Sunday, September 26, 2010


Late last year I received news that was the tragic final chapter of a long and heartbreaking story: my father had committed suicide.

I have never loved any man as deeply as my own father. He was the hero of my early childhood, my sensitive and patient confidant, my protector and awe-inspiring mentor.

It was through extraordinary experiences with him that I developed a wondrous curiosity about the world, a sacred bond with nature, a great respect for art and science, and even a humorous appreciation for the many ironies and absurdities of human nature which, I later learned, were closer than I imagined. But perhaps more valuable than any of these, my father taught me that with persistence and faith nothing was impossible.

Larger than life in so many ways, my father attained a kind of mythic status in the filmmaking community for his bold approach and innovations. The fact that he risked his life so many times pursuing the “impossible shot”—be it hanging from a helicopter or a crane over the ocean, galloping on horseback, or running up a towering Mayan Temple, all fully-loaded with eighty pounds of camera gear—made it all the harder to imagine that anything could bring down the Mountain Man of Steadicam.

But as bright as my father burned, he was also haunted by powerful shadows. One of them surrounded me, his eldest son, and the sad estrangement we had suffered since my childhood. For despite all the gifts he brought to my early life, my father also gave me a burden I am still recovering from today. That burden was incest.

Although childhood sexual abuse can damage on many levels, my own trauma came less from the physical acts than the secrecy that surrounded them. What might have been addressed openly in a relatively short period festered for years in secret, destroying the close relationship my father and I had known, and spreading to every corner of my life. While people often told me how much they admired my father and how proud of him I should be, I shrank in the shameful reality only he and I knew. As I shrank, not only did I lose my father, but I lost a large part of myself. And my descent into dishonesty, substance abuse and crime is typical of the self-destruction so many children adopt when issues this powerful go unaddressed.

Did I come to hate my father? If the bottom of hate is frustrated love, then the answer is yes. It was incomprehensible to me that a man who could do anything he set his mind to would fail to repair our broken relationship. But I was a child, and the mistake I often made was to perceive his unwillingness to face my pain as a rejection of me personally. I didn’t understand then that my father was afraid—of me, of himself, of facing a shame that started in his own family, as he reluctantly admitted to me once, and may have been repeated over many generations.

When my self-destructive course led to sexual transgressions of my own, it seemed all the more urgent for my father to open up and talk with me. I didn't blame him for the bad choices I made as an adult. And he did try to help me in his own way, sometimes with money or a visit to me in jail. But what I really needed was for us to work on healing together. Sadly, I used his avoidance of this as another excuse to continue harming myself.

The irony that my father had escaped the sex offender label for behaviors society considers far more serious than mine was something I wondered about many times. But I never wanted to hurt my father. And I never wished him to receive the label or the severe societal punishment that comes with it. I have come to understand that our self-punishment is often harsher than any other.

A significant part of my own recovery was learning to let go of the resentment I carried for my father for so many years, including facing the idea that he might never be capable of a close relationship with me again. As sad as this was to accept, I believe this freed me to mature in ways I had been stuck, address my own issues, regardless of where they originated, and create a life worth living. But I never gave up hope that one day we would be close again.

These last few years I felt healthy enough to try redefining our relationship, if only my father believed that possible. I dreamed of him coming to see the beautiful life and home my recovery made possible, where he could see me, maybe for the first time since my early childhood, driven by inspiration and dreams rather than shame. I wanted to show him that I was no longer defined by our broken past. But more than anything else, I hoped to inspire him to make some of the same choices—not for me any longer, but for himself.

I believe there were many causes to my father’s depression that had nothing to do with me. Evidence suggests he was alcoholic, and the breakdown of two marriages was particularly painful for him. Of course, I have no way of being certain what was in my father’s heart and mind over the years. But I believe he regarded any attempt to address what he saw as his “failures” as hopeless, and it seemed he treated other shadows the same way he treated our estrangement—by hoping they would just quietly go away.

We are all individuals, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. But in the realm of deep human pain and suffering I have learned that we are far more alike than we are different. Change happens not by wishing things were different, but by developing the willingness to do whatever it takes to change. And that means at least trying the avenues that have worked for others.

One of the reasons it took me so long to embrace my own recovery was the idea that I was different from others, what one recovery program calls being “terminally unique.” My father and I were alike in this belief that what others did could never work for us. But when I finally got past this isolating, ego-based position, I found forgiveness for my father, myself, and many others that had felt impossible before.

My father may have believed that putting all his creative effort into a larger-than-life persona could somehow transform his shadows. But focusing on an external image at the expense of an internal reality not only gives the shadows more power, but can tragically make our most positive accomplishments feel false and empty. There is no longer any doubt that my father felt deep remorse and pain. And when that kind of pain is stuffed, held secret, or denied it becomes heavier than the whole world. I believe this terrible weight, and his inability to address it, is what ultimately killed my father.

