Speaking with Dan Barden is like speaking with an old friend, not the established writer and author that he is.
Barden, an English professor at Butler University, with his feet propped up on his dark wooden desk and white paper coffee cup in hand, discussed his new book, “The Next Right Thing,” as if it were a part of him, not just something he wrote.
In a way, it is.
Sober for nearly 26 years now, Barden’s journey of learning how to not drink serves as the inspiration for Randy, the book’s protagonist.
“I wanted to write a book about the friends who helped me get sober,” Barden said.
Through his group of friends, Barden met someone who would come to mean a great deal to him. In the book, his name is Terry.
“He meant as much to me as my father,” Barden said, “more than my father.”
This friend and mentor, who had meant so much to Barden, died suddenly of a heroin overdose. All of a sudden, Barden said he realized he did not know his friend as he thought he did.
“I was grief stricken,” Barden said.
So, he wrote.
He wrote all over the back the back page of The New York Times after being inspired by the “Portraits of Grief” series, which are stories of 9/11 victims.
Surrounded by drawings done by his son and a poster of John Wayne, Barden said that in recovery, people tell you that when you are in doubt, you should always do the next right thing, hence the title of the book, and that Randy does not always do what is right.
“I love him,” Barden said. “His heart is in the right place.”
The book follows Randy as he tries to discover what actually pushed Terry off the edge.
“All I had was grief,” Barden said. “But this guy [Randy] could figure out what happened.”
The idea of loving someone unconditionally is something Barden had to come to accept in his recovery.
“The miracle for me was how other people could love me in the moments in my life where it was factually evident that I was unlovable,” Barden said.
Along with friends, someone else has stood by his side for the past 13 years: his wife.
Liz Barden said that her husband is a “confident pro,” one who is solid and a builder of sorts, just like his father, who was a contractor.
“Dan builds things,” Liz Barden said. “They just so happen to be stories.”
Liz Barden, owner of local bookstore Big Hat Books, knows a good book when she sees it and has no doubts about her husband’s latest venture.
“I’m proud of him every day,” Barden said.
Meg Cychosz, a senior English and foreign language major and also a former student of Barden’s, said that what Barden brings to the university is remarkable.
“It is really impressive that we have faculty that are both able to teach and contribute to real world applications,” Cychosz said.
Barden may build stories, but his words bring a human experience to addiction, self-worth and the value of friendship.
In the words of one reviewer, “Not only will this book change lives, it’ll save lives.”