My Father Before Me

A Memoir

My Father Before Me

An award-winning poet’s “beautifully written” (The Seattle Times) portrait of an American family and his own coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of his father’s suicide. This memoir “belongs on the special shelves we keep for the books we cannot quite forget” (George Hodgman).

The fifth of eight children, Chris Forhan was born into a family of secrets. He and his siblings learned, without being told, that certain thoughts and feelings were not to be shared. On the evenings his father didn’t come home, the rest of the family would eat dinner without him, his whereabouts unknown, his absence pronounced but unspoken. And on a cold night just before Christmas 1973, long after dinner, the rest of the family asleep, Forhan’s father killed himself in the carport.

Forty years later, Forhan “excavates both his lost father and a lost era in American history” (Bookpage). At the heart of this “fiercely honest” (Nick Flynn) investigation is Forhan’s father, a man whose crisp suits and gelled hair belied a darkness he could not control, a man whose striking dichotomy embodied the ethos of an era. Weaving together the lives of his ancestors, his parents, and his own coming of age in the 60s and 70s, Forhan paints an “achingly beautiful” (Buffalo News) portrait of a family “in the tradition of Geoffrey Wolff” (Booklist).

“Poignant…affecting…Forhan describes his family’s healing and acceptance with warmth, humor, and an admirable lack of bitterness” (Kirkus Reviews). A family history, an investigation into a death, and a stirring portrait of an Irish Catholic childhood, all set against a backdrop of America from the Great Depression to the Ramones, My Father Before Me is “an exquisite example of the power of honesty” (Jeannette Walls), “a wonderfully engrossing book…essential for all parents and children, that is, all people” (Library Journal, starred review).
  • Scribner | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501131318 | 
  • May 2017
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for My Father Before Me includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. We hope that these questions will enrich your reading group’s conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

When Chris Forhan was fourteen, his father killed himself in the carport of his family’s Seattle home. Much of Forhan’s father’s life was a secret. Forty years later, Forhan sets out to discover the roots of his father’s stoicism, an exploration that takes him back multiple generations.

Forhan mines his family history—from the hardscrabble immigrant lives of his ancestors, to his parents’ courtship and marriage, to his own childhood memories of a man whose life was shaded by contradiction and mystery. Out of tragedy Forhan discovers his resilience, his voice, and his own passion for life.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Forhan often returns to the theme of silence as it relates to his father’s suicide. He writes, “Suicide is a paradox: self-expression through self-annihilation. It’s the last word: perfect, unanswerable” (page 12). As an accomplished poet, Forhan chooses to fill that silence with language and imagery. How does poetry both overcome silence and inspire it?

2. Ed Forhan’s inability or unwillingness to teach his children “to fathom and navigate see more

About the Author

Chris Forhan
Photograph by Alessandra Lynch

Chris Forhan

Chris Forhan is the author of the memoir, My Father Before Me, as well as poetry collections Forgive Us Our Happiness, winner of the Bakeless Prize; The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars, winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize; and Black Leapt In, chosen by poet Phillis Levin for the Barrow Street Press Book Prize. He was raised in Seattle and earned an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA from the University of Virginia. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two Pushcart prizes. His poetry has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2008 and has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, New England Review, Parnassus, and other magazines. He teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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