TODAY

TODAY   |  April 11, 2013

Author solves mystery of his father’s death

Michael Hainey talks about his new book, which sounds like a mystery novel but is his true story. Ever since his father died at age 35, Hainey was suspicious about the cause of his death, and as an adult he set out to solve the mystery once and for all.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> lot. it reads like a mystery novel . a 6-year-old boy wakes up one morning to find out his father has been found dead. that boy later spends a decade of his adult life looking for answers. but this is not a work of fiction. after visiting friends is the true life story of the deputy editor of "gq" magazine.

>> good to see you, willie.

>> after visiting friends, it goes to the official story of your father's death, which was what?

>> which was that he had died after -- he died after getting off work and police found his body. that was a story our uncle told us. but learned later it was a sort of euphemism hidden in the obituary.

>> what initially raised your suspicions? you were 6 years old, you've heard that story for years and years and years. when did you first start to think this doesn't add up?

>> when i was 10 or 11. and we all have these stories in our family. we all have family, every family has these mysteries and questions. this was mine. and it took me, you know, a good 20 years to work up the courage and search.

>> you go in search of this, start digging, talk to his old colleagues in the 1970s chicago newspaper business, you speak to relatives and you were stone walled by just about everybody you talked to. how frustrating was that?

>> i understand they were trying to protect my mother and she was 33 and widowed as a young woman , left with two boys and i think they all wanted to protect her and my mother and my brother and me. so you can understand people making these choices. i think that's why the book resinates with folks. they see these moral moments and sort of what would i do? when you go in search of the truth, then you have to find out who's going to give it to you.

>> that raised your suspicions even higher. why aren't these people talking to me? did that drive you to look more?

>> one of the traits my mother taught me was perseverance and tenacity and i think, you know, that's why the book resinates with a lot of people. they say that strength. i say in the book, i'm looking for my father but i found my mother at the center of this. i found her really the core of the story .

>> as you went along this decade-long journey and you found out some of the things you find out in the book, we're trying not to give away too much because it has an incredible ending, did you start to see your dad differently?

>> i did. you know, that's a great question. your father was a newspaper man, as well, and we both grew up in chicago. you know, i started this book even though i was in my 40s, i started writing this story . i still saw him through the eyes of a 6-year-old boy. and by the end of it, you know, i came around to see him man to man just as i saw him in a different way and saw my mother as the hero of the story , i saw my father man to man. we've all lost, these people may be gone from our lives, but they never leave us. and we're always sort of searching for what's our relationship with them. so it was -- it gave me a powerful way to go forward.

>> how difficult was the moment when you had to sit down with your mother and tell her i've been on this ten-year search, here's what i've found, it's completely different than what you thought about your husband.

>> well, i think, again, that's why the book connects with folks. you imagine doing something like that with your own mother or father, and it's a testament to my mother 's courage and her values. she said after i told her the truth she said, i think you need to write this story . and i said why? and she said, it's the truth, maybe our truth will inspire other folks. i think, you know, it took me a good year and a half to work up the courage to get there and i'm honest about that in the book. that is part of the connection of the story for readers.

>> some of the things would be heartbreaking for a son to learn. are you glad you did this?

>> at the end of the day , you never regret knowing the truth. it's brought my family closer together and inspired a lot of folks. i get e-mails every day from people talking about it. me talking about my secrets and my mysteries and my family inspired them.

>> i've made no secret about this. it's one of my favorite books of this year. it's a fantastic read. it's hard to believe at certain times that it is a true story , but it is and it's your story . michael, great to see you. the book is "after visiting friends" and you can read an excerpt on our website today.com.