I Don’t Know What To Do Without My Father

I don’t know exactly what to do without my father. He died after a brief but uncomfortable stint in hospice at the house where he’d lived since 1966. He was 85 and leaves behind a wife of 58 years, a son, two grandchildren, and many friends and acquaintances who loved him more than he knew.

Normally, I’d have gone to the Smokehouse, a venerable steakhouse across the street from Warner Bros. in Burbank. Dad used to love the oysters on the half-shell. It seems strange to go there without him.

In March, he suffered a subdural hematoma on the left side of his skull that pushed his brain 2.6 centimeters to the right. He hadn’t fallen, as far as we know. The consensus among the neurologists at Keck USC and Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles was that the bleed had developed over weeks, most likely due to the blood thinning medication he was taking to prevent a stroke.

Life, and death, are full of little ironies like that.

Here’s another: He seemed to be recovering, slowly but surely. Little by little, he was becoming more aware. He knew something very bad had happened. But he took a turn for the worse last month. And now he’s gone.

A Gigantic Space

When the mortuary men took him away, they left a gigantic empty space where he’d been. His body was gone, but so was … everything else. Even when he was dying, I felt secure knowing he was still with us. But after he died, it felt as if something tremendous had been taken away.

Dad was a man of the Silent Generation. He wasn’t one for sentiment. He wasn’t much of a hugger until later in life. But he could be warm and generous when he wanted, and always had a kind word for his grandchildren.

He taught the seven cardinal virtues by example. Be prudent with your time and your money. Pay your debts. Be honorable in your dealings with other people. Be faithful.

Dad also tended to be a pessimist. “You can’t have nice things,” he would say long before the phrase turned into a millennial cliché.

His common refrain during my teenage years: “Don’t do anything stupid” — a curt warning that really meant, “Don’t disappoint me.”

We talked at least once a day, sometimes only for five minutes, sometimes longer. “What’s the good word?” he’d always ask. “Depends on what you mean by ‘good,’” I’d always answer. And off we’d go, talking about family, work, or the news of the day.

Sometimes if he dominated the conversation, he’d wind up the call saying, “Well, you’ve taken up enough of my time.” It was a running joke of ours.

The Engineer Prefers Certainty

An electrical engineer by trade, he spent his 40-year career working for a large municipal utility. Anyone who knows anything about engineering knows that all engineers are essentially the same. They prefer certainty to uncertainty. They’re most comfortable with a set of blueprints in front of them. They know what they know, and that’s all they really need — and they’ll happily tell you so.

Dad was like that, which could be frustrating at times. He was most at ease with numbers. He loved Sudoku. I’ve always been more comfortable with language. Number puzzles puzzle me. Suffice to say, it took him awhile to accept my chosen career as real work.

Every son wants his father’s acceptance, and I was no different. The highest compliment he ever paid me was, “I could never do what you do.” And I said, “I could never do what you did.”

Thinking back, there is something poignant in our running joke. For the people that he leaves behind, Dad didn’t take up nearly enough of our time, certainly not mine.


Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness, a conservative journal. “I Don’t Know What to Do Without My Father” originally appeared in The Sacramento Bee as a reflection on Father’s Day.

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