When Breath Becomes Air

by

Paul Kalanithi

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Paul’s Father Character Analysis

A cardiologist and a devout Christian. At first Paul is hesitant to emulate his father, as his father was largely absent from Paul’s childhood because of his long hours at his practice. Paul’s father moves his family to Kingman because of the low cost of living, which would allow him to send his sons to college. Eventually Paul comes to see how respected and trusted his father is by his patients, which inspires Paul to earn that same trust and show that same compassion.

Paul’s Father Quotes in When Breath Becomes Air

The When Breath Becomes Air quotes below are all either spoken by Paul’s Father or refer to Paul’s Father. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of When Breath Becomes Air published in 2017.
Part 1 Quotes

I knew medicine only by its absence—specifically, the absence of a father growing up, one who went to work before dawn and returned in the dark to a plate of reheated dinner.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Lucy Kalanithi, Paul’s Father
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

Scientific knowledge [is] inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique and subjective and unpredictable.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Paul’s Father
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paul’s Father Character Timeline in When Breath Becomes Air

The timeline below shows where the character Paul’s Father appears in When Breath Becomes Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: In Perfect Health I Begin
Science and Literature Theme Icon
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Paul recounts how he was familiar with medicine only because his father—a cardiologist—was so often absent from the house. At ten years old, the Kalanithi family had... (full context)
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Paul gives a little more background on his family: his mother and father had eloped and moved from southern India to New York City. He was a Christian... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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Paul draws a connection to his father, who brought comfort and levity to his own patients. For example, his father once told... (full context)
Part 2: Cease Not till Death
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Science and Literature Theme Icon
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...for his back pain, and setting up financial safety nets for himself and Lucy. Paul’s father believes that these modifications represent Paul’s resignation to his disease. He believes that Paul will... (full context)
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A few weeks later, during Lent, Paul, Lucy, and his mother and father attend church together. Paul interprets the reading that day as a mocking of literalist readings... (full context)
Epilogue
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...The family sits in their living room, holding Cady on his lap, Paul’s mother and father sitting nearby. Paul asks not to see nonfamily visitors, and isn’t able to work on... (full context)
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Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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The next day, Paul has a severe 104-degree fever. Paul, Lucy, Paul’s father, and Paul’s brother Suman return from the emergency room within a few hours. Lucy watches... (full context)
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Knowledge, Experience, and Judgment Theme Icon
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...gathers to express their love and respect. Paul conveys his gratitude to his mother and father. He asks that his manuscript be published in some form. He tells Lucy he loves... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...His breath is shallow, and he slips into unconsciousness. For nine hours, Paul’s family—his mother, father, Suman, Jeevan, Cady, and Lucy—sit vigil as Paul’s breathing becomes increasingly effortful. More family arrives,... (full context)