My Dad

October 2 was my Dad’s birthday; later October was the one-year anniversary of his death. He struggled with Alzheimer’s disease several years before he died. Some thoughts and memories:

– He majored in mathematics at Pepperdine, tending as in all things toward the methodical approach, as opposed to my tendency toward the intuitive. He enjoyed physics. One time, he tried to explain to me how it could be that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I knew that was right (I don’t think it seemed that way to Dad), but I wanted to understand it, and it seemed to me impossible. Eventually, he produced an explanation that satisfied me.

– I take a stronger interest in philosophy in most people, including Dad, but I always look for glimmers of interest in philosophical questions in people who don’t spend much or any time systematically studying it. Some memories of conversations and other things. o When I was twelve or fifteen, he discussed with me the difference between the modern scientific approach and that of Aristotle- not in casual conversation, but not in a systematic or deep discussion either.

o On multiple occasions, he discussed with me the story of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac. The Biblical narrative is very matter-of-fact, leaving you to read between the lines as to what both Abraham and Isaac must have thought. At Pepperdine, a class of his had spent at least a month reading between those lines, and it made a major impression on him.

o Also at Pepperdine, he took a class in communication or somesuch. The professor had as his motto “man cannot not communicate.” You might not always be talking, but you’re always communicating with someone- another person, yourself, God…I don’t really know why, but this impressed him greatly.

o Late in life, as the disease was taking a pretty strong toll (it must have been about 2006), he read a book about the brain and related to me that the author mentioned Ludvig von Mises and Austrian economists’ belief in the subjectivity of value. He was fascinating that economists’ ideas could be related to the study of the brain. I discussed the question of whether these ideas extended to ethical values, and he made a thoughtful reply. It always feels sad when I think that I hadn’t fully come to understand his thinking by the time he started losing the ability to think. The very earliest signs of the disease were 2001, when I was sixteen or seventeen.

– We often read a book called The Way Things Work, about the way things work. I wanted to learn about computers and calculators, he wanted to teach me the basics of levers and fulcrums. We did a little of both. Zippers were especially a puzzle for me. (A theoretical puzzle, I mean. Did you ever consider how a zipper works? Well, also a practical puzzle. I often break the zippers on my coats.)

 – I liked basketball as a kid and so we played all the time. Dad always liked tennis and bicycling, so we did some of that. Sometimes we played some baseball or Frisbee. There was always a feeling that maybe we should do more of that sort of thing, but looking back we actually had a remarkably well-balanced life. Night after night we would play King’s Quest adventure computer games (mostly you typed what you wanted your character to do, but with some transitional involvement of the hot new “mouse.”) Dad used to be a computer programmer and always worked with technology. Most kids my age had to figure out computers on their own, but I always had Dad fix mine. He always had me watch him fix it, but I never got very good.

– Family was the whole focus of his life. When doing finances or projects or fixing the car, he always involved us kids. He also involved Grandpa in as many projects as he could.

– He liked to cook hamburgers and salmon for dinner, and he liked to cook breakfast. Recently I made pancakes, in commemoration.


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