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My Dad Gave Me Books—And More Besides
A Father’s Day Recollection about Growing up amid Piles and Piles of Books
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 religion, politics, and economics.
My father was a Libertarian Party activist 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 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 array of H. L. Mencken, John Calvin, Thomas Sowell, C. S. Lewis, P. J. O’Rourke, R. C. Sproul, G. K. Chesterton, Lysander Spooner, David Friedman, Frédéric Bastiat, Leonard Read, Francis Schaeffer, Herman Bavinck, Karl Hess, Lloyd Billingsley, Frank Meyer, Eric Hoffer, 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 eagerly snapping up the volumes. “They won’t serve you,” he said in so many words, “unless you read them.” At the time I thought 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 in Placerville, California. Chilton was an author who had been influential for my father. This was about a year before Chilton died.
A few years prior Chilton had suffered a massive heart attack that resulted in, among other things, brain damage. Having 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 book, which I watched him do during our lunch.
That day Chilton scratched his name and a note in a book of his for me, 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, mostly by authors 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.
It’s impossible to recall everything I learned from my dad, but a few things stand out as I reflect this morning. As a high-school English and debate teacher, he instilled in me the conviction that words matter and, if arranged well, could convey truth and beauty like nothing else.
As a teacher, he also modeled commitment and confidence to those in his care; you can’t believe the number of students who return years after they attended his classes to thank him for believing in them when all they could do was doubt.
As a student—because he is that as well, always learning—he encouraged me to stay curious, check my assumptions, and keep turning pages.
As a Christian, he taught me that the love of God is the ground on which the rest stands: language, love, and learning are divine projects, calling out the best in us all. Happy Father’s Day to the man who called them out in me.
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