My Dad Was Impervious to Pain—and It Killed Him

Will Boast's father taught him to deny pain, but is that a good thing?
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2014 3:26 PM CST
My Dad Was Impervious to Pain—and Then It Killed Him

By all accounts, death by perforated ulcer is a horrible thing: Blood, bile, and partly digested food seep into the abdominal cavity and fill you with agony. But Will Boast's father took that agony to work one day and only succumbed, finally, when driving home along an Iowa road. He still didn't call for help, though—that wasn't his way. In a searing personal essay, Boast writes about his tough-as-nails dad, who learned to bare-knuckle fight as a British schoolboy and play rugby with men twice his age despite having a broken shin. Boast's dad found the rugby story "hilarious," but "now I don't laugh," Boast writes in the Virginia Quarterly Review. "I think about his refusal, throughout his life, to see any doctor. ... Too proud, too stubborn, too tough, too ashamed to be seen sidelined or entrust anyone else with his suffering."

Boast was raised tough, too, and recalls his dad hurting him when they roughhoused on the carpet. "That didn't hurt," his dad would say while twisting his arm. "That didn't hurt, did it?" Boast grew up highly disciplined and held back the pain when people in the family died—his mother of cancer, grandmother of old age, and brother in an alcohol-fueled car accident. But Boast's dad, "broken by grief ... set to the business of drinking himself to death." Now Boast is a writer with his own "Midwestern, ten-beer-a-night-every-night drinking problem," grappling with who his father was. "His methods killed him, but he did with his pain only what he’d been taught to do, all he knew how to do. Now the question remains: What will I do with mine?" Click for Boast's full piece. Or see a report in Health that brain structure may affect our tolerance to pain. (Read more pain stories.)

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