Thanks, Marvin, for the rock solid advice

Two and a half weeks ago, I had a chocolate doughnut at 11 at night at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fort Lauderdale, and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated 270 calories quite so much. Actually, the calories, the doughnut and even the paper cup of decaffeinated coffee were, more or less, irrelevant. It was the reason I was there in the first place that is always going to leave me a little awed by how big a small gesture can be.

I was visiting my dad, who even infrequent readers know has been sick a lot this past year. He’s 83, but in all fairness he has the body of a 103-year-old. I haven’t been especially private about his march through the inner rings of Dante’s medical inferno. In any case, last month, after 23 years in his Florida home with a golf course fairway outside his living room, he moved to an assisted living community. It felt to me like a terrific place when we started looking in September, but it is nevertheless a community of people who aren’t penciling the 2020 Olympics into their calendars.

My father wasn’t especially wild about this plan, but he agreed to its necessity. I wasn’t enamored of it either, for the obvious reason that it initiated what is invariably my father’s endgame.

We were having dinner two nights before the big move with some of his friends at a casual Italian restaurant. Present that night was my dad’s buddy, Marvin Rock. Marvin is only in his 70s, so he was the youngster on his side of the table. He is still 6 feet and change and looks like a retired linebacker from one of Vince Lombardi’s great Green Bay Packer teams. (That might be blasphemy for Marvin. He’s from upstate New York and has always stood by his beloved Buffalo Bills.) My father was, as he has been at these weekly dinners for most of the past year, very quiet.

About an hour after we had gotten back to my dad’s after supper, I got a call from Marvin. My father and I were watching “Glee” with the volume set at jet engine so my dad could hear it. Marvin wanted to know whether I would be awake at 10:30, when he said he would be done losing at poker for the evening. I said absolutely. He said to be outside my dad’s then, to come alone, and not tell anyone where I was going. I didn’t ask why.

“I’m buying you a cup of coffee,” he said when I climbed into his car. “Come on.”

We made small talk on the way to Dunkin’ Donuts, skirting the reason why we were reenacting a moment from a Ken Follett thriller.

Finally, about 11 at night, as we were sitting in a pair of chairs in the warm evening air outside the restaurant, eating our doughnuts and drinking our coffee, he said, “You didn’t seem yourself at dinner. You seemed … out of sorts.”


“You’re worried about your dad. It’s obvious.”

“Well, yes.”

He shook his head and leaned into me. “Don’t,” he said simply, his voice firm. “You’re doing the right thing. I’ve known him for years and I love him like a brother, but he’s ready. This is the right move. It may not be the easy move, but it’s the right one.”

Marvin was, of course, correct. Not necessarily about whether this is the right move. That remains to be seen. But he knew what he was talking about when he observed that inside I was writhing in guilt and self-loathing. And the whole idea that this guy I know only as a good friend of my dad’s spotted it and reached out to me in the midst of this monumental transition meant more to me than he could possibly have imagined.

It was a great catch and I will think of that doughnut a long time — and be grateful, yet again, to my father for having such good sense in friends. Or, perhaps, for having friends with such good sense.

Thank you, Marvin.

(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on April 3, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)


Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.