All I have to offer today is a little problem of pronoun reference.
I knew what my student meant, and so did my student; but the pronoun ambiguity made the sentence memorable nevertheless.
Someone who commits suicide six months before he is born must be a self-aborting fetus, an embryo with a death wish, an humunculus who knows it’s a jungle out there and wants no part of it. That this same someone can already be a father is quite a feat; maybe he feels there’s nothing more to do with his life?
The sentence is a bit longer, and a bit funnier:
“His father committed suicide six months before he was born, which had a large influence on his writing.”
So, this paternal zygote is already a writer? Or perhaps he would have been a writer had he actually been born and then, um, learned to write. Death would put quite a crimp in an authorial career, to be sure: all his future writing would be, of necessity, non-writing.
Of course this cold-hearted and irreverent fantasy is all in the mind of the reader. My student was writing about the poet Stanley Kunitz, whose life was haunted by the suicide, in a public park, of his father some six months before Stanley’s birth and his mother’s subsequent implacable grief. His life, some months more than a century long, wasn’t easy, but he rose to importance and fame, and made a significant impact on American poetry both with his writing and with his nurturing attention to other writers. His poem “The Portrait” speaks of the suicide:
My mother never forgave my father for killing himself, especially at such an awkward time and in a public park, that spring when I was waiting to be born. She locked his name in her deepest cabinet and would not let him out, though I could hear him thumping. When I came down from the attic with the pastel portrait in my hand of a long-lipped stranger with a brave moustache and deep brown level eyes, she ripped it into shreds without a single word and slapped me hard. In my sixty-fourth year I can feel my cheek still burning.
This kind of quiet pain is what my student was trying to talk about. A case of poor pronoun reference was the instrument of her undoing.