to understand the suicidal mind—both for those who are experiencing the suicidal ideations, and for those of us who have loved ones who die from suicide or suffer from mental illness.

Thanks to the bravery, courage, and unbelievable faith of my next guest blogger, we now have that opportunity.

For the longest time after his death, I really wanted to get inside of my Dad’s head at the time leading up to his death from suicide—no matter how dark and depressed it might have been. When you lose a loved one to suicide, there’s an innate desire to feel what they felt, see what they saw, and try your best to answer questions that are largely unanswerable. I knew that one of the only ways to grasp the severity and pain of the depression that catalyzed my Father’s death would be to search out first hand experiences of individuals who attempted and survived a suicidal catastrophe. I read books (Kevin Hines Cracked, Not Broken is one of my favorites), listened to podcasts and videos, and devoured the writings of psychologists and psychiatrists who did their best to capture and share the true nature of mental illness that can lead to such a drastic end.

But a few evenings ago, I found someone better and more powerful than anything I’ve ever read before. I found Kathy Dolch.

While speaking at the inaugural Butler County Walk To Remember event, a woman sat next to me at a table near where I stood. As I talked, I could see the pain on her face, but I also sensed tremendous hope. A hope that can only come from someone who has seen the valley, scaled the mountain, and is ready to face life’s darkest moments head on.

After I finished speaking, Kathy made her way over to me, shook my hand, and then told me her story—a story that I was so privileged to hear from one of God’s most faithful servants. I knew, in that moment, that Kathy was put here in that moment, to help me understand the severe and unyielding pain my Dad must have been experiencing in the moments leading up to his death; but I also knew that God put her in front of me so she could have an opportunity to share her story with the world.

On that night, I invited Kathy to share her story of hurt, resilience, forgiveness, and love at Seeya Bub, and she accepted without hesitation. It is the honor of a lifetime for me to share her words with you now.


Kathy: In 2002 (seventeen years ago), my husband and I were planning to go out for dinner; but for some reason, my husband did not arrive home.  I called his office, friends, emergency rooms and finally the police trying to find out where he was. No one had any answers, and the police would not do anything until midnight, telling me he would eventually call and finally come home.  To my surprise, the police also suggested he was with another woman. It was a shock to think that could ever be true.

I was unable to eat dinner and also unable to sleep on that night. Finally, the police called at midnight and filed a missing person report for both Ohio and Indiana.  After a painful and sleepless night, my husband called and left a message for me to return phone call. I was glad to know that he was okay, but worried about what he might say to me from the other end of the line.

I had no idea how earth-shattering his message to me on that day might be.

My husband told me he was not coming home and said that he had been with another woman for eight or nine months. He also encouraged me to see a psychiatrist.  I ended the conversation quickly, unable to comprehend how the man I had been married to for decades could turn his back on our life together.  He tried to call back, but I refused to answer the phone.

There was nothing he would be able to say to me on the other end of the line to prevent me from the only desperate path I could envision.

I put my dogs in their crates.  I removed the gun from the dresser drawer and walked to the basement. The news my husband had given me left me no alternative—at least none that I could see through my heartache and pain. I did not want to suffer through the pain that my husband had inflicted upon me.

Holding the gun in my hand, I looked up and said “Father please let me be with you. Please take me home.” With what I thought would be my final words ever spoken, I shot myself in the right temple.

After he was unable to reach me and he began to grow suspicious about what I might have done, my husband called the police and told them I had received a little bad news on the phone. He asked if they would perform a welfare check to ensure I was safe, letting them know where the hide-a-key was hidden at our home. At the same time, my husband was in Indiana with the other woman and decided to drive back to our house with her.

After entering the home, the police found me clinging to life in our basement with a nearly-fatal gunshot wound. They immediately called the paramedics, who rushed me to the hospital.

I eventually arrived at the hospital, where I had surgery and remained in recovery for ten days.  I do not remember any of that time. My entire memory is completely wiped clean because of the physical and emotional trauma of that moment.

My husband did not visit at all during those ten days.  He did arrive to take me home once my recovery was complete, and he placed me in psychiatric therapy.  The second week in psychiatric care, I was moved to lock down.  My neighbor visited me, and I asked him to find a way for me to leave, as I desperately wanted to go home. My neighbor was told that I would have to sign myself out in order to be released, which I did the next day. On the day I was released, my neighbor drove me to the home that my husband and I had once lived in together—the same home where my life had almost ended as a result of my suicide attempt.

In the time that I was gone in recovery and recuperation, my husband had given my seven dogs to another home, and in that moment I knew that I was all alone. The house felt so empty, and I was alone with my thoughts and a mountain ahead of me that I knew I had to climb.

That mountain of recovery was not easy, but I committed myself to overcome the physical challenges that I was now facing. After the suicide attempt, I was diagnosed as legally blind. I have a hole in the back of each eye and all the direct vision cells and most of the optic nerve in my right eye were completely destroyed. I had surgery on the left eye a few weeks after the attempt to improve my vision. I went to the Cincinnati Academy for the Blind & Visually Impaired (CABVI) and was introduced to a large number of things to help me be more independent, and each and every day since then I’ve been working at this ever since.

The emotional hurdles were just as daunting. A few months after the incident, I was served divorce papers. I was completely shocked. The divorce proceedings were complicated and painful because of my husband’s self-centeredness. We spent an entire year in divorce court and after seemingly coming to an initial agreement, my husband tried to make many changes to the agreement in the final moments before the divorce was declared final—changes which would have left me in an even worse position than the one I was currently in.

Finally it was over. We have been back to court many times because my husband did not want to pay alimony.  Unfortunately, my husband stopped paying alimony for a while just three years after my suicide attempt, and the bank foreclosed on my home and I lost the home. We had been married for thirty-one years, and it was hard to come to terms with how a man who said he had loved me and would take care of me could inflict so much pain upon me. In fact, in the aftermath of my suicide attempt, I learned that my husband had committed adultery throughout our entire marriage. None of this made sense with what I thought my marriage was and could be.

In that moment, trying to rebound from a suicide attempt, economic ruin, and a crumbled marriage, I knew that my only way to recover would be God. In the immediate aftermath of my suicide attempt, God talked to me one day and I heard that quiet, still voice say to me “Start attending Mass again, come home.”

I’m glad I listened.

I was given a ride to St. Francis de Sales by another member of the congregation.  I walked up the stairs, opened the door, and having suffered unbelievable vision loss, I was so overjoyed that I was able to see the stained glass window in front of me. Standing in front of that window with tears, I heard chorus from all in heaven saying “Welcome home.”

I’ve been a member of St. Francis de Sales ever since coming home on that day, and now I am a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. My story is a painful one, but it is also a story of hope—God led me through one of the deepest, darkest valleys that has ever existed. He literally reached down His mighty hand and rescued me from the grips of death and my own despair, and I’ll never, ever stop loving him because He loved me at my weakest.

Throughout this experience, unfortunately, I felt I couldn’t trust anybody. My husband had lied to me for thirty-one years, and it left me in a place in which I felt like I could never trust anyone again. But God has shown me that there are still trustworthy, loving people in this broken world. I was amazed at how many people at CABVI wanted to help me cope with my blindness after the suicide attempt. My church has become my family, and they have given me such unbelievable support and encouragement. And everyone in heaven is my family. I know that those looking down on me will always love me, and feeling that love makes a huge difference.

But most importantly, knowing that God loves me has been my steady support since that awful day in 2002. Once I discovered I was alive after the attempt, my first words to my neighbor were “Even God doesn’t want me.” My life felt so hopeless, but after saying that to my neighbor, she simply responded, “Kathy, God does want you—just not yet.” I know that God has a purpose for my life, which is why he refused to let me die on that day. I pray for help all the time and I realize I should not have attempted to commit suicide. Even though I feel the pain of my suicide attempt and the vision and health issues it created, more than anything I feel the hope and love of God Almighty, whose love is everlasting in a world where too much pain exists.


Ty: On the night I first heard her story, I cried; and now, having read it many times in preparation for publication here, I find myself crying still.

I’m crying because, in her story, Kathy helps us understand just how desperate the world can seem to someone with a suicidal mind. To someone suffering from depression or any other mental illness, life’s obstacles (and life in general) can feel so overwhelming and painful that there seems to be no other escape but death. My heart breaks when I think about the hurt that Kathy must have felt when hearing about her husband’s infidelity. How alone Kathy must have felt in that moment. I am full of sorrow when I think about how isolated and hopeless Kathy must have felt if death seemed to be the only acceptable alternative.

But Kathy Dolch’s story, more than anything else, is a story of hope. Kathy’s story is not defined by her near-death experience, but by courage, determination, and sheer will she showed to survive and thrive in the years after. Kathy has not had an easy road at all. Imagine yourself in her shoes. As if surviving a life-threatening, self-inflicted gunshot wound isn’t enough, Kathy then had to learn how to live and function as a individual afflicted with blindness. She had to deal with the mental and spiritual anguish of unanswered questions, doubts, and guilt. And on top of all this, she had to make her journey towards recovery without her husband—a man who had pledged to stand by her side through sickness and in health, but had instead chose adultery.

Make no mistake though—Kathy was never, never alone. All throughout her recovery walk, Kathy was walking arm in arm with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Kathy had the power of the God who has known her since before she took her first breath, and in her most critical moment for reasons we may never know on this side of Eternity, God refused to let death win. I’m thankful for His grace in watching over Kathy, even when she felt like there was no one there to support her.

On the night I met Kathy, I told her that God had kept her on this planet for a reason, and I really believe that that reason is to share her story with those who are hurting. In my conversations with Kathy, I could tell how remorseful she was for what happened on that fateful day when her life almost ended; but more than anything, I was inspired by Kathy’s hope and resiliency. I commend Kathy for so many things, and I am so proud of her for sharing her story here.

After reading Kathy’s story, it’s only logical for you to feel more empathetic for those who are hurting and struggling with mental illness. Our world is broken, and the difficulties of this life can take quite a toll on our mental health and well-being. Kathy’s story is a heartbreaking example of a how a life well-lived can be attacked by sin. Her story shows how powerful and real suicidal temptations and ideations can truly be. Kathy had lived her life well and, by all accounts, had lived a life that bears many resemblances to me and you; which should be a warning that suicide isn’t just an epidemic that affects individuals on the fringes of society. Unfortunately, suicide isn’t an irregular incident; it’s an all-too-regular occurrence happening to all-too-regular friends, families, neighbors, and others that we love.

Kathy’s story has helped to give me perspective about how my Dad—a man who loved life—was driven to death by such tragic and avoidable means. In sharing her painful story, Kathy has helped me see how life circumstances coupled with mental distortions and drive someone, like my Father, to feel full of desperation.

But in her remorse, Kathy speaks directly to those individuals who may be reading and contemplating suicide themselves. When the dust settled, and to this day, Kathy felt extreme regret and wished to live. I imagine that every individual who dies from suicide, in their final moments, regrets the decision.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I believe Kathy’s story is a reminder of the value of life and our actions towards our fellow man and woman. Don’t get me wrong—suicide is never, never anyone’s fault. It is always the fault of mental illness. However, it’s easy to see in Kathy’s story how the selfish, hateful actions of her husband led her down a path towards suicide. Each and every day, we all have an opportunity to either build people up or tear them down with our words and actions; on this particular day, and on all the days that he committed adultery, this individual chose to destroy rather than encourage. If we want to build a world where suicide and mental illness are eradicated, kindness and decency towards our fellow man and woman is the ultimate foundation.

Kathy has shown all of us kindness by sharing her story so powerfully. I’m proud of her for sharing, and Kathy, all of us are proud of you for overcoming this tragedy and living a life defined by courage.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, For so long, I’ve tried to understand the level of despair you were feeling in the moment that your life ended. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to empathize with your pain. But individuals like Kathy have come into my life since losing you and have helped me gain that level of empathy. Dad, I am so sorry that you were hurting for so long. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t more forgiving in the times when you were hurting. I wish we had been able to help you find the healing that you needed and that you deserved. Dad, you had so much more to accomplish in this life. You had so many talents to contribute, and so many people left to love. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand how someone with such an unbelievable level of kindness, skill, and grace could feel as helpless as you did. But Dad, I promise to you that you will never be defined by your death. I will do everything I can to make sure that people remember you for the vivid life you lived, and I’ll make sure that your death (like Kathy’s story) gives people a hopeful reminder that life is worth living. Dad, thank you for equipping me with the courage to face life head-on in the aftermath of your death. It’s amazing to think that you were always teaching me the skills I would eventually need to deal with life after you. I’ll never stop learning from you, and I can’t wait to thank you for always giving me that inspiration. Until the day when I see your face again, seeya Bub.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

 

Kathy DolchKathy Dolch

Kathy Dolch is a survivor of suicide, having overcome a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2002 which rendered her legally blind. Kathy is a member of St. Francis de Sales Church where she serves as a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Kathy was a middle school math teacher for five years, having earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education from State of University of New York Oneonta. Kathy showed cairn terriers in the United States and Canada for obedience and confirmation prior to her suicide attempt. Kathy is now a resident of Lebanon, Ohio.

