Dedications by Benjamin Whitmer

Some authors tell made-up stories. Others tell about real life, it just happens to be in the form of a made-up story. Benjamin Whitmer is definitely one of the latter. His first novel, Pike, is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read; it easily made my Top 10 of 2011. So, it will come as no surprise to anyone who read Pike that Whitmer’s latest offering, Cry Father, not only builds on that first success, but takes it to another level. What many may not know, however, is the powerful, and sad, story behind something as seemingly simple as the book’s dedication.

Benjamin WhitmerI think about the dedications to my books a lot. I probably overthink them. They’re one of those things I can’t stop thinking about once I get started.

I was pretty proud of the original dedication to Cry Father. It was this:

For my children, with all my apologies. And for my parents, with the same.

If Cry Father is about anything, it’s about the failures of fathers and sons. And if I know about anything, it’s failure on those two fronts.

Also, it acknowledged that I have no right to claim any moral superiority over my characters. (Thinking about whether you think you’re better than your own characters is the kind of dipshit thing only somebody seriously prone to overthinking could do.)

But, then, last July, while editing Cry Father, one of my best and oldest friends, Paul Schenck, was killed in his house by a SWAT sniper.

Paul and I had been friends since we were teenagers, and he was the first of my friends to have children. I’ll never forget how it changed him when his son was born. Already an intensely sensitive and generous person, it was like fatherhood opened whole new worlds of empathy in him. And the same thing happened again with the birth of his daughter.

In the year leading up to his death, he and I talked a lot about parenthood. I had recently become a single father, and I was terrified that I was screwing it up. I’d message or call him out of the blue, panicking and asking for advice. And his advice was always the same: Love the hell out of them, and everything else will sort itself out. I don’t know if that’s true, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Paul had his struggles, as we all do. But the one thing I always knew about him was how much he loved his children. It was a fierce, all-encompassing love that made him my model for fatherhood.

He was killed in his apartment, terrified and alone, while surrounded by nearly 100 police officers and SWAT members, riding in armored vehicles and a helicopter. He’d had a rough day, and when the local police showed up to investigate a disturbance, they did everything they could to provoke him.

And they managed to.

Benjamin WhitmerPaul was not the kind of guy who backed down easily. He fired nearly 200 rounds over the course of several hours, most of them into his roof or into his own walls in an attempt to keep them back. He was scared they were planning to kill him, terrified to let them get near him. I’ve heard audio of him saying exactly that. His last words were, “Y’all fuckers are trying to kill me.”

And he was right. In an interview, Major Kirk Keller of the Greene County Regional SWAT noted in an interview that there was never any intention of negotiating with him. Once SWAT was there, they were there to kill.

According to one account, they used the armored vehicles to provoke and draw his fire, knowing that the muzzle flash from his rifle would silhouette him. And then, when one of the snipers skulking outside got a good sight picture, he shot Paul in the head.

It was that calculated. And there’s no doubt in my mind that’s exactly what SWAT intended to do from the minute they arrived on the scene. There were no hostages, nobody was in any danger that the police weren’t causing, and Paul was in his own house. There was no reason to do anything but wait for him to come out.

The worst part is that his family and friends were outside begging for a chance to talk to him on the loudspeaker. And one of those people begging was his thirteen-year-old daughter. While SWAT was telling her they’d get her on the loudspeaker, they never had any intention of doing so.

If you know Paul, you know how much he loved his children. And you know he would have walked out into any kind of hell to save her from pain. I have no doubt that she could have got him out of there alive.

But that isn’t what SWAT does. They don’t get people out alive. So they never let her talk to him.

This is the new dedication to Cry Father:

For Max Moody and Grace Roselee, Who had one of the best fathers I ever knew.

That’s Paul’s children, Max Moody and Grace Roselee. They’re two of the best young people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.

The book isn’t dedicated to them because a corny book dedication is in any way adequate to what they’ve had to endure in the last year.

It’s dedicated to them because they deserve to have their father.

And not a minute goes that I don’t think how furious I am that they don’t.

Cry Father is available from Gallery Books (ISBN: 978-1476734354).

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer, and a petty thief. To learn more about Benjamin, visit his website.


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  • Shannon Schenck

    October 14, 2014 - 4:44 PM

    Crying again. He was the best father he was able to be.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      October 14, 2014 - 5:24 PM

      So very sorry for your loss. 🙁 It was an honor and a privilege to give Ben a platform to help get the word out about what happened to Paul.

  • kevin Helmick

    October 13, 2014 - 5:40 PM

    Oh damn. I’m sorry Ben. I’m sorry for the family. I don’t know what else to say.

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