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?