Eyes Wide Open

Tonight, I’ll hold a candle in my hand. A candle that represents my Father. A candle that reminds me that, although he’s gone, his memory will never, ever die out.

All the while, I’ll be surrounded by other hurting individuals, holding candles, asking the same questions as I am, experiencing the same sadness and despair that I’ve felt for the past six years.

Together, we will encourage one another. Together, we will remind one another that we are never, ever alone, no matter how isolating the world and our grief might feel.

But together, we will also serve as a powerful and uncomfortable reminder—a reminder that suicide is all-too-real, all-too-frequent, and all-to-preventable.

And together, I hope we can help open everyone’s eyes to the pain around us, just our own have been opened as well.


I never, never thought that suicide would impact my family. It wasn’t a possibility. Maybe in other people’s families; but definitely not mine.

And when it did, it opened my eyes; and they’ve been opening wider and wider ever since.

I remember the first time that it ever felt as if suicide hit close to home. A family that was very close with mine through some announcing work I had done had lost an adult brother to suicide in the middle of the baseball season. It shocked me because suicide seemed so irregular and so distant from the seemingly-perfect little world I lived in. Talking with the family at their first game back was heartbreaking. I remember leaning against the rail of the grandstand while the team was taking BP, and I didn’t quite know what to say to them; maybe because I didn’t quite know what to say about suicide in general. I likely asked questions that were nosey, pointless, and insensitive. Trying to understand their pain and anguish made me feel so unbelievably helpless. I was struggling to understand how suicide could have impacted a family that had so many wonderful people in it, but from a grander perspective, I was really struggling to understand the concept of suicide in general.

And after talking with them, heartbroken for the reality that had become their lives, I still believed that suicide was their story; not mine, and definitely not my family’s. I still believed that suicide was something so small, so random, and so seemingly disconnected from the reality that was my life that it could never, ever occur in my world—even though, by happening to them, it already had.

It wasn’t until the reality of suicide unexpectedly invaded the Bradshaw home that my eyes were truly opened wide to the reality, the prevalence, the pain, and the all-too-frequent occurrence of suicide in our country and in our own individual neighborhoods. It took a death from suicide invading my own front door for the pain to truly set in.

After the destruction of my Dad’s death and funeral had settled a bit, I found myself obsessively researching suicide and mental illness in the corner office of my small home in an effort to try to make sense of what had happened to my Dad. I knew that I’d never be able to answer most of the questions I had, because suicide at its core is an inexplicable phenomenon that doesn’t usually have a single indicator, trigger, or catalyst. In all likelihood, it’s a terrible confluence of environmental, biological, contextual, and spiritual factors that leads one to think that suicide is the only option.

Nonetheless, I looked for answers; and I found number after number, statistic after statistic, that shocked and amazed me. I had likely heard all of the numbers before, but none of them had ever carried the horribly painful weight that they now did. Now, my Dad represented one of those numbers. Now, a seemingly minor statistic had become the largest, most painful reality for my Dad and those who loved him. Those numbers surprised me, but they shouldn’t have. Those numbers shocked me, but I shouldn’t have been so numb to reality.

The reality was that these numbers had always existed and had always impacted the people in the world around me; I was just too busy, too self-focused, and too ignorant to pay any attention to them.

But everything I saw confirmed the reality. Everything I read showed me that mental illness and suicide by the numbers alone were all-too-likely to happen to those I loved. And I was ashamed to think that, for so long, I just pretended it wasn’t happening or was simply oblivious to the hurt existing in the world around me.

I was ashamed to see that, according to most every medical and research report I read, nearly one in five individuals in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness[1]. Continuing to read, I learned that there were so many people who were hurting and suffering but simply couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help they needed and deserved. Nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the past year.[2] I hated thinking that people who were hurting, like my Dad, felt ashamed of going to seek professional help.

I remember when I first learned that my Dad suffered from depression, and I recall thinking how unusual it had seemed—not just for my Dad, but for people in general. On the day I learned that my Dad couldn’t explain his despair, it felt like he was the only person in the world who was suffering and struggling. It felt as if his unexplainable sadness was something that only he dealt with. It felt as if the solution—counseling, medication, and other treatments—were so obvious.

But the life behind these numbers is much more complicated and messy. The numbers show—and now we all know—that many more people are hurting than we ever thought were. And we all know that treatment isn’t easy, often because admitting you are hurting isn’t easy.

Over those many sleepless nights after losing Dad, I kept reading and I kept researching, hoping I would be able to find a report that gave a more optimistic prognosis of the situation; but reality was much more important to me in that moment than optimism. After losing my Dad to suicide, it was more important that I had an accurate depiction of the state of affairs related to mental illness and suicide, not a pretty one. The numbers that shocked me more than the seemingly regular occurrence of mental illness, however, were those statistics related to how many individuals eventually died as a result of suicide.

I was dumbfounded to read numbers that represented real, broken, and unnecessarily-shortened lives, and those statistics related to suicide were the most heartbreaking:

  • Around 123 individuals in the United States each day died from suicide.[3]
  • That number translates to a death by suicide occurring every 12 minutes on average.[4]
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.[5]

I still remember the horror I felt when I read these numbers after losing Dad: horror at the situation, and horror at my own ignorance to the suffering of my fellow man. It wasn’t like these deaths were occurring in a far-off world; they were occurring all around me, right in my own backyard. Mental illness shouldn’t have been a foreign concept to me.

But it was; and I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until I lost my Father that I began to see the faces and lives behind these numbers. It took the cloud of suicide rolling over my own family and my own life to realize just how bad the storm really was. It shouldn’t have had to happen that way. It shouldn’t take going through unbelievable pain and hurt to be cognizant of an epidemic that steals lives, destroys families, and creates a generational grief that is nearly impossible to escape.

My Dad saw it, too.

Every year at Christmas, my Mom does a wonderful job of giving me a special gift that will help me remember my Dad. These gifts are focused on his life—not his death—and they’ve always helped take off some of the painful edge that surrounds every holiday without the man who raised me. Most of the time, her gifts are something created anew out of his things and possessions, giving them fresh life and meaning for me in his absence. A few years ago, however, she gave me something completely untouched and unbelievably meaningful—she gave me my Dad’s Bible. The Bible was completely undisturbed—exactly as it had been left on the last day of his life. It was a treasure I can’t put into words.

Like me, my Dad kept a few small, flat mementos in the front of his Bible. I leafed through them, one by one, wondering why they were there and what they meant to him. Some I could explain; others I could not. As I leafed through the items, there were a number of small funeral cards and programs that Dad had saved from services that he attended. I always respected my Dad for making a point to go to funerals to support those he loved, even if it made him uncomfortable.

Amongst the three or four funeral cards inside of his Bible cover, I couldn’t help but notice the program from our family friend’s funeral—the man who had also died from suicide. My jaw hung open when I saw it and thought about the unfortunate connectedness between this poor man and my Father. Almost a year and a month from the date of our family friend’s funeral, my Dad would die from the same exact mechanism of death. My family would be scarred by the same ugly, unfortunate fate that had affected a family that meant so much to us.

My Dad saw all of this. He saw the way it influenced this other family. But even with that perspective, he couldn’t avoid the same pain being inflicted upon our own household. It shows how powerful and dangerous mental illness can become when left unchecked. It shows how suicidal ideations can ensnare and completely distort our logical thought processes. Where mental illness distorts, reality is paralyzed; and making the right decision often takes a backseat to making an emotional one.

And it shows that we can’t wait until something bad happens in our own lives to open our eyes to the hurt that exists within the hearts and minds of those we love.

Even with my eyes wide open, it’s extremely difficult to make sense of my Father dying from suicide having attended a funeral for another suicide victim just one year earlier. It’s hard to fathom how a man who loved his God, loved his family, and loved the life that he had been given could feel so sick and so full of despair that life felt unlivable.

But mental illness and depression incapacitated my Father’s ability to think about how unnecessary his death by suicide was and how it might permanently inflict, wound, and hurt those who loved him most. My Dad couldn’t turn the tide on the statistics related to suicide, even though his own personal experience in this life should have helped him do that.

But now, we are all left behind, refusing to let those numbers increase as a way to redeem my Dad’s death.

In order to really turn the tide on the horrible statistics surrounding suicide, it’s time that we open our eyes. It’s time that we start to see more than numbers, but faces and lives and stories cut short by unnecessary pain and heartache.

This evening (September 10, 2019), I plan to join a group of fellow suicide survivors (a term that describes family and friends of someone who has died from suicide) at a support and prevention event called “A Walk to Remember” at the Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio. I’ve been invited to say a few words to that group before we all walk together and remember our loved ones, the joy they brought to our lives, and the pain we’ve felt in losing them. After I say a few words about my Dad at the beginning of the event, I’ll join hands with those who are also hurting and struggling as we make our way through a remembrance walk, channeling positive memories of our loved ones, and wishing, more than anything, that we could have our loved ones back.

There is peace in knowing that, tonight, I’ll be surrounded by so many individuals who understand the pain that my family and I have experienced. They’ll know what it feels like to get that awful phone call. They’ll know what it feels like to have questions that will never be answered. They’ll know what it feels like to feel guilty and sad and helpless and angry all at the same time. They’ll know what it feels like to be robbed of someone you love without reason or explanation.

But as much peace as I’ll find being with that group of fellow suicide survivors tonight, there will also be something deep and troubling about the entire experience. There will be a sense of frustration in wondering how suicide can continue to impact so many lives unnecessarily. There will be a sense of anger knowing that the average number of suicides per day in the United States has actually increased since losing my Dad, not decreased. I will walk around the lake at VOA Park contemplating why our unfortunate group of suicide survivors continues to add new members in an age where the statistics are widely known.

I don’t ever want families to have to be impacted by suicide first-hand to simply become aware. We shouldn’t need to lose those we love to learn or take action, especially when it comes to deaths that are entirely preventable. I shouldn’t have had to go through what I did to become more empathetic to those who were suffering and those who were grieving. But I’m here and you’re here knowing that we must do something to make sure that suicide is stopped dead in its tracks. I’m not talking about pushing back that average time by a minute or two minutes. I’m talking about radical change. I’m talking about each and every one of us having a deep and unyielding desire to make sure that no one ever becomes a victim of suicide again. If it’s a pipe dream to want to live in a society where people don’t feel the need, desire, or unnecessary compulsion to die prematurely, I’ll live in that idealistic world each and every day.

I ask you, in this moment, wherever you are and no matter what baggage you might carry along with you every day, to make sure this dream becomes a reality; to make sure that our awareness is more than just knowing, but becomes doing.

If you are hurting and contemplating suicide, I beg you in this moment and every single moment that follows to remember that you are loved, and that you matter, and that you deserve health, love, grace, and most importantly, life. I beg you to reach out and ask for the help that you need, that you deserve, and that is available.

And if you are reading this post because you know and love someone who is hurting, I implore you to show that individual forgiveness and patience, kindness and love. I ask you to do everything you can to help those you love in any way you can. Maybe it’s a difficult but necessary conversation. Maybe it’s opening up to that person, being vulnerable, and finding comfort in your mutual pains and struggles. Maybe it’s finding the bravery to accompany that person to a therapist or counseling appointment. You can be the person that helps reverse the statistical trends.

And more than anything, I am speaking to those of you who are reading who don’t struggle or know of anyone who is struggling. The reality is that we shouldn’t have to be someone or know someone who is hurting in order to feel empathy for a broken world. Don’t embrace inaction because the battle has yet to hit your doorstep. We can all do more to make sure that suicide is an anomaly, not an every-12-minute-occurrence.  And it starts with making sure all of us have eyes that are wide open to the mental illness epidemic occurring in our country.

Tonight I’ll hold a candle. I’ll hold a candle and remember my Father. I’ll hold a candle and remember all of those who died the same way he did.

But I’ll hold that candle knowing that, together, we can create a world where every man and woman walks around with eyes wide open—and more importantly, hearts that are wide open as well.

