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Earl Silverman lived for nothing and died for something, the way he wanted it

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - Fathers - Earl Silverman - Fathers Rights Canada

Earl Silverman committed suicide Friday in Calgary Earl Silverman, above, closed the Men’s Alternative Safe House in Calgary in March, 2013

In the end, Earl Silverman lived for nothing and died for something, the way he wanted it, I guess. That was always his tag signature at the end of emails: Live for nothing; die for something.

Those emails were sent to comfort male victims of domestic violence, to lobby politicians for resources for male victims, to reporters requesting coverage of the issue that consumed his life, to anyone who was interested and eventually to the crown prosecutor with a threat about tearing the man’s face off subtly attached.

That was Earl. He was tenacious and devoted and quite possibly the most passionate man I have ever known. Although he sometimes managed to get in his own way, there was no questioning his devotion to the thousands of men who found themselves abused and forced to rebuild their lives with no help from service agencies.

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It was Earl Silverman who opened his own home to male victims with no place else to go and operated a hotline to counsel other abused men. It was in this role that he changed lives.

Earl Silverman, left, with former Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. Photo: Earl Silverman.
Sometimes his passion would turn into one giant multi-coloured blur rendering him unable to explain himself properly. And there was always the sad frustration Earl carried with him every day. He never thought he was getting through to people. That they did not understand how goddamn urgently the resources were needed for male victims of domestic violence.

And so, one day last year, Earl Silverman wrote a letter to the crown prosecutor threatening to tear the man’s face off. It was never a real threat, just something Earl had dreamt up late one night as a type of stunt to get attention for the cause. He wanted the government to press charges because then he could bring out the facts that would exonerate him: That he was a victim of abuse at the hands of a system that wilfully eroded men’s rights in favour of women’s. That was something he could never understand. Why one gender’s rights superseded another’s. All Earl ever wanted was a fair shake for men and spent his life fighting for it.

After first communicating with Earl for a story on female perpetrated-domestic violence and the lack of resources available for men, we – and I’m still not sure how it happened – became friends. He had somehow, despite my best efforts, penetrated the reporter-subject professional relationship. We would speak often after our first encounter in June 2011. No more than a few weeks would go by before I was finally returning his calls to discuss what was new with the fight, how he was doing and trying to set up a time for a beer.

He would ask my advice for getting publicity for the cause and although I couldn’t help every time, we would run something if we could get a new spin on it. That was part of our own little publicity machine, I guess. I’d write something and then the other papers would chase it after us. And Earl would be happy with any bit of publicity for the cause.

There was a time, I have to admit, when I nearly wrote him off as a whack-job the way others mistakenly have. It was around the time of the infamous face-tearing email. He wouldn’t tell me if he had actually sent it. I knew he had and I guess it was probably better for the both of us if he didn’t admit it to me, but I was starting to get short with him. He was rambling on one day while I was busy with other stories about being a martyr and I thought, nail yourself to the cross already and be done with it. And it was at this point other reporters would have written him off and never talked to him again.

But I thought about him. Long and hard.

What is it that makes a man turn like this, what is it that makes a man so overcome with emotion and passion for something that he is willing to lose all sense and public decorum to do whatever it takes to bring attention to it? Even now, give his life for it? That was worth something.

Anyone who met Earl felt his passion. Over beers one afternoon at a pub, Earl told me about a made-for-TV-movie from the early 90s called Men Don’t Tell. It’s a story Earl lived with everyday of his life. A man who is abused by his wife finally works up the courage to admit it and nobody believes him. As he recalled the plot, tears welled up in his eyes.

That was the passion, the sensitivity, the humanity that I am still envious of. He had it. He had it and he used it to fight injustice. You had to admire the fervour and steadfast determination.

He had the statistics and the facts that supported his argument. It is a fact that men do not have the same resources as female victims despite growing evidence that shows the rates of domestic violence by gender are remarkably close. But cold facts only go so far. The men’s rights movement lost a critical spark in Earl Silverman on Friday.

And when I heard that that passion, that crazy soul had finally been extinguished, I felt a deep sadness. I know he wanted to be a martyr. I know in those dark moments before he took his own life that he thought long and hard about it and determined that taking his own life would bring more attention to the plight of male victims of domestic violence. I disagree with him on this and I would have loved the opportunity to tell him that myself. Because Earl Silverman was worth a hell of a lot more alive than dead. And anyone who met him, anyone who felt his passion and his warmth and his kindness, knows this too.

Earl had contemplated ending his own life before. The first time I spoke with him, I told him we unfortunately had to get deeply personal for the story. I had to make people understand what Earl first went through after leaving the abusive relationship with his wife and the only way to do that was to be brutally honest.

So, the story started with a recantation of the first time he tried to kill himself. He didn’t succeed that day 20 years ago, because at the last minute his phone rang and a friend asked how he was.

The phone didn’t ring Friday morning. And the worst part is there is nobody there to answer it anymore. Not just for me, but for the thousands of men in Alberta alone who are going through what Earl survived.

 

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