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When The Nest Empties Too Quickly–A Father’s Day Reflection, Part 7

18 Jun

“Where do we go from here, now that all other children are growing up?

And how do we spend our lives, if there’s no one to lend us a hand?”

                —Alan Parsons Project, “Games People Play”, 1980

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March 11, 2017:

It was exactly the way things should go in the progression of life, and yet I secretly prayed that the moving truck would break down on the way to our home. Granted, that would have only bought me another few hours, one more day at most, until they found a replacement vehicle to whisk my youngest son’s bed and other large belongings away to his new apartment. But I didn’t care. At that point, I’d have taken any reprieve I could get from having him fly the coop.

March 11th was a day that most fathers would have wholeheartedly embraced–Brett was moving into the city with an exciting job in his chosen career. The year before, Drew had also moved out, having established himself, in Brett’s words, as “the face of youth sports in Westchester County.”  Carey and I would be full-fledged empty-nesters by sundown, and when your wife is your soul mate, what more could any man want?  When I was young, this was precisely the way I’d have drawn it all up in my personal playbook of life.

Well, not quite.

The problem, of course, is that when your firstborn son, the one to whom we’d given our hearts and souls to make comfortable and happy, takes his own life, nothing is as it should be. He was the one who was supposed to leave the nest first, to blaze his own exciting trail. But instead, Jeff drove one fall Tuesday in 2010 to the Bear Mountain Bridge, either unaware of or unable to care about the devastation he would leave in his wake after he jumped.

We had scheduled Brett’s movers to come at 9 a.m. and when they hadn’t arrived by 9:45, I immediately assumed it was Jeff’s attempt to, in some small way, make amends. He wasn’t going to let his brother leave just yet, and he had done something to the truck from above.

Brett asked me to call the moving company to see what was up, and when I reluctantly did, the receptionist said that their truck had in fact fallen victim to an unusually cold March night and wouldn’t start. They were trying to summon another vehicle from their depot in Yonkers, but it would be at least two more hours.

Holy crap. The kid in Heaven was at it again. His mischievous spirit had shown itself many times over these past 6+ years, and on March 11th, he sensed my dismay and came to my aid. For the first time that day, I smiled.

I called to Brett to get his butt downstairs and watch SportsCenter with me. We watched the previews of the college basketball conference finals games that would take place later that day, including Villanova’s Big East Championship game against Creighton, which we were going to attend after moving Brett into his new place.

Two hours later, as the movers lugged Brett’s bed out of our house and into their replacement truck, the rational side of me hoped that this day would actually be a microcosm of our future. Yes, Carey and I were helping our youngest son move out on his own, but once we did that, the three of us would head to Madison Square Garden, as we had done countless times over two decades, this time to see Villanova try to win the Big East Championship game.  Is it really true that the more things change, the more they stay the same? God, I hoped so.

I high-fived and hugged Brett a little more than usual during Villanova’s dominant win that afternoon, but it was when we walked out of the Garden that our new reality set in. Carey and I were walking to our car, while Brett summoned an Uber car to take him to the bar where his Nova friends were celebrating. After that, he wouldn’t be coming home to Chappaqua. I held back an oncoming tear at that moment. He was an hour train ride away, for goodness sake. Suck it up.

Carey, though, knows me better than I know myself, and when we got into the car, she leaned in close and said:

You will always go to games and do things with your boys. Always. They adore you, Rich.”

When nothing is as it should be, those were the words that I needed to hear.

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March 29th:

As Carey and I sat at our gate at the West Palm Beach airport after a rejuvenating vacation at the Breakers, I was deep in thought about going home to the empty nest. But it was about more than that. It was about how quickly it emptied over the last year, and how unnaturally the process started back in 2010.  Had Jeff left home in the normal way, this would still be an emotional time, as it is for all our peers. But it wouldn’t be tinged with profound sadness and that feeling that nothing is as it should be.

My self-doubt is always there. It never goes away.

Jeff and I were so close. We did everything and went everywhere together for 23 1/2 years. Jeff was old school, and we had a great time doing even simple things like traditional father-son baseball catches in the backyard. Our one-on-one basketball battles were epic. Hell, we even had an intense nok hockey rivalry. How’s that for old school?