Dad Smiling on Train with SB LogoDad, my heart breaks each day when I think about losing you, and the past six years have been unbelievably difficult. I don’t want to have to navigate life without you because you had so much more to live for. Life was simply better when you were in it, Dad. You brought joy and laughter and security to the world around you, and we’ve all felt your absence every day. I also feel tremendous guilt because I wish it wouldn’t have taken your death for me to realize just how bad you were hurting. Dad, I should have been more patient and understanding. I should have shown you more empathy and grace because you were suffering from a disease that you couldn’t explain, identify, or even put into words. There are so many moments that I wish I could redo—days in which I treated you unfairly or without compassion. Although I can’t replay and fix those moments, I want to spend every day here on Earth trying to redeem your death. I want to make sure that everyone who reads my words and hears my voice knows your story, learns from it, and chooses a different path forward because of it. Dad, you gave me the courage to carry on in the face of your death, and although I’d do just about anything to have you back, I’m so grateful that you taught me to do everything I can to help others who are hurting. Thank you for always loving me. Thank you for always teaching me, even in your death. Thank you for all you gave to me, even on days when you couldn’t even take care of yourself. I love you, Dad, and I miss you tremendously. I can’t wait to be reunited forever in the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (ESV)

*Authors Note: For clarity and accuracy in writing, please note that all statistics have been updated to reflect recent research that is published at the time of writing/publication of this post (Fall 2019). Unfortunately, many statistics related to the prevalence of mental illness and suicide have continued to grow since my Father’s death in 2013.


References:

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#part_154785

[2] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[5] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

Wondering

My Dad’s death from suicide has left me in a constant state of wondering.

On Father’s Day, Paige and I found ourselves enjoying lunch at one of our favorite spots: Chuy’s. As I’ve written about previously, Father’s Day is an extremely difficult day for me to navigate. Every Father’s Day leaves me wishing I had just one more to celebrate with my Dad. He deserved a bigger celebration than any I ever gave him on this Earth, and each year that passes brings its own unique challenge and struggle within my emotions. Some years, it’s a tremendous sense of loss and grief that overwhelms me. Other years, its anger and frustration that mental illness stole my Father away from a world that loved him beyond words.

But this year, it was a sense of wondering—constant, ever-present, answerless wondering—that overtook my capacities.

While I plowed down a basket of chips and salsa (and then another…and maybe one more), I noticed a table nearby with about ten family members around it. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, and one very adorable baby who smiled at me every now and then as she rested her head on her Mom’s shoulder. There were a number of young adolescent boys who all seemed to be extremely respectful of their parents, aunts, and uncles, which always warms my heart—especially when I see children who talk to their parents and adults in their lives over a meal instead of staring aimlessly into an iPad. I’ve always enjoyed people watching, and this was a fun family to watch. From the outside looking in, they looked like a near-perfect family in many respects.

My interest during most of the lunch, however, was drawn to the head of the table. Sitting there was an elderly man in a wheelchair. He had mostly-graying hair, glasses, a cheerful smile, and a hearty laugh that would bellow out every few minutes. Wearing a bright orange short that appeared to reflect his happy personality, the man was intensely present with every one of his family members sitting around the table. Although he seemed to be enjoying the chips and salsa just as much as I was, he listened to the stories of his family members, responded, asked them questions, and listened some more. In every moment, he seemed extremely invested in the conversation and the people he was talking with, and generally, he appeared to be so happy to be at the table with all of them.

I don’t know how the man got to the table that day, or the story of his family, but I could tell that he was a man who had earned the respect of those who were sitting near him. He was a patriarch who had clearly established a family built on love, trust, and loyalty.

I was extremely distracted during that lunch, and as much as I tried to look away from this man and his family, I was transfixed. I found myself struggling to focus on anything else but watching this man, the way he behaved, and the way his family treated him. I kept trying to imagine the years and decades full of wonderful life experiences that had brought them all together—both the moments of joy and the sadness of defeat or tragedy that they had likely experienced as a family.

And all throughout, I wondered.

I wondered what could have been within my own family, and I saw it pictured with the family in front of me.

From the moment that I heard my Dad was dead, my mind immediately had to make an important shift. Unfortunately, all the things that were “want to’s” with Dad—the bucket list of things we had always planned and wanted to do together—became “should haves.” Instantaneously, thoughts of how I had squandered or ignored precious time with the man who meant everything to me flooded to the forefront of my grieving mind. Because my Father had passed away so suddenly at the age of 50 without any prior warning that his final days were nearing, there was a feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath me in a horrible, violent, life-altering way. I felt as if I had been robbed of a treasure that I didn’t even know I had. All of a sudden, that “thief in the night” scripture in 1 Thessalonians held a whole new, all-too-real significance.

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

A permanent sense of questioning and fruitless speculation began to take over my life on that July day in 2013, and it continues to manifest itself in so many different facets of my life; but it’s especially present on Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the day that I reflect on all the great moments that I shared with my Dad and all the lessons that he taught me; but it’s also the day in which I wonder about the rest of his life that he deserved to live. The life he should have had but never did.

As I looked at the grandfather sitting nearby our table, I wondered what it would have been like to watch my Dad grow old. It was clear that the man at the table next to me had suffered some type of difficulty that required him to use a wheelchair, but he also had remarkable, quick movements as he ate—I think at one point he even surpassed my chip/salsa intake! Clearly, some of the effects of aging had taken away a few of the liberties that he had once enjoyed, but he seemed to not let those obstacles get in his way.

It was stupendous to watch, and I wondered, silently, if my Dad would have aged with the same grace and determination that this man embodied. I have no doubt that my Dad would have aged well, as he rarely found himself in a situation where negative health effects overtook him. Yes, he likely would have gotten a few more wrinkles. Yes, his vision would have likely gotten a bit worse. But I knew that I would always be able to tease him about not being able to lose any more hair than he already had!

I’m sure the aging process wouldn’t have been all fun and games for Dad, but it would have been fun for me to watch the man that I had first known in his late-20’s and early-30’s grow and age into an elderly man—a patriarch. Sitting at the table that day, I wondered what Dad would have looked like. I wondered what clothes he would have worn. I wondered if his beard would have grayed entirely. I wondered about every seemingly simple and stupid detail of his life. And I grew frustrated knowing I would never have those answers.

I also wondered about the more profound things. How long would Dad have lived had mental illness and suicide not robbed him of the life he deserved to experience? I don’t have much evidence to back up my assertion, but I always believed my Dad would have lived into his nineties or hundreds, and I believe he would have been largely independent and self-functioning the entire time. That’s just the way he was. Dad had a zest and an appetite for life that led me to believe he would have wanted to hold onto every ounce of it for as long as he could—which is what makes his untimely death from suicide all the more perplexing. On this day, and on many others, I found myself drifting into a daze where I pictured my already-bald, wrinkled, bespectacled Father sitting across from me with his familiar laugh and twinkling smile shining through the weariness of time. It hurt me deeply to know that the vision I had imagined would be as close as I would ever get to seeing my elderly Father in front of me.

But as I watched this man at the restaurant, I began to wonder about more than encroaching wrinkles and receding hairlines. As the meal wore on, this Father/Grandfather took a keen interest in his family members who were sitting around the table. He listened and laughed as his sons and daughters told stories, just as my Dad had always done when I talked with him. He lowered his gaze and leaned low to meet the eyeline of his handsome, well-behaved grandsons, asking them questions about the sports they played, their schooling, and their friends and classmates. He made silly faces at his newborn granddaughter, and his entire face melted into a deep smile every time she clapped at him, reached for his arm, or offered a newborn giggle or coo.

You could tell that this man wasn’t here for a sympathy lunch or a meal born of obligation. This man was sitting at the head of the table because, in the eyes of those who loved him, he had completely earned that head spot and they wanted to celebrate him. Each family member assembled at the table had a sense of reverence for the man they were likely honoring at lunch, and it was heartwarming to watch their actions in a world where these types of selfless behaviors are all-too-infrequent.

I couldn’t help but picture my Dad in that man’s seat. I couldn’t help but flash-forward to a world that will never exist, wondering what life would have been like for my Dad as a Father, Grandfather, and patriarch of his family. As I enter a new chapter of my life with an impending wedding date on the calendar, I often wish that Dad and Paige could have met to share life with one another. In so many ways, they would have been peas in a pod. They would have appreciated one another’s humor—especially humor at my expense. He and Mom together would have treated Paige like the daughter they never had, and although it’s been a true blessing to watch my Mom enjoy welcoming Paige into our family, I also wish that my Dad could have experienced that same blessing. I know that Dad would have taken an interest in everything Paige did, and he would have been amazed by her talent, knowledge, and determination. On many days, I find myself wondering how they would have enjoyed growing together as father and daughter-in-law, and I constantly wonder what their relationship would have looked like. And it pains my soul to know they never had a chance to experience life with one another.

And although I joke about the nervousness I feel at the thought of becoming a Father myself someday, I know that God has a plan for me to raise children; and I know with more certainty than anything else that my Dad would have been an outstanding Grandfather. Even with this certainty, however, I wonder about the things I’ll never know. What would Dad have wanted to be called? Grandpa? Grandad? Papaw? Pops? Just wondering about the nickname his future-grandchildren would have bestowed upon him brings tears to my eyes. I wonder about all of the fun moments he would have been able to share with them—likely doing things that Paige and I would have told him they were not allowed to do. Candy consumption would have been at an all-time-high. Punishments would have been nonexistent with Grandpa. Trips to the amusement park and trick dives from the deck into the swimming pool would have been everyday occurrences. My Dad would have taken the charge for grandfathers to spoil their grandchildren to heart as his personal life mission. I have no doubt that he would have showered them with gifts and treats and experiences, but more than anything, he would have given them every ounce of love he had. He would have loved them, and I have no doubt that they would have loved him just as much.

And unfortunately for me, and for those future grandchildren of his, we will never, ever get to see him fulfill that duty. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Suicide (or any tragic, untimely death for that matter) creates many unique grief-related emotions within those who are left behind, but most prevalently it creates the sensation that the victim and their loved ones have been robbed—robbed of time and of a future together. After losing Dad to suicide, I remember telling people that I felt like the victim of a theft. It may have been a strange analogy, but it accurately conveyed the grief better than any other example. One day, I had a loving Father with the promise of having him in my life for a very long time, and the next day all I had to cling to were memories and the broken pieces left behind.

That unnatural feeling of being robbed, at least in my life, likely occurs because suicide in and of itself is unnatural. As a Christian, I firmly believe that suicide runs counter to God’s desire for our life. In no way do I believe it is an unforgivable sin (a common myth which I’ve addressed previously and will continue to address in posts to come), but I do believe that God’s heart breaks when one of his children loses a battle to depression. Although God can redeem bad things, like suicide, I think he also had grander plans for my Dad. I believe God wanted to see him grow old. I believe God wanted to see him become the patriarch of our larger family and become a grandfather. I believe God wanted to see my Dad enjoy retirement and many more years of marriage to my Mom. I wanted these things. We all did. I believe God wanted these things.

And I know, deep down in the innermost parts of his being, my Dad wanted them too.

My Father’s death from suicide prevented him from ever experiencing a whole new phase of joy and prosperity that he so unbelievably deserved, and my heart breaks for him because he was robbed unfairly. I know that we don’t earn God’s blessings because He freely gives them; but if there was a way to earn them, my Dad had done everything in his life necessary to fulfill his end of the bargain.

Instead, suicide and mental illness stole those opportunities away from my Father; and they stole the joy of knowing and experiencing life with him away from all of us who loved him so deeply. It’s left all of us, including me, in a constant state of wondering that will never, ever be satisfied on this side of Eternity. I’m thankful that I know, one day, I’ll be able to see my Dad again and the pain of his absence will be a memory that is long and forever forgotten. That promise keeps me moving ever-forward; but it doesn’t diminish the pain I feel in this moment. It never fully eradicates the confusion, guilt, and loss that pervades every minute of my existence.

I continued to watch the family on this last Father’s Day at the restaurant, and my attempts to avoid the pain of Father’s Day were futile. Although it was painful to think about what I had lost as I watched this family, there was also beauty in the reassurance of God’s promise that I will, someday, greet my Father again. I will, someday, run to the arms that cradled me as a baby and tell my Dad how much I’ve missed him. Like that family, I’ll enjoy a meal with my Dad that will be grander and greater than any we ever shared together on this Earth. We will laugh together again. We will bond together again. We will experience a love stronger than this world could ever provide, together as Father and son.

And in that moment, a moment I’m patiently yet desperately longing for, I’ll wonder no more.

