LODI — It took Jeff Joutras almost 30 years to deal with the death of his father.
Louis Joutras died in an explosion and fire at a Union Oil refinery in Romeoville, Illinois, on Oct. 22, 1975. Jeff Joutras, one of his seven children, learned about it that day while attending high school.
He attended his father’s wake two days later on a Friday. He attended his funeral Saturday. The 14-year-old returned to school Monday.
“And life went on,” said Joutras, now 58.
Joutras went to college, got married and started a family as a successful businessman.
But the Lodi resident’s new book, “My Dad’s Rose,” tells the story of how he fell into depression in his late 30s and early 40s — a depression he kept hidden from family and friends. In the beginning, he maintained an upbeat appearance.
As a husband, father of five and leader of a successful Wisconsin landscaping company with more than 100 employees reporting to him, Joutras tried to “plow through” negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness associated with the sudden loss of his father, feelings he didn’t completely understand.
“I tried to fix myself by myself and this went on for a couple of years,” Joutras said. “Finally, I talked to my wife and said, ‘I have to do something.’ I ended up getting counseling.”
“My Dad’s Rose” is largely about the importance of asking for help, Joutras said. During his depression, he resisted that help out of stubbornness.
“What I had to learn was that raising your hand doesn’t make you weak,” Joutras said. “Raising your hand makes you strong.”
Opening up about depression brought him closer to his family, including his 24-year-old son, John Joutras.
John Joutras, a 2013 Lodi High School graduate and restoration technician for Landbridge Ecological in St. Paul, Minnesota, helped his father edit “My Dad’s Rose,” which is available for purchase at mydadsrose.com and through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“You never think you’re going to learn something new about your parents after you’ve known them for so long,” John Joutras said a few days before Father’s Day. “But I did.”
About 20 years ago, his grief “returned in waves” as Jeff Joutras first started to ask himself whether or not he would outlive his father, who died at age 48.
Louis Joutras was an instrument repairman at Union Oil — a blue-collar worker who held an array of leadership positions outside of his work in charity organizations and religious groups.
“I just kept comparing myself to my father, comparing my accomplishments to his accomplishments,” Joutras said.
Discussing the loss of his father with a counselor over the course of several months changed his life, Joutras said. It made him realize he had focused so much on negative thoughts that he believed them and allowed them to control him.
“What are people going to think of you when they find out you’re depressed? They’ll say: What’s wrong with him?” Joutras said of the negative thoughts. “Overcoming it was really just a matter of being able to speak about it.”
John Joutras was surprised his father had gone through such a depression without ever showing it to his children.
“It made me realize how easy it is to take your parents for granted,” John Joutras said, adding that it opened up conversation among family members concerning depression, giving them valuable perspective for their own lives.
“It just shows you that everybody you meet, everybody you interact with, anybody, might be someone who’s fighting their own battle,” John Joutras said. “It was really good to see that other side of him. I got to know him better.”