After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey

After Visiting FriendsA decade in the writing, the haunting story of a son’s quest to understand the mystery of his father’s death—a universal memoir about the secrets families keep and the role they play in making us who we are.

Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.

A stirring portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets, After Visiting Friends is the story of a son who goes in search of the truth and finds not only his father, but a rare window into a world of men and newspapers and fierce loyalties that no longer exists.

There are a number of reasons why I picked up this book – I am a print journalist and while our office works differently, it was part of the story I knew I could relate to. The second reason I checked this story out was because of the main story line – son loses father then finds out years later that there was more to the story. Again, something that I could relate to as an adoptee who found out years later she was adopted.

What I am shocked to discover while reading books like this, is how it seems that people seem to make the right decision (to keep a secret) but they never really think about the consequences of those secrets. While one’s heart may be in the right place or there is a misguided need to protect those we love, the actual damage caused by life changing lies seems to not even come into play.

Stories like this make me grateful that while I myself looked like a fool in some ways for being an open book, my children on the other hand, will not be blindsided by discoveries after I am gone. I would sooner answer uncomfortable questions now than have my children’s lives destroyed after I die, should there be a life changing secret buried somewhere that I had forgotten about (which is why I wrote my personal memoir).

I commend the author for sharing his story as many people knew who his father was; to reveal the fact that he was leading a double life without his family’s knowledge is very brave. It is my hope that the author has finally been able to come to grips with a past that isn’t totally his, and been able to find happiness for himself, now that he has solved the biggest mystery of his life and discovered who his father really was.

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