Sean Crampton is an award-winning actor and hands-on independent producer based out of Los Angeles. His latest film, The Stalking Fields, which he co-wrote, produced and stars in, is out now on digital through Gravitas Ventures. Sean most recently wrote and directed the pilot episode of Helmet (2023) for Bart Rome. During the pandemic he produced two feature films; The Wheel for Steve Pink, which had its world premiere at TIFF in 2021, and Good Bad Things for Shane Stanger (2023).His first feature film, Richard Peter Johnson (2014) can be seen everywhere on demand.
Suicide. A total shock. Out of nowhere.
That statement: “My dad killed himself from PTSD.” There’s so much to it. But it happened. In April 2022. Weeks before I was to direct the pilot episode of the TV series Helmet – the biggest opportunity of my film career – my hero killed himself.
It’s good to get it out. No matter how messy. It’s important for people to know what happened, because it might help someone else get through this … or not make this choice.
My father’s suicide has easily been the hardest and most challenging event of my life … and it’s also been beautiful, in many ways.
But let me start at the beginning, so maybe there’s some light at the end.
I am from San Diego, because that’s where my folks met. My dad was a Navy SEAL for 27 years. He did 13 deployments. (For context, four is a lot.) He then was contracted for another 10 years by the SEALs as an instructor for the program that bridges the gap for “field operators” who become “instructors.” He said the program was developed so “dudes didn’t come back and take their tour out on the BUDS guys.” He retired in a back room, with a handshake and a pat on the shoulder, with just immediate family present. (Usually, SEALs retire to an audience.)
Oh yeah, and he fucking loved it. He loved the adventure, the physical challenge and the brotherhood, to no end. He was proud to be a SEAL.
Growing up, my dad and I didn’t have the best relationship, because he was always gone. Not just on deployments, but one-month stints up at the sniper school (which he loved). Plus my parents got divorced, and custody was split between him and my mom.
The light is … we had a better relationship as adults. The dark is … he’s gone and it fucking hurts.
My dad was an amazing man. So funny, kind, smart and confident. You wanted to be around him. Because of his Kentuckian humility, people never thought he was a world-traveled warrior. He had to have three funeral services (which he would have been embarrassed by) to accommodate everyone. I miss him dearly.
How does this all intertwine? Relate?
The Stalking Fields, which I wrote, produced and star in, hadn’t been released when my dad passed, but it was finished. The film is about PTSD. About a man named Marcus (my dad is Mark). Jordan Wiseley and I started writing the film in 2017. In retrospect, it was like we were writing something that was going to happen. I now realize that all of my writing and storytelling has revolved around PTSD. I met with a PTSD specialist by chance in 2018 to get some body massage work done and he said, “You’re carrying as much PTSD in your body as the worst veteran I’ve ever seen.” How was that possible? I’ve never been in the military. Or seen the horror of combat. Well, if you peel it back, part by part, you can see how. If my pops came home with PSTD (he was diagnosed in 2010, but we only found out after his death), then his action/energy in the house was motivated through PTSD and if you’re a child (AKA a human sponge), then you start to absorb the tendencies and emotions of said household. Pretty simple and obvious stuff when you take a second to stop and think. My dad always said, “Navy SEALs shouldn’t have children.” Maybe that was why.
I got to develop some of The Stalking Fields with my father back in 2018, asking him questions about weapons and … PTSD. He had shared that Hollywood didn’t often do it right, in his opinion (although he loved CBS’ Navy SEALs and Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan). My dad spoke about how PTSD showed up as “behavioral avoidance.” (For example, if a civilian gets into a car accident, they may no longer want to drive. For a warrior, it’s no longer wanting to fight.) During his career, my dad had lost 88 men he knew to battle and PTSD. That’s fucking heavy, eh? That’s like three of my high school classes, just gone. I remember once he pulled me into the garage (his space) when I vocalized some suicidal ideation. (I tried to hide nothing from the people closest to me.) I’ll never forget the grief on his face when he told me the number of lost men. His severity around the subject of suicide. I asked him straight up: “Have you ever thought about it?” His response? “No. Never.”