Healing the wounds of our past and pain of the present is difficult work. But through my own recovery I have learned that it isn’t nearly as horrifying as we think it will be. And when you finally surrender to the truth with yourself and others, not only can you find a genuine interest in understanding your own issues and how to address them, which is so crucial to recovery, but magical things begin to happen. True healing happens.

For me, the lessons of my father’s life and death are powerful beyond the ability of words to tell. There is no redemption in the world “out there.” Not for him, not for any of us. Redemption happens when we are willing to go deep inside, facing the worst that we have been and the worst that has been done to us. It is through this courageous and humbling work that we see our darkest experiences transformed into strengths to be shared, even celebrated, rather than weaknesses to be hidden. In the process we learn that we are worth it.

I never stopped loving you, Dad. And I will miss you for the rest of my life.


  1. What a courageous and moving post. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal tragedy. Keep the faith, and please keep writing - you are an inspiration.

  2. My condolences. We've went through a lot of similar things. My mom abandoned me in a hotel room at age 14 because alcohol was more important to her than I was. Mom went down a dark path for years. She got out of it. She spent the last few years of her life making up for it. She didn't have to, I had already forgiven her. I think sometimes the pain of our experiences become too much to bear. Recently I've contemplated suicide as well. I feel as if I cannot take the pain of living. It is difficult for anyone. At this point, we have to reach out for help. I can't do it alone, and I'm stronger than most. I think we have to remember that.

  3. Wow. Your journey to healing and forgiveness is awe-inspiring. Continue to hang in there, brother. You are NOT alone.

  4. I never knew.
    I will read this again, slower...
    Thank you for this.. much to absorb.

    I will say , Happy New Year...
    Contact me.. I want to talk some.
    You know me..
    Citizens for Change, America

  5. I completely understand your love for your father but I don't understand your naming him as your protector. He didn't protect you; not from himself or the subsequent consequences for you of his behaviour towards you. It doesn't help to deny his real self. I know from personal experience, it doesn't help.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Willow.

    When I wrote that my father had been my protector, I meant primarily before the incest began. But acknowledging this truth does not deny the magnitude of his failure to protect me from his own behaviors, or the devastating effects they caused me.

    I have learned that one of the greatest barriers to understanding sexual offenses, and also healing from them, is the ego’s inclination to perceive them in extreme black and white terms. The difficulty with this is illustrated when people mistake, as they so often do, a willingness to forgive offending behavior with condoning it. But a deeper exploration of the issues can reveal, ironically, that our own judgments about perpetrators and victimization can be exactly what stands in the way of our own healing. The larger truths are never as simple as we would like them to be.

  7. Dear Erik: after read your MonsterMart Blog I can say I know you better than time we share together. your place at woods looks wonderful so I am very happy for you. kisses. Rosario Pereira

  8. I'm so glad you wrote me, Rosario! Happy new Year! I'm sorry to be out of touch for so long, but now you do understand better after reading my blog. Thank you for your warm thoughts. I will write you by email later tonight.

    Love Erik

  9. Did you ever think that perhaps your 'openess' about your accusations of incest may have driven him to that final act?

  10. Dear Anonymous~

    The way your question is phrased makes me wonder if you read my blog closely. There were no ‘accusations’ because there was never any outright denial of my incest, at least between my father and myself—although he kept it hidden from many others over the years. As I did.

    Do I think my father’s guilt and shame over his abuse of me drove him to suicide? Not by itself. My father lived with the effects of his decisions for more than thirty-five years after the incest, so I think it would have happened much sooner if this were the predominantly driving factor.

    Two and a half years before his suicide the Stranger newspaper (see sidebar) named him publicly as my childhood sexual abuser, despite both my sister and I asking the reporter not to include him in the article about me. This "new" revelation didn't help anyone, and I'm sorry that it happened. I know this public outing created new difficulties in his life, but since he never would talk to me about emotional matters concerning him or us, I'm not sure exactly with whom or to what degree.

    By the time the article came out I was fully committed to my sobriety, and had done a lot of work on letting go of my resentments—for authorities, for him, for myself—and had come to a place of true healing and forgiveness. I'm sorry I resented him for as long as I did--I understand now that this didn't help either one of us either.

    Many times during his last two years I tried to convey these understandings with my father, asking him to spend some time with me so we could work on healing together. Unfortunately, he never took me up on that.

    Was it because he was convinced I hated him, and he could never change that? Or was it because our relationship had never been important enough for him to make it a priority? I believe there were other reasons my father chose to escape the way he did that had nothing to do with me. But a sizable portion of my own healing has been to make peace with these questions…and so many others. There are not many feelings in this life as horrible as the feeling that you caused your own father to kill himself.