What I don’t have from my father is much of a theological legacy—or maybe I do, in a negative sense. He was an anthropology major in college from 1936 to 1940, a time when not only Nazis emphasized the centrality of ethnicity and race. Many professors stressed being a member of your clan because it’s your clan: Stay within it. Follow its customs, regardless of your own ideas.
The clan teaching struck home for my father, who stayed within Jewish culture although he apparently had no belief in the God of the Bible. I’m thankful that he introduced me to Adam, Noah, and Abraham: Judging from his senior thesis, he did not think they existed, but he never told me that, and my childhood faith valuably left me with unanswered questions. Those questions propelled me into atheism but made a difference in my mid-20s when I learned the answers are in the New Testament.
My father died of cancer three decades ago. He was 67 and I was 34. Three months before he died he didn’t respond to my questions about what he believed, but I should have persevered in asking and did not: Once he dropped the ball, I went inside. So one way to honor fathers still living, even those who seem distant, is to try doubly hard to draw them out while there’s still time. I wish mine were still around. I have no confidence that I’ll see him again, but the Judge of all the earth will do what’s right, and maybe someday, somehow, my father will throw me another ground ball, on grass.