So, how am I coping? Dealing?
It hasn’t been easy. At all. But I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy, if we’re actually processing emotions and traumatic events. I have great support around me, including my family, inner circle of friends, my therapist/coach and my men’s team, an emotional support group that aims to support each other and help us kick ass in life. I also have my writing and plant medicine, which plays an important role in my life too. (I was able to have a conversation with my dad about ayahuasca in January 2022, but it never happened. Ayahuasca has a more than 80 percent success rate in healing PTSD in SEALs.) I have worked really hard over the years to heal myself. It’s a miracle for me to be where I’m at, given where I’ve come from. To be in a place to finally hear the family history. (Upon my dad’s death, I found out there have been four other suicides in my family.) To not have repeated that pattern. There was evidence of my secret family history, but it was hidden. Instead, people acted like we were a perfect family. It was different eras and times, to be sure. Ones where people didn’t talk about this at all. I get it. My dad was also in the military when it was a career-killer to admit to PTSD. America is band-aid country, taking minimal measures to prevent and heal major psychic wounds of its servicemen.
All of these truths combined have really allowed me to feel safe to express myself as I grieve. I rage. I laugh. I shout. I am so angry at my dad. And I love him so much. It’s all over the place, and that’s OK. It’s not black and white, though folks wish it was. I cry a lot, too; twice so far writing this. That helps me a lot. I also try to think about the other side. The positive side, which he taught me.
Some of the silver linings that I’ve come up with: He’s no longer suffering. His body was beat ragged and he honestly must have just been exhausted. It has me wonder at times too, if he hadn’t had the conviction to take this action … would watching this warrior grow old and wither have been better? I’m not sure. Maybe that thought keeps me safe so I don’t have to consider a life he could have had where he found peace here on Earth first before departing … So, I am both terribly grief-stricken and at peace with the fact that he’s at rest. I’ve learned so much about myself and my family through this event. I don’t know about you, but during major moments of family trauma, all the secrets seem to come out! People let it fly and I’m glad they do, because I was able to find more of me. A stronger me. A me more capable of handling this. Processing this.
The Stalking Fields is also how I cope. Jordan and I wrote this with veterans in mind. With PTSD in mind. Now it’s become a trojan horse to start a conversation about PTSD. And not just with the military, either, as most people carry PTSD in some form. I’ve also learned that the majority of people who join the Special Forces are running from something at home. PTSD on top of unresolved childhood trauma is a recipe for disaster, in my humble opinion. No one ever seems to think about that part. The part before the military service. Let me tell you, even though my dad used to tell me he “had a nice, middle-class upbringing,” he did not have it easy. Far from it. His childhood was brutal. I think it’s important to say that, because it makes what happened make more sense.
Ultimately, in the quiet moments within my heart … I miss my dad. I love him. I am proud to be his son. I both wish he were here and wish him peace where he is. In some ways, he’s with me more now than he ever could be before …
Some fun things to share about him: He had incredible aim. He loved coffee. He loved his wife, Kerri, and his children and grandchildren: me, Sarah, Paul, Shane, Jenni, Damon and Devon. He was a voracious reader, with 300 to- 400 books in his library, mostly about war tactics and self improvement. He loved wine (Crockett from Fess Parker Winery was always in his wine rack). He loved fishing and hunting, and his buddies, Phil, Jim, Joe and Kenny. He was a great conversationalist and could listen really well.
Through this processing and writing, I am changing my family lineage.
Ending the suicide line for me.
Thank you for reading.
I love you, pops.
(Three cries now.)
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. More information is available here.
Featured image shows Sean Crampton with his father, Mark Crampton, in 2016. All images courtesy Sean Crampton.