Dad HS Yearbook Photo with SB LogoDad, You lived a big and vibrant life while you were here with all of us, and your absence is even more noticeable and painful because the void left behind is so great. You deserved to live a fuller life than the one you experienced, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make that dream reality. Dad, I would have loved watching you grow old—even though it might not have been as much fun for you as it would have been for me. I would have loved seeing you on my wedding day, and you have no idea how much I would have appreciated your wisdom about navigating this new chapter in my life because you were such an amazing husband for Mom. And yes, I would have loved watching you become a grandpa more than anything else. I know you would have been silly and goofy and ridiculous—and completely adored by your grandchildren. But Dad, as much as I wanted to watch those things for myself, I’m ultimately saddened because you earned the right to experience all of those wonderful things. I hate mental illness and suicide for robbing you of these life chapters. Mental illness separated you from us and from many wonderful, beautiful moments that awaited your future. And although I won’t get to watch you enjoy life, and although I’ll always have questions about why this happened to you, I do find peace knowing that you’re not suffering any longer. I find a sense of comfort knowing that the unjustified feelings of shame and embarrassment that you experienced in this world are completely gone and fully redeemed. And I know that as great as any experience you could have had here with us might have been, you’re experiencing a joy and beauty beyond any other as you bask in the glory of Heaven and God’s everlasting love and paradise. Dad, keep watching over me, and keep reassuring me that you were called Home for a reason. I love you, and I wish we could have experienced more of this life together; but I know there’s a greater reward and an unbelievable reunion awaiting us. Thank you Dad, and until the day when we are reunited forever, seeya Bub.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Jealous

A few days after my Dad’s death, I found myself roaming around a clothing store at the outlet malls. It sounds like a rather trivial thing to do after a traumatic loss, but I needed something, anything to find temporary relief from the sadness I felt. Attempting to escape from my grief, I was doing anything and everything to just keep my mind off of the horror that had filled the past week. I was trying to do little things, step by step, that I had done in my life before losing Dad, even though I experienced unrelenting guilt anytime I engaged in an activity that felt like I was “moving on.” Life was moving on to a new, emptier normal as much as I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t stop it.

As I walked around the clothing store attempting to distract myself with shirts and hats and things that felt absolutely pointless now, I realized that my mind was super attuned to the many fathers and sons inside the store. They had always been there, but my mind had never had a reason to pay much attention to them before. Today, however, was different. Today, there were fathers and sons seemingly everywhere inside the store, and I was fatherless for the first time in my life. No matter which way I turned, they were constantly in my face.

I watched them all—closely and intently. I noticed how they interacted with one another. I watched as they showed one another different pieces of apparel. I saw how they joked together. I listened to their conversations, from the seemingly mundane to the more serious and complicated.

Realizing that I was without my Father in a public setting for one of the first times in my life, I did my best to try and get away from the different groups of fathers and sons that I saw throughout the store; but no matter where I moved, I couldn’t escape them. Everywhere I went, I seemed to encounter another father and son.

After a few unsuccessful dodging attempts, I found myself standing at a t-shirt rack with a father and his teenage son nearby, and I began to listen to their conversation back and forth, as much as I really didn’t want to. I knew, immediately upon looking at them, that his son was extremely disinterested—in both the activity of shopping, but more painfully, disinterested in his father.

To his credit, this particular father was doing everything he could to engage his son in a conversation; and his son, as some teenagers are prone to do, looked like he wanted to be hanging out with anyone else but his dad in that moment. Although he was trying to mask it, I could tell that this father was deeply hurt by the way his son was acting. I could see a level of longing for a previous chapter in life—a chapter during which his son had once adored him. There was a longing to be a father of a young, innocent boy again—a longing that would never be resolved. I could tell that this father, as unsuccessful as his efforts might have been, refused to give up on recapturing his son’s love and adoration. His efforts, however, were largely fruitless, and his son did everything he could to escape his dad’s presence.

I kept watching, and as the dad attempted to engage his son more and more, the son grew angrier and more hurtful. He began rolling his eyes at his dad behind his back. He snapped at his dad whenever he was asked a question that he perceived to be ridiculous—which just happened to be every question that his dad asked. Eventually, the young man started disrespecting his father at a level that was unconscionable and uncomfortable for those of us standing nearby—especially me.

And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Without even realizing what was happening, I found myself getting emotional. My face was red and hot, and tears were forming at the corners of my eyes. I wanted to get away from them, but I also couldn’t stop watching them and wishing that this young boy would just shut up. I was anxious and uncomfortable and angry all at the same time.

I hung the shirt I was holding back on the rack and briskly walked out of the store, leaving the disrespected father and his disrespectful son in the rearview mirror.

I walked quickly through the parking lot, making a beeline towards my car as I felt more tears coming on. Within a few seconds, I got in the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, and I began sobbing hysterically and pathetically. I sat there, slamming my fist against the steering wheel multiple times and letting out more than one anger-laced yells. It was embarrassing and humiliating, but these were raw emotions that I just couldn’t hide in that moment, just a few days removed from my Father’s tragic death. I was furious. I was deeply saddened.

More than anything, I was jealous.

After losing Dad, jealously was not one of the emotions I expected to struggle with, but it had hit me hard just a few days after Dad’s death. I didn’t realize how cognizant I would be of all the fathers and sons in the world around me. I didn’t expect that every single time I saw a father and son walking around a mall doing something as simple as shopping could well up deep-rooted feelings of grief-induced jealousy—but it did. I was going to the mall that day to try to escape from my grief, and the mere sight of a father and his son together made that impossible. I wondered when this would start to fade, but I knew that although the frequency might lessen, the feelings themselves would likely never entirely disappear.

My Dad was gone. It was a new, horrible reality that hadn’t yet sunk in, but I kept saying it to myself that day in the car, as if repeating it over and over again would make the reality of my new life less emotional. “Dad is gone. Dad is gone.” Over and over again, I found myself repeating what I had lost in my life—my Father, my mentor, my friend. My heart filled with despair as I thought about all of the great times that we had together during his life—times that would never, ever be repeated.

And I admit it—I was extremely jealous of those young men I had seen throughout the mall that day. Many of the fathers and sons I saw in the mall that day were happy. I saw young children laughing as their fathers chased them between stores or made funny noises. In the food court, I saw dads sharing meals with their children just like Dad and I had done so many times before. I saw fathers with their adolescent children talking and chatting and carrying on good conversations. I saw older fathers with their adult children (and even grandchildren) just appreciating one another’s company.

And I was really, really jealous of those families and what they had together.

I was longing for moments that I felt were stolen from me. My Dad was a loving Father, and we deserved to have more time with one another. True, no amount of time with a man like my Dad would ever be enough, but I just knew that I wanted—and deserved—more. We deserved to be able to enjoy different phases of life together that were still to come. I wanted to see him on my wedding day (and the look of disbelief that would be on his face when I would tell him that I was getting married). I wanted to be able to, someday, tell him that he was going to be a grandfather. I wanted to watch his childlike antics as a grandfather, and I would have appreciated everything he would have done to be silly and goofy and funny with little ones running around him. I wanted to be able to see him get a promotion—which he so desperately deserved—at work, and I wanted to be able to honor him when he eventually celebrated his retirement. And yes, I wanted to watch him grow old.

That day at the mall was like a flash-forward into the life I could have had, the life that would never be but should have. With every father and son I observed, I was reminded of those moments of life that had either passed too quickly or were stolen from us too hastily. With every father and son, I saw a vignette into the world that, for some reason, I would not be blessed with.

I sat in the car trying to process my feelings. It was tough to admit, but in those moments, some of the nastiest emotions of jealousy bubbled to the surface, and I wondered why an undeserving brat like the young man I had witnessed was still allowed to have his father while mine was buried just a few days earlier. I found myself wanting to say something to that young man. I wanted to walk up to him and tell him to quit acting like such a little jerk, because he had no idea how lucky he was to still have his father in his life. I wanted to tell him that he should think twice about being so disrespectful to a man he had likely once idolized and would someday miss. I wanted him to feel a sense of regret for his despicable, thoughtless, self-centered behavior.

I also wanted to tell him that I spoke from experience, because I now found myself regretting all of the moments when I had treated my Dad similarly; and in that moment, I realized that I wasn’t as angry at that young man as I was angry at myself for not always giving my own Father the respect he rightfully earned.

I was a largely respectful kid, but I was also a teenager. As most teenagers do, I went through my “too cool for parents” phase. Although my Dad was fairly non-intrusive compared to most parents I had seen, he definitely enjoyed being around me and my friends, even when I didn’t always enjoy or appreciate his company. There were times when my Dad would be around, innocently and joyfully, and I just wanted to be with my friends—not him. It’s so painful to admit this; especially considering the fact that, now that he’s gone, I would give up just about anything to have a few more precious minutes and moments with him.

Time teaches us important and sometimes painful lessons, and it took losing my Dad to realize the true gifts of life, albeit too late to appreciate it with him. Losing my Dad has taught me to appreciate those who are in our lives while they are here. It’s a simple lesson, and I’m definitely not the first person who had to learn it the hard way. Unfortunately, it is a life lesson that many of us learn entirely too late because we don’t often learn it until the pain of loss sets in.

Although I’ve grown in many ways since losing Dad, those feelings of jealousy are still just as real almost six years removed from his death. I still have moments similar to that day at the outlet mall when I will spot a father and son and those feelings of jealousy will creep to the surface. I still observe interactions—mostly beautiful ones—between fathers and sons that will bring me to inexplicable tears. I want what they have, and I don’t understand why God felt that calling my Dad home to heaven so prematurely was necessary. There are many days when I long to be a little boy again. I wish desperately for those moments when I could swim in the backyard pool with my Dad, or ride bikes with him, or laugh at television shows with him, or just be with him.

But I know that whatever that ultimate plan may be, and no matter how jealous I might feel of other fathers and sons at times, I cannot lose sight of the fact that I spent 26 wonderful years with a simply amazing Father in my life.

I remember talking with one of my Pastors, Dave Hicks, shortly after losing Dad. At the time of our phone conversation, I was worried about going back to work. My job requires me to meet with lots of students and families who come to campus. Oftentimes, those meetings are pleasant, but on occasion, there will be instances where students grow visibly frustrated with their parents asking embarrassing questions—as all parents are prone to do in the college admission process. Students will roll their eyes, or sometimes even admonish their parents when they grow extremely frustrated with their actions. In my early career, I became rather accustomed to these types of meetings; but now, things were different. I had lost my Father, and I knew that I would likely react differently when I observed these interactions. I was worried that I might start to get inside my own head when I saw students treating their fathers with disrespect, and I was afraid that these scenarios would trigger unpleasant memories, making it hard for me to do my job. On the flip side, it was also difficult for me to watch parents who might come in and are disinterested in their children, because I lost a Father who was always, always interested in my life.

I was sharing these concerns with Dave, and I finally broke down and told him what was at the heart of my worry and anxiety.

“What am I going to do when I interact with a student being mean to their Dad? I know that I’m going to be jealous and it’s really going to upset me,” I said.

“You’re going to rejoice in the fact that, for 26 fantastic years, you had the best Father the world has ever seen—and no one, not even death, can take that away,” Dave responded.

That comment shifted my perspective on that day, and it’s been an important reminder in the years of recovery after his death. Although jealousy is a natural feeling when losing a loved one, we also can’t lose sight of what we were fortunate enough to have. Although natural, I also realize how selfish my primal feelings of jealousy were after losing Dad. It was true—I didn’t deserve to lose my Dad at such a young age. But Dad didn’t deserve to die the way he did. And the father I saw in the store didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was. And, in most every situation of life, none of us deserve the pain we are subjected to.

But we also don’t deserve God’s love—yet He still continues to love us anyway. Our actions often run counter to the life He designed and taught us about through his Son, Jesus Christ. No matter how undeserving we might be, God continues to pursue us—and I will always be thankful for that message. When it comes to loving God, there have been sinful times in my life when I’ve been absolutely no different than that punk in the clothing store. In spite of all my transgressions and selfish attitudes, God has kept loving me; and it’s a reminder that not time, not space, and not even death by suicide can separate me from the love my Father gave me while he was here on earth.

I’m thankful that, albeit shorter than I would have liked, I had a Dad who loved me unconditionally each and every day of his life. I’m fortunate that I had a Father who took an active interest in everything I did, even though there were times when I didn’t give him the respect that he deserved. And I’m thankful, more than anything, that my Father’s memory and legacy continue to guide and teach me each and every day of my life. My heart is hurt, and it’s still hurting years removed from the day that the pain of losing him was inflicted; but my heart is only full of jealousy because of the magnitude of my loss. I lost my Father on that day, but I’ll never, ever lose my love for him.

