I’m sure the death of Anthony Bourdain impacted me in ways more than most, as I lost my own dad to suicide when I was 19 years old. And my dad’s personality was big, larger than life; he inspired so many and gave me and others so much. The loss of him left a big emptiness in my heart, a pain I often didn’t know if I could withstand.
I believe the same is true for those that loved Anthony, and last week I felt not just my own pain and reminder of my personal loss, but the collective despair from all those that loved and were influenced by Anthony Bourdain’s life—and others’ pain that have lost their own father to suicide. Losing a dad this way, when they choose to end their life, is a primal pain that can’t ever be described through words. And unfortunately, we are losing fathers to suicide at alarming rates, as the rate of suicide is highest in middle aged men.
It is why, this Father’s Day, I think it is important now more than ever to be giving dads experiences rather than things. I love this review in Quartz by Svati Kirsten Narula on the benefits of spending money this way, and the reminder of just how precious life is through shared journeys. With the recent high profile loss of Anthony, and the acknowledgement that it can happen to anyone, I think now it is more important than ever that we encourage kids around the world to give this to their dads. Not only does it give kids memories and experiences to remember, it gives dads time and connection with kids.
These days, with connected devices, it seems we are moving faster and faster and further away from taking time to simply enjoy moments with each other, and be fully present. And unfortunately, lack of connection is a major problem for both kids and adults, as anxiety and depression are on the rise in both populations and people are feeling more disconnected than ever. And we have got to do something swift and drastic if we want to change the trend, starting with more of a focus on shared experience and less focus on collecting “stuff.”
Looking back at my life with my dad, the things I remember are the fishing excursions, the shared talks, the tennis games, the skipping at the farm, and the joy of playing “I see one.” The things he loved most were the coupon books from me, where he could turn them in for the promise of me cooking him noodles, a walk to work, foot massage, or an hour-long talk. It was never the “thing” that I remember him loving, it was the gift of time with me.
And ironically, I’m doing a 21 days to happiness course right now with my company, and I’m thinking about how much I would have hated doing it with him as a teenager, but how much actual benefit out of it I would have gotten, and how much he would have loved it. I mean, really loved it. He was so vigilant about family dinners, and encouraged us to connect nightly on our experiences throughout the day. Looking back, I valued those dinners more than anything.
In his last note to me, his final goodbye, my dad said he hoped I never had to experience the deep despair—the complete and total unhappiness—he felt by the pain and hurt he brought to others around him. So I have done all I can to learn about what creates a hopeful mindset and a happier state, and shared that with others through my company, nonprofit, and writing. And I share that message with you today, so that maybe, this Father’s Day, you consider giving up the shiny new toy for your dad, and instead give him the gift of time and connection.
Wishing all you dads a Happy Father’s Day!