 

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I used to sneak out of work in the early afternoons to get home for Jeff’s high school basketball games. And I started a tradition with Jeff that I carried on with my other boys when I took him on a sports trip to attend random baseball games in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston for his 16th birthday. To this day, I remember the joy on his face when he caught a foul ball off the bat of the Marlins’ Ivan Rodriguez at the game in Philly. Jeff put it in a plastic case in his room where it remains today.

 

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And we talked. Always. When things got rough toward the end, we didn’t skirt the issue. I went at it directly and honestly with Jeff. As did Carey. And he talked openly about his depression and bad thoughts. When I saw that he wasn’t improving, I got desperate and actually tried to guilt him out of his bad thoughts by painting a vivid picture for him of the permanent devastation that would result if he left us.

And after all of that–the 23 1/2 years of great times together and all my efforts at the end to snap him out of his funk–he still drove away on November 9th, 2010, never to come back.

And so what right did I have to ever think that Drew and Brett would want to come home to visit once they moved out, or despite Carey’s assurances after the Villanova game, that they would want to continue to do things together?  With Jeff long gone, the thought of losing the closeness of my relationships with them was almost too much to bear.

As we got up to board the plane, my phone’s text tone sounded louder than usual as it snapped me out of my depressing thoughts. All I could do was stare at the beautiful message before me and marvel at its timing.

 

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Watching the Yankees together on opening day was a tradition for my boys and me whenever they were not away at college. And as this was Brett’s first post-college opening day, he was letting me know that his moving out wouldn’t change that. He was coming home. Drew also came by that Sunday to watch as much as he could before heading to work. As we sat there watching the Yankees take a beating that day, I knew I needed to let the self-doubt go.

My unconscious decision to go to work during the time Jeff was really struggling at the end, instead of taking him far away for a father-son vacation that would have cleared his head and refreshed his outlook, cost my son his life, in my strong opinion. Beautiful and well-meaning people have tried to convince me otherwise, but they can’t. I believe firmly in my powers of persuasion as a father. Why I didn’t utilize them to their maximum effect by taking him away at that most crucial time is something I have not come to grips with.

Unfortunately, many bad decisions, including Jeff’s final one, can’t be taken back. It’s been 6 1/2 years now. It’s time to let it go. My boys had come home to watch the Yankees home opener. What more could I want? If this is what the empty nest was going to look like, everything was going to be ok.

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May 18th:

The blare of the sirens was almost deafening, as every type of emergency vehicle imaginable sped by me on 42nd Street heading in the direction of Times Square. This wasn’t normal. They just kept coming. As I approached my company’s building on my way back from a meeting, I walked toward a police officer to ask what he knew. But before I could open my mouth, Carey’s text rang out.

 

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My safety wasn’t the issue. Brett’s new apartment was two avenues from Times Square, and the gym he decided to join was on the edge of Times Square at 41st and 8th. It was 12:02pm, the time at which he’d normally be walking home to his apartment after his gym workout to get ready for his 1pm start time at CBS. I called him twice in rapid succession. No answer. Brett is almost always reachable. I called Carey, but I was so scared that I fumbled the phone and hung up before she answered.

 

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This couldn’t be happening. The trauma of desperately trying to reach Jeff when he went missing that day in 2010 haunts me every single day. And now I couldn’t reach Brett who was potentially in the middle of an apparent terrorist attack or a horrific accident. I fired off a pleading text, fully prepared to run to the scene if he didn’t answer.

 

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There was no response.  In the minutes that followed, my thoughts spun out of control. Brett couldn’t wait to move out to enjoy life in the city and to be close to his job, but did he have to move so close to Times Square, arguably the highest risk area of Manhattan in which to walk around? And then I was in a time warp. It literally seemed like it was yesterday that I was frantically calling and texting a son who didn’t answer.

 

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But there was no time to relive the nightmare of 2010, and so I just continued to call and call and call. About five minutes and fifteen calls later, my prayers were answered in the form of Brett’s strong, annoyed voice:

I’m fine, I’m fine, I just spoke to Mom. I’m in the shower.”

The shower. The beautiful, safe shower. If only Jeff had been in the shower 6 1/2 years ago when he didn’t answer his phone…

Later that day, I read that the lone fatality was an 18 year old girl from Michigan, who was visiting New York with her older sister. Her sister was injured in the incident but survived. My heart bled for the parents who had learned that their precious young daughter wasn’t going to come home. I knew precisely the level of pain and anguish that awaited them, and unable to bear that thought, I left my office a little early to go see my beautiful wife in our empty nest.

