The Bible speaks clearly and forcefully about the importance of honoring one’s parents. It’s even a part of the 10 Commandments—the most significant ethical code in the history of the world (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). This week, I want to honor my dad by explaining how a man with little formal education nevertheless succeeded in shaping his son’s logical mind.
My father, Jesse Alexander Samples Jr., was born and raised in what was at the time the poorest county in the poorest state in America—Clay County, West Virginia. Growing up in the Appalachian hills during the Great Depression, my father’s parents lost their farm because they couldn’t afford to pay the property taxes owed on it. My dad subsequently dropped out of school in the fifth or sixth grade in order to work and help support his family. As a young adult he worked hard as a West Virginia coal miner going down deep into those dangerous mines.
In 1939, my father turned 21. That same year World War II broke out in Europe. A couple years later the Empire of Japan attacked America’s naval base at Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war with the Axis powers of Japan, Germany, and Italy. My dad served his country as a frontline combat soldier in the European Theatre. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded, and subsequently received three medals for valor.
As a member of an American infantry division that liberated a Nazi concentration camp, my dad knew that ideas (and especially ideologies) mattered and had inevitable consequences. My father came to view the bloodiest war in human history (50 to 60 million deaths) as a powerful conflict over political ideologies.
My Father’s Five Intellectual Characteristics
While my father never made it to high school, he possessed a very bright mind and a passion for knowledge and learning. Although self-conscious at times about his lack of formal education, my dad was a self-educated man and his intellectual instincts helped anchor my pursuit of the life of the mind.
1. Loved Ideas: My father loved to talk about the big questions of life. At the dinner table, my dad would raise issues relating to religion, politics, philosophy, and history. I came to view mealtimes as a special time to discuss ideas and argue one’s point of view.
2. Valued Books: Though my father worked hard as an automobile mechanic, at the end of the day he would, inevitably, read. He was always looking for books that addressed the provocative issues that interested him. My dad enjoyed the world of discovery provided by good books.
3. Craved Learning: My father attempted to stay abreast of news and current events. His daily ritual included reading the morning newspaper and watching the evening television news intently. God forbid if you talked while my dad was watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
4. Trusted Reason: My father viewed reason as the good gift that God had given to human beings made in the Lord’s image. He valued arguments and always wanted to hear the best case put forth in support of a given issue. My dad was open to being persuaded on issues but he needed to know that the person arguing had indeed done his homework.
5. Respected Rhetoric: My father appreciated skilled speech and debate. He loved to discourse and he admired politicians such as Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy who were good communicators. My dad respected the honorable use of the persuasive use of language.
My father, though lacking in formal education, nevertheless ignited within me a love for ideas and learning. I am an educated person today because I had a father who was truly an intellectual role model. Though he has been dead for nearly 25 years, I think of my father almost daily and appreciate the important things he taught me about life.
I hope this reflection about my father will encourage fathers today to take seriously the critical task of being an intellectual role model for their own children.
For more about the importance of logic and critical thinking, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.