Michael Hainey's Interview

Text: Periscope

Michael Hainey is living proof of people being so much more than what they seem to be. During the week, Hainey held the title he is mostly known for, the deputy editor of GQ, and on the weekends, he devoted himself to painting; this went on for many years before he finally began showing his work at galleries. And for the last 10 years, he worked on his recently released memoir, After Visiting Friends, a powerful tale in which he reflects on his journey to find out what happened to his newspaperman father, Robert Charles Hainey, who died at the age of 35. It turned out that for all these years while he was writing professionally about Men's fashion and style, he was also searching for clues, visiting his father's surviving friends, learning what happened in the events leading up to his father’s death, and spending his morning hours weaving it all into the writing of this book. We asked him why he chose to share his story.

The basic premise was that your father died when you were six years old and you weren't told why.
We were told a story by our mother who had been told the same story by my uncle, my father's brother. From the time I was around 10 years old, I had just always thought the story didn't make sense. When I got to be 18, I found this obituary about my father with this clue that said he died "after visiting friends." I thought, "That's funny. I've never heard of any of his friends. No one has ever said they were with him that night. Then a good twenty years went by before I decided to try to figure it all out. Who were his friends and what was the truth about what happened that night?
Why did you decide to share your story?
It's a very personal story and it is my story, but I thought it would resonate with people. Every one can see himself in it, every one can see their family. We all have a family and every family has a secret. We all long to go in search of that secret and find the answer to it. I feel my story will inspire people and give voice to their own questions about the secrets inside their family and show that what you fear in going on a search sometimes brings every one closer together.
In investigating what happened, you dealt with a wall of silence.
Yes, the silence from my father's old newspaper buddies was because there was a code they lived by. In addition, they were acting out of a protective instinct towards me and my mother. I have nothing but affection for them. We all say we want the truth, but it is a different thing to be the messenger of the truth. They didn't want the responsibility.
Was the writing process therapeutic to you?
The book started with some of the vignettes of me being a young boy in a year or two after my father died and my memories of these days and years. I used to tell the stories to a friend of mine who told me I had to write them down. And as I started to write them down, I was able to articulate. You get them out of yourself, and you are released from them. At the same time, you are able to turn them into art. Get them on the page, and they no longer have power over you, but they still have the power to inspire people or give voice to other people.
Did you find it difficult to switch from being a reporter to writing about yourself?
Yes because I don't talk about myself a lot. People who know me well always say, "Don't deflect." Since I was a boy, I've learned to avoid talking about myself and I would always flip it back to the person asking when someone asked me a question about me. I wrote the first draft of this book and showed it to a friend of mine who is a movie producer. He made notes and told me he loved it, but he also said "There is one problem with this book right now. You are not in it. It is all about your father, but I want to know what you felt and how this affected you." It was such a bell that went off in my head. But I needed someone to give me permission to do that. I put the first draft in the drawer and started over.
How do you feel about your story now that it is out in the open?
I guess I believe that your weakness is your strength. If i can say "I am feeling this," or "I've gone through this," I hope that can inspire someone or gives them comfort or makes them feel less of a freak or an outsider. Because I felt these feelings so long. I guess I wanted to say "You are not alone."
We now know that you were a newspaperman yourself. Did you think you were going to be in Fashion?
Never. I went to GQ because I like the writing and the kind of journalism they do. What attracted me was that it is at its best, in terms of style and fashion, art and creativity, and you are seeing something creative brought into the world. So that always interests me, people making it, how they are making it. I always liked style. I sold men's clothes for a while in college. I remember being a kid who was always particular about what I would wear, and being aware of how I was looking, but not in a vain way. After my father died, there wasn't much money in the house. I would always have my brother's hand me downs. But I was always thinking about making them look the way I wanted them to look.
A lot of people think of you as a fashion guy, but that is just a part of you.
People who have inspired me are those who don't fit into a box. If you look at Walt Whitman, he edited a newspaper and wrote poetry. Frank O'Hara was a museum curator and wrote poetry. Robert Motherwell was a critic and he became a painter. I always believe that whatever I want to do, I am going to do it. And maybe I'd inspire people. I don't want to put myself in a box.


After Visiting Friends


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