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Today:

The only way to fight through a deep, dark tragedy is to always focus on your remaining blessings. I woke up today knowing that on my seventh Father’s Day without Jeff, I would have Drew and Brett by my side. They have never not been with me on Father’s Day, and even though this is the first one since they’ve both moved out, my boys came home again and the house is full. And yesterday, the four of us ran the Evan Lieberman Westchester Medical Center Trauma Mud Run 5K race, as part of the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance team. It’s been an amazing family weekend, the kind I live for.

 

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More importantly, Drew and Brett are thriving and happy, with jobs that they love. And as sons, they are a father’s dream: hard-working, caring and loving. They want to come back to the nest on days like these to spend time with me. I really can’t ask for any more than that.

I will forever live with both a hole in my heart from the loss of my son and the associated guilt of knowing that I made terrible choices toward the end of Jeff’s life. But the blessings I still have are so overwhelming that I thank God every day for everything, especially my precious wife and sons. I don’t understand why Jeff was taken from us, but I no longer harbor the same level of anger that I had for so long.

On Father’s Day 2017, with my boys here for the day, I am ready to embrace the next phase of our lives, including the empty nest.

   –Rich Klein

Time To Lessen The Pressure On Our Kids And Help Them Find Peace Of Mind–A Father’s Day Reflection, Part 5

17 Jun

“Now if you’re feelin’ kind of low ‘bout the dues you’ve been payin’,

Future’s comin’ much too slow.

And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin’,

Can’t decide on which way to go,

I understand about indecision,

But I don’t care if I get behind,

People living in competition,

All I want is to have my peace of mind.”

 

            –Boston, “Peace of Mind”, 1976

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I would have been shocked into submission if someone had told me in 1978, when I chose the last two lines of the lyrics above for my high school yearbook quote, that those lyrics would one day be my rallying cry to advance the cause of suicide prevention in the aftermath of my own son killing himself. But just as those were the best words to encapsulate my feelings about life then, they are even more important to me 37 years later in my effort to convince parents everywhere that proactively seeking ways to lessen the pressure on our children is the most impactful thing we can do to reduce the global suicide rate among the younger generation.

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Until Jeff changed everything, I had never felt an ounce of anxiety in my life. That is partially because I was dealt a good hand, genetically speaking. I have no family history of mental illness. The more important reason, in my opinion, is that I had an amazing father who went out of his way to make me feel safe, secure and as stress-free as possible. Don’t get me wrong—he was all about hard work, but as long as I did my best at whatever I was doing, he never questioned the result.

We lived in a modest home in a rough neighborhood, but he made me feel that I never had to worry about anything. When the public schools I attended got a bit too rough for my parents’ liking, they sent me to a private high school for ninth grade. While no longer getting beaten up for my lunch money was good for my physical well-being, I was immediately overwhelmed academically. I promptly received the equivalent of a D- on my first European History exam at the school, and I was devastated. I told my dad the work was over my head and I wanted out. I’d rather go back to the public high school and take my licks.

He told me to relax and that I just had to get used to taking essay tests, as I had never taken one before. My dad eschewed college to go into the family business (anyone remember the S. Klein department store in Union Square?), so the fact that I would one day actually go to college was good enough for him. I ended up being an honors student in high school and headed off to Colgate, which made my father a proud guy.

But once at Colgate, I had no idea what to major in. I wanted to be a sportscaster, but there was no communications department there. Dad, ever the voice of reason, suggested Economics because “you can’t go wrong with that.” Well, that would have been true if I didn’t get a D+ in the basic Intro to Microeconomics course. I wanted out again. Supply and demand curves made me nauseous. He said I probably had a crappy professor and told me I’d be fine and to stick with it. I did. I graduated on schedule with my economics degree, albeit with some mediocre grades along the way.

I couldn’t find a job after graduation during the deep recession in 1982, but my father was unconcerned. He even supported my brief flirtation with becoming a TV sportscaster when a station in White River Junction, Vermont offered me the position for a whopping $9,000 per year. He said if I took it and either failed or didn’t like it, at least I wouldn’t regret not having tried. However, I’ve always been risk-averse, so I decided to plod forward in search of a bank training program position.  You can decide from the clip below whether I could have made it.

Dad told me to live at home as long as I needed to, and it would all work out in time. I was hired by a bank called Manufacturers Hanover after seven months of looking, and I remain in the industry 32 years later.

