Author Q&A: Sun-Timesman’s son uncovers truth about his death
BY MIKE THOMAS firstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2013 9:50PM
Bob Hainey worked at the Chicago Tribune (above in 1958) before becoming a night copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times. He died in 1970 at age 35.
Michael Hainey will discuss and sign copies of “After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story”:
• 6 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State.
• 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm St., Winnetka.
• 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark.
• 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Anderson’s Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville.
• 7 p.m. March 1 at Lake Forest Book Store, 680 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest.
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:03AM
Bob Hainey was a highly respected night copy desk chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, and a newspaperman through and through. He worked hard, played hard and lived for the job. When he died unexpectedly in 1970 at age 35, colleagues, friends and family members were shocked and saddened. Few of them, however, knew the full truth about what happened the night of his death — including his wife, Barbara, who thereafter raised two boys as a single parent.
Decades later, Bob’s younger son Michael — now deputy editor for GQ magazine and an alumnus of Northwestern’s Medill journalism school — decided to find out. In advance of several Chicago appearances this week, he called from New York to discuss his labor of love, “After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story” (Scribner, $26).
Q. “After Visiting Friends” took 10 years to report, write and publish. How do you live with a book for that long?
A. The book started as sort of a promise to myself. I wanted to learn this story. And I had no idea where that reporting-slash-journey would take me. But I really believed deep inside that this is a story that would resonate with a lot of people, because we all have a family, and every family has secrets. My story is a very personal story but it’s also a very universal story, so I think that’s what kept me going.
Q. It seems like the process was therapeutic in a way.
A. I think we all look for our stories inside of ourselves as a way to understand who we are and where we come from. And I think our own stories of identity, whether we’re writers or not, are tied into our parents [just] as we’re tied into their origins and who they are. You see a kid go, “Dad, tell me a story about when you were a kid,” and that never goes away. And then as we grow older, we [still] want to know. Sometimes in order to go forward in our lives, we have to go back into our family’s past.
Q. Did writing this book help to close whatever void was left after your father died?
A. There’s a line in the book: “Our absence is greater than our presence.” Even though he was gone physically, his presence filled that house. His absence was his presence… And I realized when I got to the end of this that for decades, even as a man in my 40s, I was still seeing him as a young boy looking toward a father. He was just this larger-than-life figure who was in some ways kind of one-dimensional… But at the end of this journey, I saw him man-to-man and as a man in full.
Q. Did you also come away with a more realistic and less romantic view of the newspaper industry during your father’s era?
A. Whether it’s more romantic or less romantic, I don’t know. I didn’t live through it the way all these [other] guys did. But I think it was a very rich period. Tom Moffett [one of Hainey’s interviewees and a former Sun-Timesman] says it was a noble profession, and I think it still is. And in some ways I wanted to write a poem for that period and really sing the song of that time. Not just that time, but this time and all time and what a newspaper life is. And I hope I could do that as an outsider.
Q. How’s your liver after doing so much research that seemed to require a lot of drinking?
A. [laughs] I think it’s in better shape than some of the guys of my father’s era. I don’t know how those guys pulled it off. Some of them would look at me like, “You’re drinking wine?” I’m like, “I can’t drink Manhattans at noon. What are you talking about?” I say that fondly. That was part of the fun of these guys. It’s very Mad Men-ish in a way.
Q. Were you surprised that so many people were evasive or tried to stonewall you? You got a lot of them to meet with you, but not a lot of answers initially.
A. I wasn’t surprised at first. I’m a very trusting guy. I take [things at] face value. Everyone who’s in the book, I love and respect all of them, and I appreciate all of them taking time to talk to me. Many of these guys were, I think, protecting me — and really protecting my mother. And I admire that.
Q. What would your father think of your big position at one of the country’s most prominent magazines?
A. I hope he would be proud. I became a writer because, reading the things he wrote, I’d think, “Wow, there’s nothing more amazing than being able to write.” It was like this magic act. I saw this thing that he loved and thought, “Maybe this is how I can keep him alive.” I have a line in the book: “Sons following fathers. It’s the Chicago way.”