My father's suicide and what I've learnt
My biggest frustration is the lack of memory I have for my father.
I split my childhood into two stages: before and after January 1979, when my father took his own life.
I remember a normal family life before he died, a happy daily life, going on holidays. But after his death it was much more of a blur.
My father went through some very difficult times before his death. He lost his best friend and business partner about 18 months prior and, in the summer of 1978, a Spanish student on an exchange programme died while staying with us. These events must have had a significant effect on him.
The last recollection I have of him was in 1979, seeing him rocking on a living room chair. My mum tried to get me and my brother to go and give him a cuddle. My feelings at the time were to resist, for some reason.
At the end of January he went for a walk in some woods, and we never saw him again. I was nine years old.
I remember crying when I was told he was dead, but not at the funeral; I think I was in shock.
The four years after I think I was in denial for the most part, feeling different to other kids. There were a lot of what ifs and questions like ‘is he really still alive somewhere else?’, but I never spoke about him.
Life was financially much more of a struggle and parent time was very limited as a result. Mum was working so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. My father had been an architect, and well paid, my mother had to go from being a housewife to working as a full-time secretary, not so well paid.
As I grew into a man I found myself wanting to emulate him. I chose a career in property, because he was an architect, and I felt it was following in his footsteps. My father was put on a pedestal. In my mind, he was perfect. When my mother got a new partner, it was very difficult for me to bond with him.
My 20s were spent living life to the full, but strangely I was maybe too carefree, because in the back of my mind I remember thinking, ‘I’m like my father, I’ll only live as long as he did’. I was a bit over-sensitive to illness, always thinking ‘this is it!’.
But there were no feelings of depression or sadness. In fact, it was difficult for me to express any feelings to anyone. I disliked my own company. I also had some minor anger issues, which I only show to loved ones, never professionally.
Becoming a father
My first son was born when I was 35, the second at 39. The fact I had two boys like my Dad compounded my feelings of following him. My 40th birthday was a very difficult age to reach, because my father died at 42. I decided I needed counselling, and that’s when the feelings I didn’t even know I had gushed out… anger, frustration, regret and confusion. I felt like I came to terms with myself through this counselling, being my own man.
Becoming 42 (and feeling so young!) and having both my children pass the age of 9 (my age when my father died) was probably the hardest part. Now, being the other side of 42 and continually seeing what he missed, especially my children’s achievements in and out of school - it makes me have regret for him, but also a kind of jealousy towards my children. I didn’t get the chance to do these things with my dad. Might I have achieved different things with him around?
When I reflect on how my father’s death has affected me as a person, it definitely hasn’t been positive overall. I do reflect on how different my life would’ve been if he hadn’t done what he did. I wonder if I could have done something to stop him and if I was in any way responsible. The fact that he just disappeared one day has manifested in separation anxiety when one of my loved ones doesn’t respond or goes off on a walk.
When my sons were very young I would always be very keen to be there at bedtime and special events and would arrange work around them. I’m passionate about living for the moment and spending time with the people I love and friends as much as possible, because I have very little real memory about my father and I think that knowing your roots and history is so important in life.
Ironically it probably made me more driven from a career point of view as I was trying to prove something to him - even though I never could.
If there’s one message I want to send to people by sharing my story, it’s this: you have so much value, you matter, you are worth it!
Tim Harvey MRICS became chartered in 1994 and is an investment surveyor running his own small property company in Hertfordshire. He is part of the Property Gun and Punt Club and helps run an annual shooting fundraiser for LionHeart, raising thousands of pounds over the last 15 years.
- Tim’s story also appears on the CALM website. CALM is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, now the single biggest killer of all men under the age of 45 in the UK
- LionHeart’s John O’Halloran Initiative: promoting positive mental health in property
- “I hope something positive will come from dad’s suicide”
- LionHeart counselling