Dad and Me Stump Picture with SB LogoDad, Of all the difficult things that have happened since losing you, watching other fathers and sons has likely been the hardest. I still get jealous when I see other fathers and sons enjoying life together, because deep down I feel that you and I were robbed of precious time spent with one another. I don’t always know how to deal with these feelings, but you taught me to appreciate what we have in life more than longing for what we don’t have. And for all the experiences and moments that we might not have been able to share with one another, the 26 years that we did spend together as Father and Son here on earth were always filled with life, adventure, appreciation, and love. You taught me that it’s okay to be hurt and to not know all of the answers, but that in spite of that hurt, we should strive to love others at all times. And Dad, in spite of the pain I still feel to this day, I often ask God to teach me how to love others like you did. Although I still experience jealousy, it’s always coupled with an unfailing sense of longing for what is to come—a heavenly reunion in which I’ll be able to tell you, again, how much I loved you. Thank you, Dad, for always modeling hope. Thank you for giving me indelible memories that will never, ever be erased by the pain of jealousy. And thank you for loving me and everyone in your life with gusto. I love you, Dad, and until we can enjoy the gift of being near one another again, seeya Bub.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

Peter

Peter Headshot

This piece is dedicated to Dr. Peter Magolda:

A man who taught me that the written word offers tremendous power to those who can command it.

Peter, you taught me that writing can soothe deep hurts and wounds, but your lessons on brevity have yet to sink in.


 The doorbell rang at 8am. On most days, this would have been unusual; but it was July 25, 2013—the day after Dad’s death, the day after unusual and unexpected became our new normal. I gathered my strength after an evening full of futile attempts to find any semblance of rest. I opened the door, and standing on the other side, in a button down denim shirt with a wax-paper bag of donuts in hand, was Peter Magolda.

I smiled when I saw him, which wasn’t unusual. And then, I broke down because my life was anything but usual at that moment.


My friendship with Peter began only two years before losing Dad when I applied to Miami University’s graduate program in Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE). Although I had many people pushing me to go on to graduate school, I was reluctant to do it. Even though I had been a successful undergraduate student, I had an underlying fear that I wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I could handle the caliber of work that graduate school required. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t work hard enough. I couldn’t be enough to get a Master’s degree. I was full of anxiety and trepidation as I wrote my essay for the application, constantly revising and resketching and reorganizing, scrapping the essay multiple times and starting again, hoping more than anything that I’d have the brilliant breakthrough that never came.

In my feverish anxiety, I told many people at Miami that I was in the process of applying for a graduate program at Miami, and whenever I mentioned that I was applying to the SAHE program, the response was usually the same: “Oh! Have you met Peter and Marcia?”

Peter Magolda Early CareerIt’s rare in the world of academia that a program is defined by the people who design and manage it, but Peter and Marcia were intellectual celebrities that earned every bit of that recognition and respect. Peter Magolda had been a faculty member at Miami since 1994, having earned a B.A. in Psychology from LaSalle College, an M.A. in Student Affairs from The Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University. Peter’s work was ingenious. With respect and inventiveness, Peter was able to take anthropological tools and concepts usually associated with studying foreign cultures, and he applied those cultural study techniques in college settings. Prior to coming to graduate school, I would have never thought of that approach as a real or viable option for research; but Peter was exceptional at taking something that seemed undoable and bringing it to life.

Peter and Marcia BicycleHis intellectual acumen was only matched by that of his wife, Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda. Marcia’s name was everywhere within the field of higher education. To this day, her work on student development theory and self-authorship serves as the cornerstone of many graduate programs in education, and many colleges and universities use her findings as their primary pedagogical foundation. That she and Peter were able to find one another and grow together as partners was always so wonderful to me.

I always answered the question about Peter and Marcia the same way: “No, I haven’t met them yet, but I sure have heard a lot about them!” In reality, I didn’t know a thing about Peter or Marcia before I came to graduate school. I felt like one of the few people in my cohort who had not familiarized myself with the readings of the field before coming to graduate school, so their names and academic accomplishments were completely foreign to me.

Nonetheless, I submitted my application to start in the SAHE program as a part-time student, and I was fortunate enough to receive an interview. The anxiety of the application process and essay writing faded only temporarily, and I was paralyzed by worry when thinking about taking that next step. “Surely, they’ll see through the act in person,” I thought to myself, still believing that my success in the application was a complete fluke. I was full of doubt and dread as I thought about the interview. In my best suit and tie, I made my way into the office at McGuffey Hall in Oxford, and prayed I could find the strength to get through the day.

This was the day I first met Peter. I wasn’t actually scheduled to meet with him, but his office just happened to be right next to the room we were interviewing in. In typical, inquisitive, Peter fashion, he poked his head into the room to see what was going on. I looked up and was a bit surprised to see a man with glasses and long, gray hair asking in an East-coast accent “So, what’s going on in here?” He wasn’t at all what I expected.

And in the years that I got to know Peter, I always loved that he was never, ever what I expected. As a teacher, as a mentor, and as a friend, Peter was always much, much more than I could have ever imagined.

On that interview day, Peter moseyed into the room and shook hands with the three of us who were interviewing to become part time students, nodding curtly as he repeated our first names and shook each of our hands. With the same curiosity that he applied in all of his intellectual pursuits, Peter started asking questions about each of us. He joked about my tie and said I was entirely too professional to be in the program, and I laughed and wondered if I should run out at exactly that moment and buy a button down, drab green sweater like the one he was wearing…

After Peter left the room, I continued with the rest of my day, considerably more at ease than I was before meeting him without knowing quite why. And a few days later, I got a call from Peter delivering the good news—I had been admitted to the program! Peter told me to take some time to think about whether or not I would like to accept a spot in the program. I took his advice and waited about 14 seconds before letting him know that I was definitely in. He laughed and said he looked forward to being my advisor, and I felt overjoyed as I hung up the phone. I was a first-generation college student who had never thought about graduate school as a realistic opportunity. In a few months, I would begin working on a graduate degree at Miami. Life takes many wonderfully beautiful and surprising turns. I was glad that this turn led me where it did.

My first semester in the program was difficult because that was also the time when my own struggle with anxiety began and when I first started seeking out help from a counselor to manage my mental illness. My anxiety wasn’t fully caused by starting graduate school, but it did contribute to the feeling of being overwhelmed and insignificant. As the semester wore on, I began to feel like I was finally on an upward trajectory, personally and academically, but I was still suffering from a healthy dose of impostor’s syndrome. In each class period, I had multiple instances of self-doubt where I thought to myself “I’m not smart enough to be here,” or “I can’t stack up against the intellect of many of my classmates.” It was a nauseating feeling, and it constantly kept me on edge in my classes and when I was working on assignments.

The other thing keeping me on edge that first semester? Knowing that I would be taking EDL 666 in the Spring.

Any graduate of the SAHE program from the Peter Magolda era will certainly know about EDL 666. The course went by many names. The official name on the course bulletin at Miami was Student Cultures in the University Environment. Most of the students in the program just called it “Cultures” or “The Cultures Course.” Some people had other not-so-family-friendly names for it, depending on how close they were to the midterm or finals being due. But more than anything else, I heard people call the course “Peter’s Course.” Everyone knew that this course was Peter’s baby.

The gist of the course was simple yet powerful. Peter wanted future student affairs professionals to take the principles of anthropology and ethnographic research that were typically used to study unfamiliar people and apply those in our study of college students. He wanted us to take what we thought we understood—what we thought to be familiar—and look at it through an entirely different lens. Peter wanted students in his course to understand the different subcultures that existed within the university environment, avoiding the tendency of lumping all college learners into stereotypical categories or generational molds. Masterfully, Peter was able to take very important, often difficult readings about cultural studies and anthropological fieldwork, and apply those to our study of and practice with the students on our campus. It was a brilliant approach—and I don’t think I realized just how brilliant it actually was at the time because I was so freaked out about actually having to take the class.

Peter always loved the frenzy and hysteria that his course created. Not in a sadistic way or anything, but he did find it fascinating that people were so worked up about something that seemed so natural to him. Although, Peter did love the fact that the most challenging course in the program was given the course number “666.” He laughed about that many times throughout the semester, and I often wondered if he indeed went to the University Registrar to request this number for the course rather than having it assigned. Aside from the number, however, Peter didn’t understand why people lost their minds about this particular course. Yes, it was challenging—but aren’t the most important things to learn in life often challenging, difficult, and complex?

I’d love to say I understood this, but when I started in Peter’s course in the Spring of 2012, I completely bought into the hysteria. I was a nervous wreck. The topics looked intense. The readings were extensive. The assignments were hefty. THE COURSE NUMBER WAS THE NUMEROLOGICAL REPRESENTATION OF THE DEVIL! For someone who already felt he didn’t have the intellectual chops to hack it in graduate school, the looming danger of this course was real and paralyzing.

Nervously, I waded into Peter’s course in a corner classroom at McGuffey Hall, and my first experience with Peter in the classroom was not what I had expected. My classmates had filled me in on the academic rigor of the course and how Peter challenged his students to really grapple with the material to understand it and apply it. I had expected Peter to be this expert, this fountain of knowledge, spewing information for two hours and forty minutes every Thursday afternoon in the hopes that we could just retain an ounce of his brilliance. That wasn’t Peter—at all. Peter would often come into class, throw out a quote from a reading we had done, and then he would sit back in his chair with crossed legs and a hand on his chin, saying very little throughout our discussions, and sporadically brushing his long, gray hair behind his ears. On occasion, Peter might probe or push someone on a particular idea or thought if it was unclear. But most of the time, Peter just wanted to sit back and watch the action. There was never a day in all the classes I spent with Peter in which I felt like I was simply and passively absorbing knowledge that he was giving. He was helping us to discover it on our own, always present, gently guiding and shepherding us along.

As comforting as his presence in the classroom was, however, this didn’t ease my trepidation as the midterm due date loomed on the horizon. Peter had given us our midterm questions very early—and they were doozies. Each question was a paragraph long and required us to synthesize multiple readings and apply them within real life scenarios we observed in our work at Miami. Peter asked us to limit the first two responses—to six pages each! The last response need only be three pages, and I had never been so excited to only have to write a three-page paper in my entire life.

As I began to write my midterm, my anxiety got the best of me. I began to panic as sentences refused to form. I would scan highlighted passages from our course materials that I had read and understood in class, and my breath would draw very tight when those concepts no longer made any sense to me. Before I knew it, I was spiraling. I would write a paragraph, read it back to myself, realize it was incoherent, and delete the entire thing, only to repeat this vicious cycle for hours on end. Before I knew it, an entire day had gone by and I had only two pages of a fourteen-page midterm complete. I remember laying on the ground near the desk in my parent’s home and starting to tear up. The voice inside my head just kept saying “See, I told you you aren’t good enough.” It had only taken one course to expose me for what I was—an academic fraud.

I’m glad the voice in my head was overridden by Peter’s voice just one day later. In my panic, I dashed out an e-mail to Peter letting him know that I was struggling extensively with the midterm. He called me the next day, as the due date for the exam was quickly approaching, and Peter talked with me on the phone for nearly an hour, helping me walk through the questions on the midterm and process my thoughts. He didn’t give me the answers. He didn’t tell me what I should write. He just asked me important questions that helped me put my own disconnected thoughts into a more coherent argument. What readings stood out to me as being important? What were those readings saying? Did I see evidence of that in the students that I interacted with as an admission counselor? How could I connect one reading with another and find relevance and common ground between the two? On that day (and many more to follow) Peter did what only the best teachers are able to master: he took complex, seemingly unrelated concepts and showed me why they were important to my work and my own life.

I wrote the midterm essays—not easily, not quickly—but I wrote them. And I submitted them to him. A week or so later, I got Peter’s feedback on the essay. His notes were extensive. Sometimes, they were illegible (Handwriting was not his strongest asset), but once deciphered, they were extremely valuable. Peter gave me positive feedback in the areas where I had earned it, but he also pointed out sections and passages where I might have been able to improve the quality of my work. He gave me this feedback not because it was his job to find holes in my arguments, but because he wanted me to be the best student affairs professional and educator I possibly could be.

I laughed when I saw his comments on the last page of my exam: “Exam Grade: A-. Well done. If this represents your confused state, I look forward to reading your paper on topics you claim to understand.”

Midterm GradeWith just fourteen pages of thoughtful, handwritten notes that were altogether positive, sometimes critical, and always constructive, Peter helped chip away at the feelings of doubt and insecurity that had been holding me captive for that first year of graduate school. For the rest of that semester, I reminded myself of the faith Peter had in me. Anytime a reading was incomprehensible, I read through it twice. If a concept didn’t make sense to me, I asked Peter about it outside of class. I wasn’t trying to impress Peter—I was just trying to live up to whatever he saw in me that I could not see in myself.

I did my best to keep that positive attitude throughout the biggest obstacle of the semester: the infamous Cultures fieldwork team assignment. Peter didn’t just want us to learn about anthropological principles and the value they held in working with and researching college students—he wanted us to live it, and to experience it firsthand. With that charge, Peter divided our class into teams based on the functional areas we showed interest in, and we were tasked with conducting a fieldwork project that ran the entirety of the semester. In our fieldwork teams, we would serve as participant-observers and write a hefty narrative and cultural analysis of the student groups we studied. Fortunately, my group was granted access to the Division I basketball team at Miami thanks to the connections of one of my classmates, and we spent the entire semester attending practices, sitting courtside at games, interviewing coaches and players, hearing post-game talks in the locker room, and trying to make sense of the unique dynamics that characterized this college subculture.

