Fred Guttenberg is a husband, father, and former entrepreneur whose life was turned upside down twice in less than half a year. On February 14th, 2018 Fred’s daughter, Jaime, was the second to last victim in the tragic Parkland school shooting. Only four months prior to Jaime’s death, Fred also lost his brother, Michael, to cancer which was a result of his heroic involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
After speaking at the vigil for the victims of Parkland, as requested by the mayor, Fred found his voice and has been using it ever since. Fred decided it was time to share his story and in doing so has made an incredibly large impact. Fred’s story, however, does not focus on Parkland or 9/11 but instead focuses on the people who helped him navigate his way through the darkest time in his life. From his wife and son to his closest friends to President-Elect Joe Biden, Fred recognizes and celebrates all of the helpers in his life and shows us all that we can get through anything life throws at us as long as we do it together.
Your book, Find the Helpers, tells the story of your journey in the aftermath of the tragic loss of both your daughter, Jaime, and your brother, Michael. But instead of concentrating on Parkland or 9/11, you have shifted the focus of your book to be about the people who have guided you along the way- the helpers. When did you first realize you needed to write this story and how did you come to the realization that the story needed to revolve around the idea of finding the helpers?
After Jaime was murdered, writing became cathartic for me and I began keeping a journal. In April of 2018 I decided to write my story. Originally, my only intention was to tell my story. However, after doing that, it became clear that my story was not possible without all of these amazing other people. Someone who I trust very much told me to keep writing and to tell more about them. As I went back to write, my book evolved and the reality that I had all of these helpers set in. Hence, it became Find The Helpers. It is my story, but also the reality of all of these amazing people who help me and carry me every day.
What was the most challenging aspect of the writing process for Find the Helpers?
The most challenging aspect was needing to go through all of the details of what happened the day that my daughter was murdered and that first week after. For me, I had to relive all of these details in order to write about them. I believe the emotional reality of that comes through in the book.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the whole process?
The most rewarding aspect of this whole process was the realization that going forward, I am going to be ok because of my helpers. Upon completion of this book, I became more optimistic and hopeful for myself and my family.
If you could narrow down your list of helpers to the top three, who would you consider to be the three biggest/most significant helpers in your life?
At this time, without a doubt, the most important helpers are my wife and my son. They support me as I pursue my mission in spite of their desire for privacy. I could not do this without them. The second most important is a group of 4 friends who in different ways carried me through both the losses of my brother and my daughter and who have been by my side. They lifted me when I was weak, took care of things when I did not feel able, and provide support to my family and me when it was needed. I could not have gotten through this without them. The third most important person is President Elect Joe Biden. He truly gave me the advice that I needed to go forward and to understand the grieving process.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a helper and try to make a difference in the world?
My advice would be not to think in terms of becoming a helper and to always be there for people. My hope would be that we always remember we live in a very connected world and that we need each other. Always be aware of when you can do something for someone and just do it. Make it a habit in terms of the way you live your life.
What would you consider to be the first step to becoming a helper?
The first step to becoming a helper is accepting the reality that there are always others in need and that you have the capacity to be amazing to them. I have had the good fortune of being touched by the kindness and decency of others. Simple kindness and decency goes a long way.
You have dedicated your story to all of the helpers in your life and in doing so, and by writing this book, you have become a helper just like the wonderful people you have written about. How does it feel to know that your voice is not only being heard but actively listened to?
It is surreal. I call this my crazy new life. Because of what happened to me and to others, I have a very public role. My hope is that I can model what being a helper is. If that causes others to always be considerate and helpful to those in need, then that will make our world a better place.
If you had to choose one, what would be your favorite quote/passage from Find the Helpers?
The last paragraph which is my message to our nations kids when I say “To the future leaders and heroes, you will have many moments in your life, some bigger than others. Ultimately, what matters more than the moment is how you respond to it. How you react to your moment when it comes is what will define you.”
How do you want your readers to feel after they turn the last page of your book?
I want them to feel hopeful and inspired and committed to always being there for others. I also hope that readers receive my messages on perspective and how your future is determined based upon how you react to your moments when they happen.
On a personal note, how are you nourishing your own soul and taking care of yourself during this chaotic time?
I wish I could say I was doing more than I am. I love music and cars and do a lot of driving by myself with my music. I love time with my family. Finally, we love the mountains. It is our place for piece and we have been going to the mountains of North Carolina quite a bit.
Rapid Fire Questions:
Favorite place in the world? – I have never been, but I would love to visit Greece.
Go to coffee (or tea) order? Only coffee, about 5 cups per day.
Summer or winter? – Summer
Pancakes or waffles? – Pancakes
Last book you read? – Endgame by Eric Swalwell
What 9/11 and Parkland Taught Me About Recovery, Purpose, and Hope
Life changed forever on Valentine’s Day 2018. What was to be a family day celebrating love turned into a nightmare. Thirty-four people were shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Jaime Guttenberg, a fourteen-year-old with a huge heart, was the second to last victim. That she and so many of her fellow students were struck down in cold blood galvanized many to action, including Jaime’s father Fred who has become an activist dedicated to passing common sense gun safety legislation.
Fred was already struggling with deep personal loss. Four months earlier his brother Michael died of 9/11 induced pancreatic cancer. He had been exposed to so much dust and chemicals at Ground Zero, the damage caught up with him. Michael battled heroically for nearly five years and then died at age fifty.