There was no such thing as hopelessness in my parents’ home. It was always about taking the bad with the good and continuing to chip away incrementally at your goals. There were no artificial deadlines. Life was not a race. I am a product of my upbringing, which is why I’m solid as a rock emotionally and it is one key reason I was able to withstand the loss of my son.

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The crucial question, though, is what each of us would do if our child came home with a D- on his/her first exam at a new high school, or a D+ in his/her first course in a proposed area of concentration in college. And how would we react if our young adult child couldn’t find a job for seven months after graduation? Most importantly, how would we treat them along the way on this long, uncertain journey?

In his Op-Ed piece entitled “Love and Merit” in the New York Times on April 24th, David Brooks wrote that the two great trends in parenting today—greater praise and greater honing of our kids to become high achievers—result in what he calls “directional love” and “meritocratic affection”. The consequences for our children’s emotional well-being are great. Brooks wrote:

These children begin to assume that this merit-tangled love is the natural order of the universe. The tiny glances of approval and disapproval are built into the fabric of communication so deep that they flow under the level of awareness. But they generate enormous internal pressure, the assumption that it is necessary to behave in a certain way to be worthy of love — to be self-worthy. The shadowy presence of conditional love produces a fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.

On the one hand, many of the parents in these families are extremely close to their children. They communicate constantly. But the whole situation is fraught. These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.”

I gave Jeff safe love. It is the one thing I laud myself for and don’t beat myself up about. I never once pushed him to follow me into a career in finance, nor did I ever push him to achieve great grades in school. Perhaps the greatest compliment Jeff ever gave me was written in the birthday card pictured below where he wrote that he felt happy and safe when he was around me.

Jeff last birthday card to me

However, I failed miserably by not realizing that in today’s pressure-packed world, it’s simply not enough to refrain from imposing stress on our kids. That alone is not sufficient to help them find their peace of mind. We have to take it one step further by proactively and aggressively seeking ways to reduce the stress and pressure that they feel. We must forcefully convey the messages that there is no universally accepted definition of success, that there are no deadlines for achieving goals, and that living in the moment is key to enjoying life.

While Jeff was steamrolling toward a 4.0 GPA at Horace Greeley High by virtue of his natural academic prowess and strong work ethic, I never once went out of my way to let him know that it would be perfectly fine to get a “C” here and there, or even a D+ like I did in microeconomics, and that his world would still keep turning. I never urged him to get “A’s”, but I never told him to relax and just do his best either. That may not sound like I did anything seriously wrong as a parent, but it’s a nuance that can very well be the difference between depression and serenity.

When he was working 18+ hour days at his paralegal job at a major New York law firm, I didn’t encourage him strongly enough to start looking for something that he could get passionate about. He took the paralegal job just to get employed, not because it was enjoyable or rewarding for him. It wasn’t until after he quit and started taking antidepressants that I aggressively worked to lighten his emotional load, but by then suicidal thoughts had crept in and it was too late.

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Jeff no shame email

Jeff ample notice email

And at the end of October 2010, after he had been weaned off the meds, I didn’t even think to take Jeff away to a beach to clear his head, have fun and to strategize together, as the great team that we were, about his future. It was an egregious mistake that I will never live down.

The bottom line is that reducing the unnecessary level of pressure that these young people feel to not only “succeed” but to do so quickly, however self-imposed that pressure may be, is one way to lower the suicide rate in this age group. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The estimate is that a person takes his/her life every 13 minutes in this country alone.

Wall Street has tried to address these issues by limiting the number of weekday hours its younger people can work and by only allowing them to come to the office on one weekend day. But as an insider, I can tell you that many hardliners I work with scoff at these limits and lament the fact that these young people are getting off easy compared to how hard they all worked back in the day. It’s appalling to hear, and I have called people out on it. The reason these limits were put in place is because a young intern at Bank of America in London literally worked himself to death in the summer of 2013 by staying at the office 72 consecutive hours without sleep. Apparently, nobody asked him to do this, but it is equally apparent that nobody insisted he go home either.

In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that a son of mine would one day be one of our community’s poster children for suicide. But he is, and I haven’t run from that reality. I’m an average, regular guy, and if this can happen to one of my kids, it can happen to anyone’s.

