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Kentucky Life

Reflecting on Fatherloss

In 2009, then Kentucky Life host Dave Shuffett looked at how men are affected by the deaths of their fathers. The topic was a personal one for Dave, whose own father passed away in 2007.

In the 2007 episode, Dave talked about his experience.

“As a television producer and host, I’m on the road a lot,” said Dave. “I’d been working on a Lincoln documentary at Gettysburg National Battlefield when the call came that my father had gone into decline. By the time I got back home, he had gone unconscious. I never got to say goodbye.

“I was 49 years old when that happened,” Dave added. “I might as well have been 12.”

Dave’s father, Billy, had a remarkable life. He was recruited to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, but put that dream on hold to enlist in the Army and fight in World War II. He was part of the 87th infantry division under Gen. George Patton. During his time in the military, Billy Shuffett was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and a battlefield promotion. But he also lost an eye in battle, and that put an end to any future baseball career.

Dave remembers his father fondly as a man who loved kids and always made time for his own children. When he embarked on his television career, Dave occasionally made his father the subject of his work.

“As we taped him taking his daily stroll through town, it dawned on me that time was catching up with us,” Dave remembered. “I wanted to tell him right there that he was the world’s greatest dad, and that I could never begin to repay him for all he’d done for me. But I didn’t. And I don’t know why.

“Dad spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep me on high ground,” said Dave. “I never thanked him for that, and the word ‘love’ was never in my vocabulary. When he passed, I became wracked with guilt.”

Dave isn’t alone in experiencing a tumult of emotion after losing his father. Neil Chethik is the author of “Fatherloss: How Sons of All Ages Come to Terms with the Deaths of Their Dads,” the book that inspired the Kentucky Life special.

“Sons have such a difficult time with the deaths of their fathers, because the father is, to most sons, this larger-than-life figure,” Chethik said. “He’s invincible. He’s this person that you never expected could come down. And then we end up suddenly having him no longer there for us, and their death can be absolutely shocking to us.”

Chethik related the story of one man he spoke with during the writing of his book.

“He said that it was as if he had lived in a house his whole life, a house that had a picture window looking out on a mountain range, and then one day, he looked out that picture window, and those mountains were gone,” said Chethik.

Today, Dave reflects on what he hopes that episode meant to viewers.

“Hopefully it made it seem to men that it was OK to grieve,” Dave says. “You can’t just bottle it all up.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life, season 25, episode 13, which originally aired on February 8, 2020. Watch the full episode.