This true story has no funny twist or punch line. It is a tragedy, the telling of whch was prompted by Gabrielle Brydon's posts on mental illness.
Going back a bit and omitting names to spare some good people pain, I recall the many suicides, all men, tragedies that happened during the twenty-five years I spent in the small and to me, supportive community of the Dooralong Valley.
This one triggered a long period of reflection and I pass on my thoughts for your consideration.
My story concerns a young man who seemed to have it all. He was famous, commanded huge fees for his daredevil motor cycle show and seemed to be the master of his destiny. I met him when he called in to see his father, who was working on my property at the time.
When he stepped out of his Corvette, I was surprised to see how petite he was. Almost feminine looking with features, had they been on a girl would have been pretty. His persona was in stark contrast to his father’s big bluff English Midland. I was surprised by his gentle manner. It did not fit the daredevil image but it was the stress in his sad young face that came back to haunt me a week later.
His dad had just signed him up for a very lucrative tour of England to follow his current commitments. Then the headlines shocked Australia. I read that he booked into a hotel in Melbourne, bought a gun and shot himself dead. His father was devastated. He had lost his child, always tragic for a parent, and was totally at a loss to understand why his son, with so much to live for, had become so depressed he blew his brains out.
So, why did he do it? Nobody knows for sure because he said nothing and I think that is the clue. Here is where my ponderings took me.
Imagining myself jumping a motor cycle over twenty one buses night after night for years, I realised there would come a time after yet another close shave, when the bike did not quite hit full power and with the target ramp coming up a bit short, fear would replace exhilaration. Doubt is death to a daredevil. At that point I think I would have been over it and retired.
But wait a minute. I remember as a child doing dangerous things for my dad. I trusted him to keep me safe and in retrospect much of that trust was misplaced, so I do understand how it could have been, that this young man with the soft face and shy personality and with the stakes so high, could not say no to his dad.
Years had been invested, as his backyard jumps grew from fantasy fate-tempting tests of his worth into a marketable asset. It was fun to begin with and for a kid who craved approval, his fear of danger was probably less than fear of paternal disappointment. Then, as expectations grew into millions of dollars, the little power he had over his own life was abandoned. Calling a halt was no longer an option. He feared death less than her feared disappointing his father.
I am not blaming his dad here. Had he suspected his son’s mental state, he would have cancelled everything immediately. But like everyone in the team, he was carried along by euphoria and saw no reason to question his own motives at the time. The kid had always been a daredevil and apparently loved it. To see past that into his son’s psyche was beyond his ability or experience, so he never pondered why this inexplicably brave boy did what he did, apparently welcoming each escalation of danger. He could not have realised his son could have been risking all for fear of losing his dad’s approval.
So what is the message here? I guess you are ahead of me and maybe always were wiser. Although he is still alive, I lost a son too, not to suicide as we define it, but to the long drawn out suicide of heroin addiction. I can’t say which is worse; losing a child to sudden violence, or watching his slow destruction over days, weeks, years and decades. It is a sadness I carry always, along with the suspicion, that had I listened more then, things might have been different and now it is too late. Hindsight may be a wonderful thing but it can be exceeding cruel.