My point is that we all need to be extremely in tune with our children’s feelings and cognizant of the importance of easing their fears. It’s time to prioritize their mental health over academic, athletic and career achievements. They need to know that it’s ok to not know what to do, or to fail and take time to regroup, and neither we nor they should create artificial deadlines. They need to know that our love is safe and unconditional.

The song “Peace of Mind” should be on top of everyone’s personal Billboard chart. The critical line is:

But I don’t care if I get behind”.

Of course we mustn’t care, because what does it even mean? Behind who? Behind what? If your friend gets engaged before you do, are you behind in some sort of race? Or if you find the career you love before your sibling does, so what? Or if you take 5 or 6 years to graduate from college, does the world come to an end? Of course not.

In the scheme of life, none of this matters. Each individual travels his/her own unique journey, and that is actually the beauty of life. We must encourage our kids, and they must encourage each other, to follow that unique road, to do so at their own pace, and to expect and accept that there will be detours and bumps. By consistently spreading this mantra, we can drive societal change and help reduce the global suicide rate.

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My father adored Jeff, who was his first grandson, and given that Dad lived a wonderful life to nearly 83, I must admit that I’m glad he wasn’t around to see how Jeff’s life ended. It would have devastated him, and he never would have been able to comprehend how anyone could even consider suicide as an option.

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My Dad and Jeff

On this Father’s Day, I salute and thank my dad, Leo J. Klein, for always lifting undue pressure from my shoulders. It is because of him that I never worried when I stumbled, failed, or had no idea what to do with my life when I was 22.

My greatest heartache on this day, though, comes from knowing how deeply disappointed he would be that I didn’t take the parenting lessons he taught me by example and apply them to my own son. Aggressively trying to moderate Jeff’s self-imposed drive to follow a perfect path toward adulthood may or may not have saved him, but it certainly would have given him a better chance to survive when things turned south.

All I can do now is reiterate to Drew and Brett how proud I am of them, how much I love them, how happy I am that they are following their passions, that they should just enjoy each moment, and that I will be there to support them every step of the way.

Talking to them about these things is the way I intend to spend Father’s Day, and I hope that many Dads around the world will do the same.

–Rich Klein

Jeff Chose The Wrong Bridge: A Father’s Day Reflection-Part 4

15 Jun

“Oh, when darkness comes,

And pain is all around,

Like a bridge over troubled water,

I will lay me down.

—Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, 1970

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Dear Jeff,

It is incomprehensible to me that seven months have passed since I last wrote to you in my “Let It Be” post, though I guess it’s no more shocking than the fact that it’s been three years and seven months since you left us. And so here we are, at the dawn of the fourth Father’s Day that you have spent in Heaven, and it is a day that continues to confound me more than any other during the calendar year. On the one hand, I am so blessed both to have sons like Drew and Brett, who literally make me feel like the greatest father of all-time and also to have had you as a son and dear friend for 23 ½ amazing years. On the other hand, this day never fails to conjure up the memories of all my failures and missed opportunities to keep you here with us. These terrible thoughts are debilitating, because they almost make me feel unworthy of even celebrating this day, though I know deep down that such feelings are unfounded.

I get so confused sometimes when I think about my current relationship with you. I mean, I wrote above “to have had you as a son”, but aren’t you still my son? Of course you are. You just happen to be in Heaven. I still take care of you and your memory by writing on Kleinsaucer and by maintaining the Friends of Jeff Klein facebook page. I still call you every day and listen to your voicemail greeting. And I don’t devote any less time or energy to my relationship with you now than I did when you were here. It’s just much more complicated now.

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Hanging with Jeff at the beach, August 2005

My confusion causes me to stumble frequently when strangers ask about my kids. Mom got angry with me in December when a 20-something year old car salesman asked me how many kids I had, and I answered that I had two boys. Later, she wanted to know how I could say such a thing. I don’t know, I guess I just shudder at the thought of the inevitable follow up questions about where you all are and what you’re up to in life. That happened once at a big client dinner when I mentioned to a colleague across the table that my oldest son graduated from Middlebury in 2009. The guy asked me what you’ve been doing since, and I stammered and said something like “it’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time.” It’s brutal, Jeff. It really is.

I try to keep you alive in every way I possibly can. We still receive mail addressed to you from time to time, and I never notify the sender to take your name off their list. I also receive a daily email with an inspirational quote. It’s quite strange, because I never signed up for this, and yet it comes to my email address with the subject line “Your Inspirational Quote Jeff”. Why are they sending a daily email to my mailbox that addresses you? In any event, I will never unsubscribe from this, because seeing emails with your name on them makes me feel like you are still part of this world. And how ironic it is that they contain inspirational quotes that could have really benefited you.

