When Michael Hainey (MSJ87) was six, his father was found dead “after visiting friends.” Details about his father’s death were kept secret by both his family and his father’s friends, and for Hainey’s first memoir, he looked to uncover the truth.
A group of Medill students and faculty attended a discussion with Hainey on his memoir, titled “After Visiting Friends.” While reporting and writing the book, Hainey encountered people who were reluctant to talk to him about what happened.
“This was a story about hiding the truth for 40 years, and now it’s out there,” Hainey said. “Maybe now people can talk about having those conversations.”
Attendees asked Hainey, currently the deputy editor at GQ, about the challenges of writing about his family and reactions after the book was published, especially handling the emotions that come with the topic.
“I worked hard to be very fair to everyone and never judge them,” Hainey said. “I never wanted to tell someone how I felt about the situation.”
Hainey’s father was a journalist who worked for the Chicago Sun-Times in the 1950s and 1960s. The book is structured around both Hainey’s search to uncover the truth about his dad and flashbacks to Hainey’s childhood. He read an excerpt describing a time that he went with his father to the Sun-Times office. He then went on to describe how his father’s career has impacted him.
“This is my father’s world, and I want to be a part of it,” Hainey said. “I want to be a man who chases facts.”
Several questions the audience asked dealt with the reaction Hainey and his family and friends had to the book’s contents, especially his mother’s reaction. When the original manuscript for the book was given to Hainey, he brought it to his mother for her to read. She called him a few days later.
“It’s brought up things that I had pushed down,” Hainey’s mother told him when she called. Hainey said his mom approves of the book.
Hainey put together “After Visiting Friends” while working at GQ, treating book writing like a second job. He would get up at 4:30 a.m. and write until going into work at 7 a.m.
“[Book writing is] a marathon,” Hainey said. “You gotta run your miles every day.”
When Hainey started to work on his book, he said he viewed his father like he did when he was still six. By the end, he viewed him more man-to-man, which helped him understand the decisions his father made.
Several of Hainey’s relatives also have Medill ties and work as journalists, including his uncle, Richard Hainey, who taught at Medill.
“Sons following fathers,” Hainey said. “That’s the Chicago way.”