- A different type of man would have sought a new career, maybe a new wife who didn’t nag him, but those changes would have been risky for him and damaging for me. Tweet This
- We should not waste the experience of our fathers by ignoring either the positives or the negatives. Tweet This
- The more we learn, the more grateful we should be—both to fathers and grandfathers, but especially to God, Who turns defeat into victory. Tweet This
In Lament for a Father, a book of mine that came out last year just before Father’s Day, I wrote about learning a lot from what my father did not tell me. I grew up in a Jewish home, but he didn’t tell me that those called “Christians” beat up Jews, although he was probably beaten up in Boston sometime between 1933 and 1938. He didn’t tell me about the stacked-up corpses he must have seen in concentration camps when World War II ended in 1945, and the Army used his good knowledge of German to communicate with mostly-dead survivors.
I’m grateful for what he kept inside him, at some psychological cost, so I didn’t grow up with the antipathy toward non-Jews and particularly Christians that many in my cohort had. That was enormously helpful in my process of moving from college atheism to Christianity during the 1970s. I can’t refute Jews who think I should have given Judaism another look, except to say that the Gospel story of compassion made great sense to me, and that the American Puritans, when I had to teach about them in graduate school, impressed me with their logic and realism.
Much as I like the Puritan theologians, I have to admit that their writing was often prosaic—and I appreciate what Rebecca McLaughlin tweeted in April: “Jesus is like poetry coming true.” I thought and still think the Gospels are true history, but in the very unlikely possibility that they are not (I’m a journalist and can only be 99% convinced without putting my hand in His side), they should be true. I tried to communicate this to my father, who seemed to have lost his belief in God, but I failed badly—and that brings me to say one thing about familial relations as we look forward to Father’s Day in 2022.
As a small child, maybe because I didn’t know him very well, I adored my grandfather Louis Olasky, who had come to America from Ukraine just before World War I. Probably my earliest memory is walking with him two blocks, my little hand in his big calloused one (he was a metalworker) to the Ferryway Green park in Malden, Massachusetts, and watching people play baseball. He apparently could get angry at times, but I didn’t see that: Just strength. Maybe that’s why I remembered a story transmitted by my parents about Louis, who lived by a credo: “I will not settle.”
Drafted into the Russian army, Louis shined boots and took abuse. He decided to run away to America, despite all the obstacles, including very little money and no documents to get him by the soldiers and bounty hunters looking for deserters, especially runaway Jews. His bunkmate tried to dissuade him, but Louis replied, “I will not settle. I will always look for something better, or I will die trying.”
The more we learn, the more grateful we should be—both to fathers and grandfathers, but especially to God, Who turns defeat into victory.
Maybe my mother recalled a version of that story in her old age because she was disappointed in my father. As I explained in Lament for a Father, he was an ambitious young man but suffered disappointments through age 35, and thereafter seemed to give up, settling for work below what his brainpower could have brought him. However, in some ways, I benefited from his passivity: We were lower middle class but never went hungry. A different type of man would have sought a new career, maybe a new wife who didn’t nag him, but those changes would have been risky for him and damaging for me.
So I grew up deliberately trying to take after my grandfather and not my father: I would not settle. That made for a lot of job changes and other irresponsibility in my 20s. When my doctoral dissertation was politically incorrect and the chairman of my dissertation committee demanded changes, I refused. He resigned, and I only became a PhD through the semi-miraculous intervention of a brave professor from another department.
When I became a Christian and decided to learn more about my new faith, I left a job, studied while unemployed, and put my wife and young child at risk in a way I should not have done—but God was merciful. When I worked as a corporate speechwriter and got a promotion that would potentially push me into defending the use of carcinogenic chemicals, I balked. Others told me to accept the position for a couple of years and be in position to have a big house, a summer home, a boat, and other trappings of success, but I decided not to settle for money without purpose.
The story goes on, and I could recite some examples of refusing to settle with politicians and overlords, but I’m not recommending that others do what I’ve done: Each life course is unique. I am saying that we should not waste the experience of our fathers by ignoring either the positives or the negatives. I learned from my father’s example not to settle. I also learned, as I wrote in Lament for a Father, that sometimes he was heroic in his non-heroism. The more we learn, the more grateful we should be, both to fathers and grandfathers, but especially to God, Who turns defeat into victory.
And now that I turn 72 just before this Father’s Day, my wife and I will keep taking turns just before we go to sleep asking each other the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer is a theological version of I will not settle. It goes like this:
That with body and soul, both in life and death, I am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that apart from the will of my Father in Heaven, not a hair can fall from my head, yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, wherefore by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
Marvin Olasky is a senior fellow at The Discovery Institute. He served as editor-in-chief of World magazine from 1994 through 2021 and as Professor of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008. He is the author of 28 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion and his latest, Lament for a Father.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.