Letters from Heaven

The Legacy of Thinking Men

Last week, I spent Friday with my oldest daughter; I needed to visit her wedding venue, and I wanted a peek at her workplace. A day flitting around my alma mater— soon to be hers as well—is always a pleasure, but this time the experience carried a special significance.

Wandering the hundreds of quiet acres that would host her vows, and later sitting in a library of old and wonderful books, I walked out pieces of my dad’s legacy—conceived before time, but unfolding now. In the presence of of quiet fields and gifted writers, I enjoyed the smiles of Providence, as the Puritans might say.

My dad loved peace and quiet, too, but he found it tucked in the corner of our cluttered garage. His makeshift office—which doubled as his movie theater—consisted of a heavy, 1950’s desk and a couple cubicle walls he acquired from his employer. With this setup, he was content consuming books, articles and John Wayne movies in undisturbed solitude—all within feet of his lawnmower.

His garage space was his haven of rest; after a full day at work, my introverted dad needed to quiet his mind with words or westerns. It also gave him a convenient spot to finish off his daily pack of Marlboros, which were not welcome inside. At the time, I wondered at his lonesome setup, but now a full-grown introvert myself, I get it.

In many ways, my Dad was ahead of his time; he’d built his man cave before realtors and homebuilders had seized on the concept. With an old VCR and a collection of favorite VHS tapes, he could soak in the the red-blooded masculinity of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Al Pacino. I’ll never forget Dad’s chagrin when Clint Eastwood made The Bridges of Madison County— a tragic fall from macho grace.

But it was Dad’s more interesting array of periodicals that entertained me; and they ultimately gave me a solid education in business and culture. He read some titles that have since evolved into bland products of mainstream media, or disappeared altogether; but during my formative years, they held a certain respect. When he finished reading the week’s stash, he’d stack it on the kitchen counter, his signal that it was time for me to dig in.

Thanks to him, my education was richer than my public school diploma might suggest. For instruction in markets, there was The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, the Economist, and Forbes; for political and cultural commentary, we read National Review, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, and Hillsdale’s (still excellent) Imprimus. For a bit of whimsy, there was Advertising Age. Eventually, my repertoire expanded to include libertarian Reason and the faith-informed news of World Magazine.

Even if he adored reading in solitude, he had a soft spot for serious conversation. When I’d wander out there to bend his ear, he’d sit back in his office chair and listen without interruption. Then, he’d provide no-nonsense, unfiltered commentary—political, cultural, or personal advice that set me straight. More than once, he advised that I “get rid of that boy” or pronounced “those people are Communist wackos”; he was correct in all instances.

Despite his brusque assessments of my “dingbat” friends who failed to impress, Dad loved to spot and encourage human talent, especially among his own children. In vocation, he saw the industry of God, the divine instincts to create, produce, and prosper.

Nothing energized him like discussing gifts and callings; his professional life was built around finding skilled workers for power plants, but on the side, he counseled a variety of job seekers. He never overlooked his own, though; my siblings and I were fully confirmed in our varied talents—tools for impacting our world.

This week, I’ve been mulling two particular times when his mind spilled into my world—once while he was still alive, and another that occurred just days ago. In both, I spotted a truth little appreciated in the digital age; The habits of a thinking man outlive him, securing his legacy in books.

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