Before graduate school, I don’t think I ever had the desire to write a 60-page paper with two of my classmates. During the process, I don’t think I always enjoyed writing a 60-page paper about the basketball team. I especially didn’t enjoy the night that I locked myself in my office at Miami Middletown putting my finishing touches on the paper until 5:00am the next day—one of only three all-nighters I ever pulled in my entire student career at Miami. But looking back with the perspective I have now, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from an assignment in my entire life.

Through that assignment, Peter taught us more than what it takes to write a lengthy and coherent paper. He taught us that we should refuse to accept everyday, ordinary things at face value. He taught us that we should always dig deeper. He taught us that we should take things that we thought we understood and ask a lot of questions about them, because nearly every we would learn that we never knew as much as we thought we did. It was the goal of a masterful teacher, and Peter was that…and so much more.

As much as I remember learning from the intellectual challenge of that course, however, I remember Peter’s hilariously quirky and snarky personality making those nearly-three hour meetings memorable and fun. Peter would do and say things that he likely didn’t intend to be funny, and those things would often put all of us in the class in stitches. Like the day he declared that he was boycotting the Jimmy John’s in Oxford.

Our class started at 12:45 each Thursday, and on most days Peter would order a sandwich from the Jimmy John’s in Oxford as he ran between classes, meetings, and his third floor office in McGuffey Hall. Peter typically ordered a #5 (The Vito, probably just because he liked the name), and even though he ordered a sandwich to be delivered multiple times a week to the same exact location, the driver was continuously getting lost.

“I just don’t understand how you get lost coming to the same place multiple times a week,” Peter exhaled after meandering into our class one afternoon. “I don’t want to have to do this, but I think I’m going to have to boycott Jimmy John.”

“Like, the restaurant?” one of my classmates asked. “Or the guy himself?”

“In essence, I’m doing both. But I hope he takes it personally,” Peter said.

I don’t know how long his boycott lasted, but my classmates and I couldn’t resist trying to serve as peace negotiators. The following week, we went to the Jimmy John’s uptown and ordered a Vito to go. As we walked to McGuffey Hall, we took out a permanent marker and wrote a note on the sandwich paper.

“Dear Peter, This is Jimmy. I miss you. And I’m sorry. Please forgive me for the wrong I’ve done. I promise I’ll never get lost again. Love, Jimmy John.”

When we handed the sandwich to Peter, we got to hear that all-too familiar chuckle as he threw his long hair back, and his face turned red as he laughed about the note. He opened the sandwich and took a few bites. And then, he just turned to us and said he wasn’t sure if the boycott would end, but he’d think about it. One of my classmates, Ashley Korn, even kept the joke going when she introduced Peter at our program’s graduation ceremony

“Okay, Peter,” she said, “I know you hate people talking about you, so I’ll try to make this freaky fast…unlike your Jimmy John’s deliveries to class.”

It was that type of fun-loving, carefree personality that caused students to adore Peter, even though the last thing he cared about or craved was the adoration of others. Only Peter could get students to write 60-page papers about observing the Ultimate Frisbee team or the Secular Students organization at Miami. Only Peter could get students to willingly read books about hegemony and privilege and the principles of ethnographic fieldwork and have meaningful, thoughtful conversations about those topics for hours on end. Only Peter could launch a boycott on a national sandwich chain and make a semester-long running joke of it.

Only Peter.

Only Peter could get me to take a summer course on qualitative research at Miami during the precious months of May and June. My fifteen classmates and I knew we were in for a wild ride when Peter suggested we meet for 8 hours on a Saturday to kick of the class in an effort to knock out a few weeknight sessions. On that long, dreaded Saturday while reviewing the syllabus, Peter informed us of his philosophy on summer courses.

“So, this is a three credit hour course that lasts for four weeks. And some professors here at Miami think that during the summer, you should take it easy and pare down the curriculum and workload to fit within those four weeks. I don’t believe that. So, we are going to do sixteen weeks worth of work; we are just going to do it in four weeks. Sound good?”

For some unknown reason, my classmates and I all nodded our heads yes as our hearts sunk into our large intestines.

Peter was right. Those four weeks were absolutely jam packed. We did four different assignments in that short class, including a participant-observation analysis, a midterm examination, and a 25-page research assignment that walked us through as many phases of the research process as humanly possible in a short amount of time. His reading list for the four-week class was even longer than the list for the Cultures class! I nearly admitted myself for psychiatric evaluation when I found myself thinking that I wanted to go back to EDL 666….

Those four weeks, however, were some of the most important and entertaining weeks of my time in the graduate program. I learned more about the different types of qualitative research methodologies and research paradigms than I ever knew existed. Prior to that class, I had always wondered whether or not I could be an effective researcher; Peter showed me that I could. He took complex and mundane readings about research guidelines and paradigms and showed us how they applied to our everyday lives and the work we were all going to be doing with college students.

Even with Peter’s break-neck curricular pace and expectations for such a quick course, we all found ourselves laughing together on most nights. Specifically, I remember Peter needling one of my classmates over his laptop. My classmate, Travis, had a Toshiba laptop that was a bit…vintage and out of date. On occasion during our class, Travis’ laptop fan would start to buzz and whir, and each time it did, Peter couldn’t resist. He would look at the laptop with a pained expression, like he was afraid it was getting ready to cause the classroom damage.

“Is that your laptop?” Peter exclaimed. “What is that thing?”

I remember him making jokes about Travis’ laptop getting ready to take off or explode; but Peter’s humor was never meanspirited. It was always fun and enjoyable, and he knew how to bring levity to each and every interaction.

Peter had an uncanny way of making the simplest moments fun. During that same course, myself and a group of classmates had to facilitate a portion of the class and share our understanding of the case study methodology. For our task, we decided to do an activity that involved poster boards and markers. I grabbed my markers from the house before leaving for class, and one of the marker packs happened to be a 10-pack of scented Mr. Sketch markers.

Mr Sketch MarkersUpon starting the activity, Peter spotted the Mr. Sketch markers. “Hey. Are these those markers that smell?” he said, not intending to be funny at all, but causing all of us to laugh. He grabbed the markers and went through each one, taking the cap off and waving it under his nose, giving us a play-by-play commentary of each scent. “What the hell is that supposed to be? Lime? I’ve never smelled a lime like that,” he said.

Our class activity continued, and Peter continued to sample and sniff each marker. When my classmates and I were up in front of the class trying to facilitate the discussion, I nearly doubled over laughing when I looked back at Peter in the back of the room. He was in his typical thinking position—leaned back in a chair, legs crossed, and hair thrown back. But this time, he was sniffing a blueberry Mr. Sketch marker with reckless abandon. For our entire class meeting, Peter huffed Mr. Sketch markers while simultaneously teaching us the principles of qualitative research.

And I’ll never forget it—the lesson, or the way in which it was delivered. And if it took me getting my professor high on a Mr. Sketch blueberry marker to get an “A” in a summer course on qualitative research, it was worth it.

To celebrate the end of the grueling four-week course, Peter invited our entire class to his and Marcia’s home in Oxford for a grillout and final class meeting—something that Peter and Marcia did rather regularly when they taught at Miami. We spent a few hours in Peter’s basement study talking about the lessons we had learned about qualitative research over the last few weeks, and then we moved to the back patio where we watched Peter grill hamburgers while he asked us questions about our plans for the rest of the summer. We enjoyed the conversation, and we definitely enjoyed the meal, but there was one thing Peter was looking forward to more than anything else on that evening. He had been talking about it for weeks.

Snow cones.

Of all the things I expected Peter Magolda to be obsessed with, snow cones were not at the top of the list. But he had informed us that he loved snow cones, and that he loved them so much that he had bought a snow cone machine, and all the flavorings, and all the paper supplies, and he intended to make snow cones for anyone who wanted one. And if you didn’t want a snow cone in June in Oxford, Ohio, according to Peter, there was likely something wrong with you.

After plugging in the machine, Peter stood in his kitchen and joked that he wasn’t allowed to make snow cones when Marcia was home because the machine was too loud. With unanticipated glee, Peter then proceeded to make snow cones for each of us, and he was supremely interested in the flavor combinations we all chose and what they said about our personalities. After he made himself a large snow cone with cherry and blue raspberry flavoring, he led us out of the house to return home. One of my favorite images of Peter Magolda is looking back over my shoulder on that night. Peter was sitting on his front porch, in a denim button down and jeans with brown boots, leaning back on his left arm with a snow cone in his right hand, soaking in the rays of a beautiful Oxford summer sunset with a mischievous grin on his face.

There was absolutely no one in this entire world like Peter.

I went on to do a few independent studies with Peter as my advisor, but that summer course on qualitative research was the last time that I had Peter as a teacher in a formal classroom setting. Nonetheless, I learned more from Peter in the years that followed as a mentor, colleague, and friend than I ever thought was possible. He taught me just as much about life outside the classroom as he did when I was in it.

And then, my life shattered on July 24, 2013. Everything I thought I knew and understood came crashing down when I found out that my Father, Scott Bradshaw, had died—a victim of suicide at age 50.

Dad, Lucy, and MeI had heard the news of Dad’s death and collapsed in the front yard before being whisked away by my neighbor, Billie. She took me into her home and sat me on her couch, tending to my grief with love and thoughtfulness. I was trying to process my thoughts and come to terms with the tragedy that was my life without the man who had been my hero, all while our family and the authorities were trying to get a handle on the crisis. After meeting with a detective and answering his questions to the best of my knowledge, Billie asked me who I needed to get in touch with immediately to inform them of the news. I said that I needed to talk with my pastor, Harville, and to my undergraduate mentor and Dean of Students, Dr. Bob Rusbosin. And when I talked with Bob, I asked him to get in touch with Peter to relay the message. I knew that I was going to need a good teacher to help me navigate the valleys of desperation I was headed towards.

Thank God for Dr. Peter Magolda.

Within minutes, I had a call from Peter. And it renewed and refreshed my soul in a time of complete and utter desperation. Peter had a way of doing that, and I thank God for him in that moment and all the moments that followed.

Peter knew that we didn’t have much time, but he expressed how sorry he was. He told me that he knew how much my Dad meant to me and my entire family, and that his heart was broken for the magnitude of our loss. He talked about the interactions he had with my Dad when he and Marcia attended my housewarming party just one year ago, and how friendly and caring my Dad was to him. He apologized that he couldn’t get to the house on that day, because he was in the process of traveling home.

But the next morning, Peter arrived. And I’ll always remember those hours we spent together.

When I opened the door on that morning, Peter walked into the house and wrapped me into one of his familiar bear hugs that I always got upon meeting him or parting ways. When I first met him, Peter never struck me as the hugging type—but when I look back on our interactions together, I remember getting a hug from him every time we parted ways. After walking into the house that morning, he handed me the bag of donuts, and I feebly ushered him into the living room where we both sat on the couch. The blinds were open, and the morning sun illuminated the golden walls of my small living room; but my heart was completely darkened. I was lost, baffled, confused, and reeling from the pain of losing my Father.

Thank God for Peter Magolda.

Peter and I sat there together, and like he had done in so many classes, and in so many research projects, and in so many genuine and loving conversations he had with thousands of students and colleagues in his career as an educator, Peter listened. Intently. With purpose. Free of judgement. Peter just let me talk. And sometimes, he let me sit there silently, collecting my thoughts. When it was appropriate, he asked me questions. He offered encouraging words.

And in that moment, even though the wounds of grief were still fresh and new, I remembered thinking that life would eventually be livable again—so long as I had people like Peter to help me get through it.

Peter stayed at the house that day, not just for an hour or so, but for five hours, and his presence was calming and full of a grace that human words can’t fully articulate. That isn’t an easy thing for anyone to do. A house full of grief and inconsolable loss, riddled with inexplicable tragedy is not a fun and welcoming place to be. It’s depressing and sad; but Peter didn’t care about any of that. He was there for me—and for all of us—when we needed him most.

Peter had met my parents and some of my family before, but his interactions on that day would have led outside observers to believe he had known the Bradshaws for years and years. When my Mom entered the house and saw him, she broke down in tears as she made her way towards him. With a tenderness that I’ll never understand, Peter, a rather tall man, wrapped my tiny, grieving Mother in his loving arms, and told her how sorry he was for her loss. Mom and I sat together and talked with Peter, and when we couldn’t talk because we didn’t know what to say, Peter didn’t try to force or speed along our grief. He didn’t try to give us any quick solutions. He just sat there with us, with the patient understanding that goes beyond all understanding. As more and more family members and friends made their way to my house, Peter had conversations with everyone. He talked with my Grandfather, Vern, for a long time and gave him valuable encouragement. He talked to one of our family pastors, Dave, and they got to know each other in spite of the horrible circumstances that brought them together.

