Why I Do What I Do

 Vernon Slovin

Vernon Slovin

I had the most wonderful upbringing. I grew up in a big house in La Jolla right by the beach. My dad was a really successful businessman from Cape Town, South Africa and my mom a Speech and Language Therapist from Los Angeles and they are both absolutely wonderful people. My father, being from Cape Town, had family all over the place. We traveled a ton when I was young, going from Southern California to South Africa to Australia. It was awesome! My dad was a world-class competitive swimmer so I was raised in and around the ocean from a very young age. I learned how to swim at the La Jolla Cove when I was just a baby, holding on to my dad’s shoulders as he would move through the water.

At one point my dad ran into some trouble. It was a combination of things really but he had made some poor business decisions and lost a lot of money. He had run into a wall at work and had a very hard time stepping back and looking for other ways to move forward. He eventually became depressed about how things were going and committed suicide when I was six years old.  He left my mom, little sister, and I in a very tough place both emotionally and financially. We moved into a tiny apartment and my mom had to work two jobs to support us.  I remember hearing my mom cry every night as I was trying to fall asleep. I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on at the time. I knew my father was gone but didn’t know why or how.

I couldn’t handle the emotional weight of everything and basically just numbed myself to survive.  I became almost non emotional and wouldn’t open up to anyone about anything. As I grew I would never talk about my dads death to anyone. Not even my best friend knew that he had killed himself. So, I totally avoided talking about it and I tried to avoid thinking about it. People would always tell me I was just like my father and I started feeling destined to go down the same path. I felt angry and scared and alone and that is how a lot of my childhood and teenage years were spent.

I had one saving grace and that was my love and connection with the ocean. After my dad died, anytime I felt alone or sad, if I could just get myself to the ocean I would be okay.  When my father died he was cremated and we spread his ashes in the ocean. Once that had happened I began to see the ocean in a totally different light. I began to see the ocean, the sand, water, the seaweed, seals and birds, all as if they were my family. I saw my father in the ocean and that was the most healing thing to me. I became obsessed with the ocean and spent a lot of time there and I got really good at surfing because of this.

Although my life was extremely out of balance, my time in the ocean helped me survive.  I was still a wreck in most other areas of my life. When I was 17 years old I had the opportunity to travel to Australia to do some surfing. In Australia I was able to meet with one of my fathers best friends. I didn’t know it at the time but he had gone through a similar experience to me. His father had committed suicide when he was a boy and he shared his story with me. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable talking with someone about suicide because he had gone through the same thing. This was life changing for me. Here was someone who had gone through this and had become a wonderful and successful person. He taught me that nothing in the past had the power to determine my present or my future. That I could use my fathers death as an excuse to give up, or to drink, or use drugs or I could use it for good and learn from it.

This conversation profoundly changed how I viewed my father’s death and how I viewed life. I began to open up talk about my dad. I spoke with his friends and family and business partners, people from all over the world, and I began to learn so much. My father had made some mistakes and things happened that weren’t ideal. Instead of forgiving the situation or even and moving on, he became completely taken over with how horrible his future was going to be on the one hand, and how he should have avoided the mistakes on the other. He was going from past to future and future to past and lost touch with what was right in front of him in the present. I soon realized that what my father had been through is very similar to what most everyone goes through at one point or another.  My dad happened to commit suicide and is on the more extreme end of the spectrum. Most people however, experience anxiety, fear, depression, they drink, or over eat, or something of that nature when they loose touch with the present.

My dad’s life taught me the most valuable lesson I could have ever learned, to appreciate what you have right now and to make friends with what is. I have committed my life to helping remind people of how amazing it is simply to be alive.  Whether through yoga, nature or other work I have been able to share what I’ve learned and have been able to help people going through similar circumstances as my dad did.  If I can help even one person through my story it means my father did not die in vein and that is my way of honoring his life.