Something my father gave me

By ginnerobot, Flickr

By ginnerobot, Flickr

I have always loved books, an affection encouraged from my earliest years by my father. Our house was full of books, too many really. Books everywhere. Mom had her favorites and Dad his, mostly concerning theology, politics, and economics.

My father was a Libertarian Party organizer when my parents first married, and the home shelves bulged with Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, Leonard Read, Faustino Ballvé, Wilhelm Röpke, and Albert Jay Nock. As a teenager, I read them all as I eagerly awaited the arrival of the next Laissez Faire Books catalogue.

Dad was also into theology, some of it quite heavy. I remember slogging through Cornelius Van Til’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge at seventeen or eighteen. I got epistemology from Hayek and von Mises, too, but I’m not sure I understood any of it until much later. The thing that eventually stuck with me was the need for intellectual humility, that most of our knowledge is really provisional and incomplete, dependent upon presuppositions of which we are mostly unaware.

Under Dad’s roof, I read an odd mélange of H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, John Calvin, P.J. O’Rourke, R.C. Sproul, John Owen, Thomas Sowell, Francis Schaeffer, Herman Bavinck, Lloyd Billingsley, Frank Meyer, and Abraham Kuyper. And there were always more.

We would go to conferences together and buy a dozen books, maybe more, from the literature tables. I can remember one particular conference in Grass Valley, California, in which a speaker said something from the podium about people grabbing up a surfeit of volumes. “They won’t serve you,” he said in so many words, “unless you read them.” I think he was talking right at us, but no worries. We dove into the stack as soon as we got home.

Once Dad took me to meet David Chilton. It was about a year before he died. Chilton was an author who had been very influential for my father. A few years before Chilton had suffered a massive heart attack and had lost his ability to make new memories. He kept a diary with him and wrote down the details of the day as they happened so that he could know what had occurred. His long-term memory had been unharmed, however, and he could recall facts and data from ancient recesses in his mind.

We spent several minutes in his office before going to a local restaurant to chat. The office was small and had a large dining-room table in the middle. The walls were covered with books. The floor was stacked. The table was heaped as well. I thought after our meeting that all those tomes represented the sum of his memory. He had nothing else unless he scratched it in his pad.

That day Chilton scratched his name and a note in a book of his for me, something I value to this day and something that I never would have received without my father. I have several other books on my shelves that came to me through my father, as well, several by authors I mentioned above. These books formed the mental atmospherics of our home growing up and still influence me.

I don’t always agree with them, but I appreciate them now more than I ever have. More than that, I appreciate the man who used them to invest in me. My father cared about me enough to teach me, to lead me, to instill in me a love of learning and literature. As this Father’s Day passes I am fixated upon that thought and deeply grateful.

Question for reflection: What sorts of things did your father leave you?

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://gailbhyatt.wordpress.com/ Gail Hyatt

    Being the baby in a family with four older brothers, my dad taught me a lot of practical things. At his side, I learned to change a tire, change the oil, drive a nail, fix a washing machine, paint a wall, and make the fluffiest waffles one could imagine.

    He taught me how to take responsibility for my life, especially when it came to sin. He taught me to be honest, to ask forgiveness, accept consequences and make restitution when appropriate.

    But most of all he modeled love to me. First and foremost a deep and precious love for God. And secondly, he demonstrated how a man is to love his wife, his children and everyone on the outside.

    He left me the gifts of wisdom and love. And I miss him. Thank you, Joel.

    • http://joeljmiller.com joel j miller

      He sounds like a wonderful man. Thanks for sharing a little bit about his life.

  • Abby Lockett

    Awesome post…brought back many memories…tho I was too busy reading thrillers to appreciate most of dad’s books…but I do remember a lazy saturday reading Rand’s We the Living…and getting to the end only to think “now that was depressing. I can’t believe I spent the whole day on THAT.” BUT, yes, I am forever grateful to our father for encouraging and supporting our love of learning and reading. He certainly did invest in us, and we have lives that show it. love you, abs

  • http://www.skingsly.blogspot.com Kingsly

    That was a great post.
    My Father through his life taught me that “People were precious”. He always had time for people no matter how busy he was. He just went about doing good for people. That was his life. This post brings back old memories. Thanks.

  • http://byrdmouse.wordpress.com Jonathan

    My father was a public school teacher of science and social studies. He worked three jobs and went back to school for a Master’s, then again for a graduate certificate in counseling and became a guidance counseler for the last third of his career. He always told me I could do anything and be anything I wanted to be, except a public school teacher. He also gave me a huge love of books.

    In high school, I was the only person who could write term papers using only the books on my personal (not my dad’s) shelf and have enough references. My library is still larger than the area I have for books. I worked full time and went to school full time to finish my bachelor’s degree, then went back to graduate school also working to finish a graduate certificate and master’s degree all in civil engineering. Today I am a licensed engineer because of my love of science and books.

    What did my Dad leave me? Everything.


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