Despite the uncomfortable nature of a house stricken with grief, Peter was there. He was just there. And he stayed there. And him being there on that terrible, terrible day was one of the greatest gifts God gave me in the aftermath of losing Dad.

By the time Peter had gone for the day, many members of my family and close inner circle felt they had known him for years. That was the type of man Peter Magolda was. He was a gentle but memorable presence, and he made people feel loved, valued, important, and listened to. And every bit of that—every single bit—was 100% genuine. That was Peter Magolda, and I’m so thankful for him.

Peter wasn’t just there in that one, crucial, critical moment, however; he was there in all the important, difficult moments that followed, especially during that first year after losing Dad. Although I’ll never forget Peter’s service to me and my entire family on that horrible July morning, it was his compassion and constant attention in the days and years after Dad’s death that left an impression on my heart and soul that still carries me forward. Immediately upon leaving, Peter took it upon himself to communicate with our entire cohort of SAHE students, the faculty on campus, and other individuals I knew at Miami to let them know about the tragedy and the forthcoming services. Peter orchestrated a network of support that enveloped me within days of losing my Dad. He took care of all the things that he could to help to remove a burden from me—and he helped me carry that burden through the weeks and months to come so I didn’t have to do it all myself.

After the funeral services, life started to fall into a new, different, and often painful normal for me. Peter and I had a heart to heart discussion about whether I should continue with my scheduled classes for the Fall or take a semester off, and we both agreed that it was worth a shot. Peter and I both believed that getting back into the classroom, a place that had been very comfortable for me for as long as I could remember, could actually be a healthy coping mechanism—and he was exactly right.

Throughout that first challenging semester (along with the other faculty members in the SAHE program), Peter made it a point to check in on me regularly. Often at the most unexpected times, I would get a phone call from Peter. After hearing the cadence of his familiar greeting (always a simple salutation, saying my name as “TY-ler” with a higher emphasis on the first syllable), Peter would ask me the most basic but important questions that so many other failed to ask during that phase of life. How was I doing? How was my family? Was I taking care of myself? What things were working, and what things made my grieving more difficult? Peter would often talk with me about my church family and how helpful it must have been to have a community of fellow believers as built-in support during those difficult moments, and I would explore some of my biggest fears and doubts with Peter because I felt safe and secure in those moments. I would tell him about my sorrow. I would tell him about my anger towards depression. I would tell him about the guilt I felt in moving on and enjoying life again in spite of losing Dad. All the while, Peter would sit and listen—something that made him famous in both his academic life and his vast personal relationships—and I always, always felt better after talking with Peter.

We spent many an hour on the phone or at a local Oxford restaurant catching up and talking with one another, and in those moments Peter showed me how valuable it was to a grieving soul to be vulnerable. It was over one of those meals when Peter shared his own feelings of grief over losing his Father. He shared how difficult it was to go through some of his personal possessions, but how much those things meant to him—something I had been struggling with tremendously at the time. Peter had an uncanny way of knowing exactly what needed to be said at the exactly right moment.

It was during one of those discussions when Peter had shared with me the influence his Father had made in his love for photography. As if being a stellar, world-renowned academician wasn’t enough, Peter had a talented eye through the lens of a camera. Whenever there was an event, big or small, formal or informal, Peter was always there to snap a picture or seventy of the festivities and all the people he loved. In fact, it was Peter who insisted on taking a few pictures of me in the parking lot of a Frisch’s in Hamilton after breakfast one morning.

2015Holidays-298On that morning, I had shared the miraculous story of recovering and buying my Dad’s truck that had been sold after his death. Peter could not believe that my Dad’s truck had been returned to the dealer on the exact day I had inquired about purchasing a new vehicle, and he couldn’t wait to get a few pictures of me with the truck. He sent those pictures along to me and told me how thankful he was that I had posed for them and shared the story. I had no idea how valuable those pictures would be to me. I cherish them now because of the story they represent and because of the kind-hearted artist who captured them.

Peter Taking a PhotoOf all the pictures he took, however, he would rarely pose for a photograph himself. If you did ask for a photo with Peter, he would often make jokes about how he would only take one, and he would scramble and squirm to get out from in front of the lens as quickly as possible. I look back on those moments, however, and his anxiety over being photographed and preference for being the photographer make perfect sense because Peter Magolda was one of the most humble, other-centered men I have ever met in my entire life. Peter’s academic career was spent observing and telling the stories of others. His works—which were vast and impressive in both quality and quantity—were never braggadocious. Peter wanted to shine a light on those who he felt were overlooked and undervalued. His photography was just an extension of this life calling. He spent an entire life snapping pictures of the people he loved because he knew it made them feel the love they deserved.

The loving heart of Peter Magolda is one of the main reasons I was able to graduate with my Master’s degree less than a year after losing my Father to suicide. Peter’s calls, lunch meetings, and continual encouragement helped push me towards the finish line when my grief was telling me to lay down, to stop fighting, and to give up.

Especially when it came to the phase of our study that every student in the SAHE program dreads and fears: Comps season.

Our program required the completion of a comprehensive exam: a 35-page, 3-question written exploration of our pedagogical philosophy and vision for the future. The examination’s varied questions required that we dig deep into the knowledge we had developed during our entire residency in the program, drawing upon the theories and studies that would inform our practice working with college students moving forward. We were all given about a month to complete this assignment, which often induced more panic because of the extended timeframe. More time to work often meant more time to freak out in the fetal position in the corner of the room. Students in our program talked about comps as if they were a 35-foot monster looming on the horizon, just waiting to tear us limb for limb. “Comps” took on a life all their own. Care packages were sent to one another. I’m sure tears were shed. Laptop computers were smashed in frustration (although I’m sure the whirring Toshiba withstood the punishment). I had seen the anxiety over “comps” take down many a capable and determined student.

Peter never, never understood the hysteria. He and I talked often about the madness that comps seem to create within the cohort, and Peter was baffled. “If you’re reading what we ask you to read and thinking about the material critically,” I remember him saying, “this should be easy.”

Once I started writing the examination, I realized how right Peter was (I realized this about a lot of things in life that Peter had discussed with me). The exam wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I found myself remembering more about the readings than I thought I could. It was difficult, yes, but Peter had taught me that difficult assignments could also be extremely valuable. I submitted the examination with a sense of relief and pride, but also with a nagging seed of doubt that maybe, just maybe, I would be the student that completely missed the mark.

The worst part about the comprehensive examination was not the assignment itself, but the waiting game between submission and getting word from your faculty advisor that you had passed and would, indeed, graduate in a few weeks. On one April evening, word got out amongst the members of our cohort that calls were being made. Within a few minutes, while doing some landscaping work in my backyard, I saw my phone light up with the name “Peter Magolda” across the screen. I threw off my work gloves and leaned against the greenhouse in my backyard.

“Hi Peter!” I said, mixing my excitement with the anxiety of big news to come.

“TY-ler,” he replied. “How’s it going?”

“I’ll let you know in a second,” I replied.

“Oh yeah, that comps thing,” Peter said with feigned interest. “Yeah, you passed. You did a really good job, and I enjoyed reading it. Now, let’s talk about stuff that actually matters. How are you doing? Work okay? How’s your Mom holding up?”

That was classic Peter Magolda—and I loved it. Peter knew what mattered. Although it was a big accomplishment, at the end of my life, I doubt I will be all that proud of having my faculty approve of a 35-page paper that I wrote. But I will be proud of the legacy I left behind. I’ll be proud that, in spite of it all, my family grew closer together during a time of tremendous heartache. I’ll be proud that my Mom and I overcame the grief of losing my Dad to suicide. That’s what will matter most, and that’s what Peter wanted to hear about. On that night, we talked for nearly an hour, just as we did with nearly every phone call we ever shared, and Peter reminded me of the need to connect with one another on a human level.

Graduation day brought many, many mixed emotions for me and for my entire family. Although I was looking forward to the excitement and finality of earning a graduate degree—something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish—this new marker also represented another phase of life completed without my Dad. I felt proud and guilty all at the same time. That guilt was constantly nagging away at me, and as much as I looked forward to the day itself, I was also dreading the ceremony of the entire moment without my Dad.

I walked into Yager Stadium on that windy May afternoon in 2014, and my mind instantly flashed back to my first college graduation in that same stadium in 2009. On that day, I remembered looking back into the stands and eventually locating my family —Mom and Dad and the rest of my family, standing in the stands, waving at me amongst the sea of red caps and gowns. I could picture my Dad—clad in his favorite khaki suit—smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know what he was saying on that day, but I wanted to believe he just kept saying “That’s my boy, my son.”

Now, just five years from that moment, I looked back into the stands and saw my mother, wiping tears from her eyes, no doubt feeling the same painful absence that I was.

I was happy, and I was proud; but above everything, I just wanted to have my Dad back.

After the large commencement ceremony at Yager Stadium, my family and I went to a smaller graduation ceremony that was held for students in the SAHE program. As wonderful as the pomp and circumstance of the big ceremony was for me, it was this ceremony that I was more excited to participate in. During the SAHE ceremony, each graduate got to pick an important person in their life who would deliver a graduation speech to recognize their accomplishments.

Without hesitation, I chose Peter.

Before the ceremony started, Peter came up to me and wrapped me into one of his usual bear hugs. He said hello to my Mother, my grandparents, and my great Aunt, and then he pulled me aside for a second.

“Hey, I thought I should check with you. I’ve got your speech written up here. I was planning to talk about your Dad. That okay?”

“Of course,” I said to Peter.

“Good, because I guess I can’t really change it now anyway,” he said through a chuckle.

Peter Magolda Graduation 2When Peter called my name (same cadence as always), I stood next to the podium, and tried as hard as I could to hold back tears as he talked and shared my story. He talked about how proud he was that I had worked part time at Miami University Middletown all while earning my graduate degree. He talked about my ability to deal with adversity, recounting a story from shortly before Dad’s death when I had extinguished a severe electrical fire in my home that could have caused me to lose my entire house less than a year into owning it.

And then, he told the story of my Father—beautifully, eloquently, and with compassion and love. Peter shared how much my Father had meant to me and our entire family, and how his loss had affected us deeply. He said that my Father would have been proud that, in spite of the trauma, I had still worked hard to earn my degree. And Peter shared how proud he was of me.

Hearing that two of the men whom I deeply idolized—my Father and Peter Magolda—were proud of me was more valuable than any piece of paper the University could bestow.

He stepped back from the podium and gave me a tender hug as tears streamed down my cheeks, and in that moment I knew that I’d never, ever have a professor and teacher as special as Peter Magolda as long as I lived.

Peter Magolda Graduation


I had the honor of being one of Peter’s last advisees. Peter gleefully retired from his faculty role at Miami shortly after I graduated, and he would often joke about how I had driven him into retirement sooner than he had planned. Although I knew that Peter would miss the people that he worked with at Miami, I also knew that he would not miss the bureaucracy, the politics, and the drudgery that can accompany even the most exciting jobs. I always loved it when people asked if Peter was excited about retiring. “Excited?” he’d respond, and then he would pull out his cell phone and open the countdown app that showed—to the minute—how much longer he had until reaching the finish line. He would then make a joke about a number of people at Miami who probably had the same countdown clock on their phones anticipating the moment that they’d never have to deal with him again.

I laughed to amuse Peter, but in my heart I kept thinking the same thing over and over again: Miami University would just not be the same without Peter Magolda. Yes, Peter would definitely miss some aspects of Miami after retiring; but there was no doubt that Miami University would miss him more. His teaching skill, his intellectual greatness, his capacity to think deeply, and his quintessential kindness had all made Miami University a much better place.

Peter did retire from Miami, doing his best to shun the well-deserved attention that folks all across campus tried to shower upon him. He and Marcia moved to a beautiful home in Blacksburg, Virginia, and although our face to face visits grew less and less frequent, they never became less meaningful.

Peter helped me in so many ways, even after his retirement from Miami freed him of that obligation. I’ll never forget his wisdom when I navigated a career crisis in 2016 which caused me to leave Miami, only to return less than four months later. After briefly diagnosing me with Stockholm Syndrome, Peter gave me the confidence I needed to swallow my pride, admit I had made a mistake, and return to a place that had been and would always be home in spite of its faults and my own faults. Peter helped me work through all of those confidence issues, and he reminded me that my work was about the meaning I made of it, not the means that came from it.

