My Father Before Me (Hardcover)

A Memoir

By Chris Forhan

Scribner, 9781501131264, 320pp.

Publication Date: June 28, 2016

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/27/2016)
Paperback (5/9/2017)

List Price: 26.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A Library Journal Best Memoir of 2016

An award-winning poet offers a multi-generational portrait of an American family—weaving together the lives of his ancestors, his parents, and his own coming of age in the 60s and 70s in the wake of his father’s suicide, in this superbly written, “fiercely honest” (Nick Flynn) memoir.

The fifth of eight children, Chris Forhan was born into a family of silence. 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 not mentioned. And on a cold night in 1973, just before Christmas, Forhan’s father killed himself in the carport.

Forty years later, Forhan “bravely considers the way he is and is not his father’s son” (Larry Watson), digging into his family’s past and finding within each generation the same abandonment, loss, and silence in which he was raised. Like Ian Frazier in Family or Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, Forhan shows his family members as both a part and a product of their time. My Father Before Me is a family history, an investigation into a death, and a stirring portrait of growing up in an Irish Catholic childhood, all set against a backdrop of America from the Great Depression to the Ramones.

Marrying the literary scope of memoirists Geoffrey Wolff and J.R. Moehringer with the intensity of family novels like The Corrections and We Are Not Ourselves, My Father Before Me is the kind of epic, immersive memoir that comes along once in a decade.

About the Author

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.

Praise For My Father Before Me: A Memoir

"My Father Before Me is an exquisite example of the power of honesty. In this wonderful memoir, Chris Forhan shows that the best way to counter a legacy of mystery and deception is with compassion and truth.”—Jeannette Walls, bestselling author of The Glass Castle

My Father Before Me is the compelling account of a father’s suicide and its devastating after-effects. Chris Forhan sets out to answer the questions that family members inevitably ask in the wake of this tragedy: What made him do it? Was it something I did or said? Was it something I didn’t say? Was there anything any of us could have done to save him? From the dramatic act itself to the reverberations felt for decades, Chris Forhan looks without flinching at himself and his father and bravely considers the way he is and is not his father’s son. On any single page of this remarkable memoir there are more honest insights than in entire books on the same subject.”—Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948

"A son’s relationship with his father is nearly always fraught, but Chris Forhan’s is especially compelling: at 14, abandoned by his father’s suicide, Chris was old enough to have been shaped by his father, but still too young to understand how. By the time he’s 44—the same age his father reached—Chris begins to reassess, taking a fiercely honest look at himself and his family in the hope that he might change. Piercing and compassionate, My Father Before Me offers a brilliant glimpse into the seemingly impossible but urgently human task of growing out of the selves we’ve become and into the selves we need to be."—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

“Chris Forhan has long been one of my favorite poets, and I was thrilled to hear that he'd written a memoir. It is everything I imagined it to be. It's that rare thing--a true memoir, a real re-imagining of a self and an experience. What he has to say here about childhood and adulthood, choosing to live and choosing to die, who we are as children and who we are as parents is timeless and universal in its necessity. The sheer energy of this material is riveting, and the utter intensity of it is its most inescapable quality.”—Laura Kasischke, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Space, In Chains

“Poignant….affecting….It’s difficult to lose a parent, let alone write about the loss. Forhan describes his family’s healing and acceptance with warmth, humor, and an admirable lack of bitterness.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Forhan is a poet...and this introspective, precisely written memoir shows it.. In the tradition of Geoffrey Wolff...a powerful family story."--Booklist

"A truly emotionally gripping saga.  I fell fast under the spell of this new struggling, emotional, and extremely honest friend. My Father Before Me is set apart by the special attributes of the very best books of its kind—characters one seems never to have encountered previously on the page and a narrator who attaches himself to our own memories and, moreover to our hearts and feelings. This belongs on the special shelves we keep for the books we cannot quite forget."--George Hodgman, author of the New York Times bestseller Betttyville

“Chris Forhan’s aching, lyrical memoir excavates both a lost father and a lost era in American history….Forhan writes with grace and intelligence….By bringing in the voices of his siblings and mother, he fleshes out this portrait of a haunted and wounded man, adding heft and color to the fragments of memory….[Forhan’s] journey is beautifully and resonantly captured here.”--Bookpage

"Beautifully written."--Seattle Times

“A wonderfully engrossing book. Essential for all parents and children, that is, all people.”--Library Journal STARRED review

"Achingly beautiful...a triumph."--Buffalo News