When Doc Hata wonders how Sally got Veronica to turn out so well, he’s implicitly comparing their relationship to his own with Sunny. Crucially, he is also echoing his earlier query about whether actions or essence ultimately define who a person is. In Chapter 1, Doc Hata considered that a person’s actions may not reflect who they truly are. Here he transposes his thinking to the context of the parent–child relationship. He wants to know whether the parent or the child must ultimately take responsibility for the person the child becomes. In his specific case, he wonders whether it was his duty to transform Sunny into a polite and obedient child, or if Sunny had an essentially rebellious spirit that would never bow to his discipline. Doc Hata does not come to any conclusion here, suggesting that he prefers to leave the question hanging rather than take any responsibility for his shortcomings as a father.

Doc Hata’s preference for solitude shows that he is an individualist at heart. He describes how he feels most fully himself when he’s alone, as if the company of others, however pleasant, obscures the clarity and purity of his own thoughts and actions. Doc Hata’s individualism has two contrasting sides. On one side is a sense of freedom, the feeling that he has the license to do precisely what he wants and have complete control over his environment. On the other side is a sense of loneliness, the feeling that he has no family or friends he can truly rely on. Doc Hata finds it difficult to strike a balance between freedom and loneliness, and his attempts to find such a balance have all failed. Though he expected Sunny’s adoption to help balance his life, it brought mostly frustration and pain and threw his life even further out of balance. His relationship with Mary Burns also fell apart, partly because of incompatible personalities. As someone who derived her sense of identity mainly from her associations with others, Mary found it challenging to connect with someone who so resolutely kept to himself.

In this chapter, Doc Hata once again demonstrates his inability to take the kinds of action that he believes he should take. When he went to see Patrick Hickey in the ICU, he felt overcome with the desire to be the one to perform the necessary, life-saving heart transplant operation. In the midst of this fantasy, however, he reminded himself that he never pursued medical training and only ever served as a field medic. As such, his job was never to save lives through truly correcting a problem but rather to simply stave off death until a real physician arrived. These reflections give Doc Hata’s inability to act an almost metaphysical justification, as if his partial medical training symbolizes a more profound limitation for which he has never be able to compensate. Doc Hata’s inability to help Patrick leaves him sullen and dejected. Yet even when he has a more realistic opportunity to take direct action on another matter, he doesn’t take it. Worrying that the news would sadden her, he fails to tell Veronica that his doctor has discharged him. However, when she finds out that he’s leaving, she feels upset that he didn’t tell her directly.