Whenever Peter was back in town, we always did our best to get together for a meal and reconnect. Although his dodgy cell reception in the mountains of Virginia could often make it difficult to connect for a phone call, he always found time take an hour or two out of his day to catch up. I so enjoyed hearing about his retirement escapades—his family get togethers, his travels to speaking engagements, his continued research, and his love of spending more and more time with Marcia. We would text and catch up, promising to stay in touch and inquiring about one another’s family. And most importantly, even though years were passing along at a rapid pace, Peter never, ever quit asking me how I was coping with my Dad’s death.

Because of his reception issues, Peter and I had been communicating through e-mail more and more as of late. Through e-mail, Peter and I would trade greetings, articles we thought would interest one another, and I always anxiously awaited each December when Peter would send along his infamous holiday newsletter.

Peter always joked with me about the newsletter and how, each year, he did his best to find the most uninteresting and ordinary things to include in the newsletter. “I mean, who the hell would ever want to read this thing?!” he would say to me every year, laughing about how he had done his very best to include even the most mundane snippets of his life in the newest edition. He would include photos he had taken, conferences and workshops he and Marcia had attended, and well-wishes to everyone who received the letter. He often told me that, although I had always viewed it as a blessing to receive the newsletter, it was probably a horrible, terrible punishment for something I had done in a previous life. “People are probably trying to get me to their Spam folders every year they see it!” he would joke.

As much as he joked about preparing the newsletter, I think Peter actually loved putting it together. Not because of the stories that he shared within it, but because it was an impetus for connection. Without a doubt, Peter’s inbox would be inundated within days of sending out the newsletter, and it gave him an excuse to do what he loved most: to talk with other people and hear about their lives.

This past year, I received Peter’s newsletter, and on the day I returned to work after the holiday break, I read through it with the same frivolity I did each and every year upon its arrival. Among pictures of family and friends who had visited Peter and Marcia in the past year, Peter also included a picture of a black bear captioned “Our Bear” and told readers that this was a neighborhood bear that was currently hibernating. He told stories of Marcia decorating their beautiful home with seven full size Christmas trees, his trip to Jazz Fest and an annual Reds game, and other highlights of the year. I hammered out an e-mail to Peter and let him know how much I always enjoyed reading this newsletter, even if he didn’t understand why people were interested in his life. I told him that I hoped he fed the bear daily, and that it was likely still more friendly than some of his former colleagues in Oxford, and I asked him if he might have time to chat in the coming week.

That evening, I got a phone call—not the call from Peter that I had anticipated, but a call about him. Tyler Wade, a dear friend of mine from our days as fellow graduate students in the SAHE program, was on the other end of the line.

“Tyler,” he said, “I have some horrible news. Peter died today.”

The news of Peter’s death sucked the air out of my lungs. I didn’t even know how to respond. Hours earlier, I had been emailing him to let him know how much I enjoyed hearing updates of his life, and now I was hearing that his life had ended. Peter had passed away, unexpectedly, at his home with Marcia at his side. I was reeling, unable to string together a coherent sentence. It wasn’t just the rug that was pulled out from under me with that phone call; the foundation itself was crumbling. After thanking Tyler for calling, I shared the horrible news with Paige. Then, I sat down at our kitchen table. As the magnitude of losing someone whose life was so important began to wash over me, I began to cry and weep uncontrollably.

And now, nearly two months after his death, I still find myself crying when I think about Peter. I will walk by McGuffey Hall and think of sitting with him in a classroom or his office, and I will immediately tear up. I see his handwriting on the papers that he graded, and I fall apart. I see pictures of him that hundreds of former students posted online after news of his death began to spread, and I wonder why a man so caring, so gentle, and so important is gone from a world that desperately needs people like him.

Peter Headshot 2Peter’s death has not felt real to me; and now, nearly two months after hearing the news, it still doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. I can still hear his voice, his chuckle as he told amusing stories, and his unmistakable dialect. Over the past two months, I can’t begin to count the times when I’ve wanted to call Peter and seek his wisdom. As I continue to work on my doctorate, I want his advice about research topics and resources and dissertation committees. As I navigate challenging circumstances professionally, I desperately want to hear his perspective and vent with him. I want to tell him about my upcoming wedding, and I want to hear all about how much he is enjoying a retirement that he deserved more than anyone I know. I cry when I talk to others about Peter because I already feel the deep pain of his absence, and I feel an unrelenting guilt that I should have done more to connect with him and make our friendship a priority.

But I can’t share those things with Peter, and the finality of his loss hurts at a soul level. Peter’s death still hangs over me because he lived a ridiculously impactful and significant life; and now that he is gone, there is an emptiness to my world that only he could have filled.

My pain is also magnified, however, because of the vital role Peter played in helping me grieve the loss of my Father. There were so many wonderful people that were absolutely essential to surviving my Dad’s suicide and death—and Peter Magolda was one of those central pillars.

I have often said that the God I serve, all-knowing and omniscient, began to surround me with people that I would need to help me grieve and survive long before Dad’s death actually occurred. I firmly believe that God didn’t try to replace my Dad with a single individual, but instead, He created a team of people who each kept a certain element of Dad’s personality alive in my life.

Peter at ConcertPeter was my encourager. Peter was my jokester. Peter was the man, just like my Dad, who reminded me that I didn’t always need to take life so seriously, and that I should enjoy those little moments. Peter was my conversationalist—the person I could talk to for hours on end, never feeling weary or bored because he was so engaged and so interesting. Peter was my processor and my wise mentor. His perspective, advice, and words of wisdom were a beacon of maturity and thoughtfulness to me—a young, often brash, emotionally charged rookie in the world of student affairs and college administration. Peter was my teacher—just like my Dad—giving me guideposts for how to live an authentic, significant life. That was who Peter Magolda was for me, and losing him feels like I’m losing another piece of my Dad all over again; and although Peter never claimed to be a replacement for my Father, he was surely there to be a Father-figure when I needed one most. And Peter, I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough.

That is who Peter Magolda was for me, and I have no doubt that he was that and more to the thousands of family members, friends, students, colleagues, and research participants that he spent his entire life loving and connecting with. My story is unique, but it is not uncommon or atypical—and that is because Peter Magolda was a humble man of influence who would deny he ever made a difference.


Campus Custodians Book CoverIt’s fitting that Peter’s last book—and in my opinion one of his greatest legacies—was an ethnographic study of campus custodians. Peter spent years working side-by-side campus custodians at different institutions across the country, and he wrote a brilliant analysis of the many ways that college campuses overlook, ignore, and diminish the contributions and value these individuals bring to the academic community. Peter believed that custodians were the lifeblood and true loyalists within most college campuses, and he was upset at their lack of recognition as educators and sources of organizational knowledge. Peter believed this because he had worked side-by-side with many custodians doing research for his book, and I believe he wrote this book to give voice to their stories. By the same token, those of you who are interested in supporting Peter’s legacy can contribute to the Peter M. Magolda Custodian Emergency Fund at Miami University (click the “Give Online” link near the bottom of the memorial).

I read the book shortly after it came out, and I found myself smiling and laughing from the moment I started to read. Peter’s opening to that book—which is classic Peter—reminds me why I love him so much:

“For the past 39 years I have worked on college campuses as a student, student affairs educator, and faculty member. Needless to say, I have participated in thousands of icebreakers and acquaintanceship activities, and I abhor them. Revealing my favorite color is hardly the way I forge meaningful relationships with strangers. A common getting-acquainted activity involves answering the question, “Who do you most admire in the world?” I especially dislike this question for two reasons. First, I struggle to pay attention to participants’ responses because I am too busy brainstorming a list of likely responses, like “Gandhi,” “parents,” “Rosa Parks,” or a third-grade teacher. Second, sharing my true response, “Juanita ‘Pat’ Denton,” who was a campus custodian, could mistakenly convey I am mocking this activity. Although I seldom seriously analyze others’ responses to this question, I am intensely serious about my response.”

I think there was likely a third reason why Peter hated these ice-breaker activities. I think that Peter likely hated these types of ice-breaker activities because they forced him to talk about himself when all he really wanted to do in this life was tell the stories of others. That’s what made Peter Magolda so special—a rare treasure. In a world focused on “me,” Peter Magolda led a life that was focused on others. Peter was a storyteller, advocate, and voice for those who deserved to have their stories told. I hope, in some small way, I’m able to tell his story in this new phase of life without him, because Peter’s life matters, and it was tremendously significant because of the choices he made.

In one of the first articles I ever read written by Peter Magolda (“Using Ethnographic Fieldwork and Case Studies to Guide Student Affairs Practice, 1999), he outlined a perspective of his work (which I heard him repeat quite often) that characterized his perspective on intellectual pursuit. The goal of Peter’s work, which he credited to Michael Quinn Patton (1990), was to make the obvious obvious, make the obvious dubious, and make the hidden obvious. When Peter first tried to explain this concept to me, my head spun. As I look back on his life, however, it makes all the sense in the world. In his work and the way he treated others, Peter refused to simply accept what he saw at face value. He wanted to dig deep, trying to affirm the things he knew, question the things that we thought we knew but likely didn’t, and reveal underlying insights that were often hidden from a face value interpretation.

Peter didn’t do this with abstract research subjects; he did this with people. Colleagues, friends, family members, students. Students like me.

And I am a better person because of Peter Magolda.

I’m glad that Peter Magolda saw me as more than what I represented on the surface-level all those years back. I am a better person—and thousands of others are better people as well—because Peter wanted to know more about us. He wanted to learn about our lives, and to see behind our masks into our most personal motivations, doubts, and fears.

Peter had another mantra that he lived his life by, and one that will stick with me for as long as I live. Peter always encouraged us to look at the espoused values of any individual or organization and ask whether or not those espoused values aligned with the enacted values. Did what a person said match what they did? Did they walk the talk they put into the world, and if not, why? Did mission statements actually reflect what was happening in the organization? Were people “doing” instead of simply “saying”?

Each day, I think about that lesson that Peter taught me in my own life. I claim to be a loving, caring individual…but do my actions fully represent that value? Did the terse response I gave at work seem loving? Did my neglect of a loved one represent a caring heart? Did my less-than-loving-gesture to a fellow driver—albeit entirely deserved—reflect the grace and forgiveness I hope to receive from others?

Peter Magolda, even in his death, is challenging me to be a better educator, a better eventual-husband, a better son, a better colleague, a better writer—and a better human being. Peter’s contribution to the world is magnified because he instilled this character calling into the lives of all the students he educated.

And above all, I am thankful that all of the values Peter Magolda espoused—namely love, care, and compassion for his fellow man—were enacted in every single moment of his all-too-short but insanely consequential life.

The legacy of Dr. Peter Magolda lives on in my heart because he put his convictions and espoused beliefs into action, and that life consistency was my most indelible educational moment. He may have spent an entire career telling the stories of others, but for me, Peter’s story is one that will always be worth telling for as long as I live.

Peter Magolda Hug with SB LogoPeter, I know exactly what you would say had I been privileged to share this post with you: “This is entirely too long, and you make me sound entirely more important than I actually am.” I feel as if I could have written many, many more pages, however. Even then I would have been unable to capture the impact your life made upon mine. Peter, you were an educator in every sense of the word. In the classroom, you taught me to analyze, and to examine, and to criticize and better the world around me. In our friendship, you taught me to enjoy life and spend less time worrying about the things that didn’t matter. And in the depths of my despair, in the darkest moment of my life, you helped me see through the walls of grief and loss that threatened to consume me. Peter, I will never be able to say thank you enough for the value you brought to my life and my journey. After losing my Dad, you were a Fatherly figure in my life. You helped council me and offered advice during difficult decisions, just as my Dad had always done. You encouraged me and pushed me with a perfect balance of compassion and motivation, just as my Dad had always done. And just like my Dad, you helped me laugh again. Peter, losing you has felt like losing another piece of my Dad, and even though you taught me how to be resilient and courageous, I’ll always be deeply saddened when I think of a life without you. Peter, your loss has already left a void in my life that is hard to articulate, and there are so many others who loved you that feel the same way. We wish you were still here, because we were all better people when you were in this life. In your honor, Peter, I hope we are all able to carry on the things you taught us. And Peter, thank you for never giving up on me.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…[If your gift] is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.” Romans 12:6-7 (NIV)


Writer’s Note: I would like to offer a special thank you to my former classmate and colleague (and former student and friend of Peter’s) Dave Sheehan for reviewing, editing, and ultimately improving this narrative. Dave’s advice, authentic reactions, and suggestions helped to dramatically enhance my writing and recollections of a man we both loved and cared for deeply. I am deeply appreciative for Dave’s time, his generosity, and most of all, his brilliant intellect and kind friendship. Dave, thank you for fighting through your own grief to share stories and important moments from your last conversation with Peter; they’ve helped me grieve positively more than I could ever thank you for.