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In addition, we constantly get emails from Carepackages.com asking us to send you care packages for midterm week, finals week, Valentine’s Day and all sorts of other occasions. We will never stop these emails either, because if this company thinks you’re alive and still a student at Middlebury, then maybe in some metaphysical way, you are. It somehow makes me feel as if you are closer to us and to this world than is actually the case.

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Last Father’s Day, I wrote about the most egregious mistake I made as your father, which was neglecting to take you far away to a beach for a week when you were at the peak of your struggles, with no job and no real plan, in October 2010. There is still no question in my mind that if I had done that, your head would have cleared, we would have strategized about and agreed on a viable plan of attack for your future, and you would have come home a new and revitalized young man. And you’d be alive today. Instead, I went to work and left you home to flounder.

As if that crucial mistake wasn’t bad enough, I recently came upon an email, during one of my ongoing searches for precious memories of you, that highlighted yet another terrible error I made at a critical point in time. For context, you remember how nerve-racking it was for me during the financial crisis in 2009 when Bank of America was laying off people left and right after our merger with Merrill Lynch. As it became clearer over that year and into 2010 that I was not going to be one of the casualties, it was a tremendous relief for me.

And I guess that is why on August 2nd, 2010, at the very height of your suffering at your own job, when you were completely buried with work and could barely come up for air, I thoughtlessly sent you an email containing a snippet of my very positive 2010 mid-year performance review. I know that your beautiful response below was genuine and heartfelt, but looking back on it now, the level of insensitivity I displayed by sending you such a thing at that time is appalling.

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I actually don’t know how I could have done such a thing, and knowing you the way I do, I am quite certain in retrospect that my email accelerated your downward spiral. Nine days later, you walked out and quit. Under more normal circumstances, my email could have reinforced your view of me as a role model, which is what every father wants to be for his kids. But being unfair to yourself, you felt as if you were failing under the weight of grueling hours and demanding attorneys. I was not nearly sensitive enough to that reality, and as a result, my email highlighted a contrast that likely made you feel worse about yourself, rather than prouder of me. It was a disgraceful lack of judgment on my part, and although it is too late now, Jeff, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I don’t err all that much, but when I screw up, I seem to do so in a big way.

So many people have said to me over these last few years that you must not have thought about the amount of pain that you’d be leaving behind, because if you had, you never would have gone through with it. But sadly, you and I know the truth about that.

I know that you damn well remember the night, about two weeks before you jumped, when I came in your room with the clear intent of addressing the consequences of you ever acting on your horrific thoughts. I knew how dire the situation was then, and I decided I needed to look you in the eyes and tell you straight up. I also knew that I would never forgive myself if, Heaven forbid, I hadn’t had this conversation, and then you ended up doing what you ultimately did. And so I decided to go for the game changer and lay it on thick. I will always remember my exact words to you that night, because I prepared extensively for this conversation, and I felt certain these words, along with The Napkin I had already shown you, were my best shots to eradicate suicidal thoughts from your brain once and for all:

“Jeff, you may think that you’d be putting yourself at peace if you ever acted upon your thoughts, but the devastation and carnage you’d be leaving behind would be unimaginable. Mom and I would never be able to withstand the pain of losing you. You would scar both your brothers for life. I would need to quit my job and sell the house. We would never be able to walk by this room. Would you EVER do that to your family?”

Naturally you said you wouldn’t, but I remember feeling that there was a lack of total conviction in your voice, and the brief conversation did not put me at ease. But what else was I supposed to do? Put you under surveillance and have you followed 24/7? Honestly, if I had thought of that at the time, I would have done it. You’d still be here if I had, because you would have been stopped before ever getting to the bridge. Believe me, I torment myself with those thoughts every day.

But I can imagine what you’re thinking now:

“Well Dad, let’s see. You didn’t quit your job or sell the house. You all walk by my room every day, and you go in there all the time. Drew and Brett are doing great. You and Mom seem fine to me. So what was up with all those things you said to me that night?”

All I can say to that, Jeff, is that you will never know the feelings that Mom, Drew, Brett and I live with every single day. You will never know the pain that comes from losing a child or a brother, especially in this way, and you will never know how deep the pain runs from simply missing you. And you will never understand how it feels when everywhere I go, there is something that reminds me of you and of how you should still be here with us. Yes, we opted for stability in not selling the house, and I would never have compromised my ability to support our family by quitting my job, but the fact remains that you did leave unimaginable devastation and carnage in your wake, just as I said you would. You may not be able to see it, but it exists in our broken hearts.

My egregious mistakes notwithstanding, I was the one who could have led you to a better place, but with a mind altered by anti-depressants, you were simply not a willing partner at the end. The real tragedy is that your despair was temporary, and all you needed was a temporary bridge over the troubled water you saw to get you to that better place.

I was that bridge, Jeff, and you knew it.

I have never encountered a weight that I couldn’t carry, and your 190 pounds of muscle would have been no different. And like all fathers would have, I tried to lay myself down and carry you on my back. But you wouldn’t let me. Instead, you chose the bridge at Bear Mountain as a permanent ending place, rather than me as the bridge to a future filled with happiness and stability. I guess it all gets back to that imaginary trip–to a beach in Florida– that I never thought to take you on until it was too late. That is where I should have taken you to change the outcome. I will never live down my failure to do that. Even without that trip, though, I was still there trying to advise you, guide you and motivate you. I just couldn’t get through to you.

As a father who adored you, I was the bridge you should have chosen. I was the bridge that would have taken you from your troubled present to a very near future when your body and mind would have been free from the meds once and for all. From then on, you would have found your path, and the Bear Mountain Bridge would have represented nothing more than a scenic route to take when traveling to Rockland County. I was the only bridge you would ever have needed.

In the years before the meds attacked your brain, you knew that life was full of great moments that made the tough times seem trivial.  I recently came across your Facebook status from July 23rd, 2009.  Remember this one from when you were in Florida with Jack, Ryan and Elon?

Jeff life is good status

Rubbing my eyes.

Life is good?

LIFE IS GOOD???

Life is good.

OF COURSE LIFE IS GOOD, JEFF.

How did you ever forget that?

Why was I unable to get you to understand that, despite the struggles we all go through, we must forge ahead on our journey and live for the good moments.  Especially when you have the type of support network that you did.

Despite the failures and mistakes that Father’s day conjures up, I intend to enthusiastically celebrate it. Drew and Brett have so many of your best traits, especially those of warmth and kindness, and they give me love and support every day. The closeness of my relationship with each of them is such a blessing, and I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I didn’t have them. And whether we just play some tennis, go play pick-up basketball at the gym, or throw the Frisbee around at Gedney Park, it’s going to be a great day.  And I know one thing for sure–the three of us will end Father’s Day by watching Game 5 of the Heat-Spurs series tonight.

Brett and me at Yankees 2013

rich and drew in red hawks shirts

In the final analysis, I know that even the best of fathers make mistakes. The problem is that mine were made during the crunch time in your life and were so completely avoidable had I applied even a modicum of common sense to the situation at hand. For what it’s worth, I have learned so much from what happened and I should be equipped now to be a better father and a wiser man going forward.

The inner peace that I have started to feel recently comes from my having used the last three years and seven months as a time of deep reflection about my 27 years of fatherhood, which you initiated. During that time, I have come to realize that you, Drew and Brett have given me nothing but positive reinforcement for the job I’ve done as your father all these years. Even in your final notes, you cast all the blame upon yourself and told us we were “the best parents a son could ever ask for.”

And so it’s time now to enjoy the type of family day that you lived for. As with everything, we will do so with your spirit in our hearts and your photos all around us. I am a blessed man with two special sons here and 23 ½ years worth of amazing memories of my time spent with you.

Perhaps the most touching and, in retrospect, poignant thing you ever wrote to me was in the last birthday card I ever received from you, on August 12th, 2010. You had quit your job the day before, but you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want to ruin my birthday. At your lowest moment, you wrote:

“I feel happy and safe when I am around you, and I realize how much you care about me.”

 

Jeff last birthday card to me

Jeff last birthday card to me 2

I guess a father can’t ask for much more on Father’s Day than to know that he has made his kids feel happy and safe, and that they know how much he cares. It begs the question, of course, why those feelings weren’t enough to keep you here and why you didn’t use me as your bridge. It is a question that I will ponder for years to come, but not today. It is my special day, and I’m quite sure you would tell me that I deserve to celebrate it with a mind unencumbered by such difficult thoughts.

Love you always,

Dad