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A conversation with Marvin Olasky - S9.E4

WORLD Radio - A conversation with Marvin Olasky - S9.E4

A missed catch, misunderstanding, and the healing journey that led to forgiveness


MARVIN OLASKY, GUEST: [2:45] We lived in an urban area, Boston area, there wasn't any grass. So we went out in the street, I begged him. I was trying to become a decent Little League player. I was 11 years old. And just said, you know, please play catch with me. And so he reluctantly came out. He was very interested more in reading, reluctantly came out, threw a ball that bounced twice. I should have stopped it. But I missed it, and it kept rolling and rolling. And as I'm going to retrieve it, I yelled back over my shoulder, why didn't you throw it straight? And thus, following original sin and blaming someone else, retrieved the ball, looked back and my father was walking in the house. Because, you know, he didn't like being yelled out that way. But that was it. We never played catch again. So we, we played, yeah, say, a 10th or a 100th of a catch.

WARREN SMITH, HOST: That’s how Marvin Olasky begins his new book, Lament For A Father: The Journey to Understanding and Forgiveness. It’s a deeply personal story about misunderstanding, missed catches, and ultimately, God’s grace.

I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with WORLD News Group editor in chief Marvin Olasky.

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WS: To regular readers of WORLD Magazine, or even regular listeners to this and other of WORLD’s audio offerings, Marvin Olasky likely needs very little introduction.

In addition to his work as editor-in-chief for WORLD, he has been a college professor, a college provost, and advisor to the President of the United States and members of Congress. He’s the author of more than 20 books, books which include a novel, and even a series of graphic novels.

I will also say that he has been a mentor to me and to many, and that’s why I was especially interested in reading his new book, Lament For A Father. Even for those of you who—like me—think we know Marvin Olasky because we’ve been reading him in WORLD for decades, and hearing his voice on The World And Everything In It, or perhaps The Olasky Interview … well, it’s time to think again. Lament For A Father is his most personal and—in my view—his most beautifully written.

We had this conversation during the early part of the summer. He spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas.

WS: [3:40] Well, you begin the book that way, it was very, it's obviously very poignant. And I don't know, you know, how that hit you as a 11 year old, whether you were just angry, maybe more than sad, or whatever. But in some ways, it was a perfect metaphor for a tragically imperfect relationship with your dad, and a lot of the book is really trying to unpack that relationship and understand why he was the way he was, is that a fair short summary of the book?

MO: Yeah, that's a fair short summary. And in a way I was researching and writing it for myself. But I guess 30 years, almost, as an editor have trained me to think of an audience. So I didn't want to just do it for myself. Would it be useful to other people? And the response to that column I wrote in WORLD a year and a half ago was extraordinary. With not in terms of the the I mean, there were a lot of letters. We've we've gotten more letters on a couple of other subjects, political subjects and so forth. But the the emotions in the letter. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of Christians out there, who are now in a good relationship with our Father in heaven, but they had a difficult relationship with their father on Earth. So what I wrote, seemed to resonate. And I figured at that point, okay, let's get to work on it, this could actually be helpful.

WS: Well, it was helpful to me, I found the book to be beautiful, Marvin, I'll just say that. I mean, you know, without putting too fine a point on it, and then at the risk of sucking up to my editor in chief here.

MO: You would never do that, Warren.

WS: No, I don't, I hope I wouldn't. And you know, I've known you for a long time. And I've read, I think just about everything that you've written, certainly every book length thing that you've written. And, you know, I don't know your, how, which of your children do you love the most? Might be, it might be tough for you to answer this question. But I think it is certainly if not your best book among your very best books. So maybe before we go on, I should just say, congratulations on that alone. And I'm wondering now that the book is done and out in the world, and you're starting to get a response from it. How do you feel about the book? Do you feel like it accomplished what you wanted to accomplish?

MO: Yeah, I feel great about it. Very different type of book than anything I've written before. A lot more’ I in it, writing in the present tense, because it was real to me. And I wanted to make it real to readers. And at least from the initial response, yeah, it resonates with people. And yeah, I'm really pleased.

WS: Well, I think I certainly think you should be. And you know, the subtitle of the book is the journey to understanding and forgiveness. And I certainly want to talk about that, because forgiveness and understanding, it seems to me after reading the book, wouldn't have been as complete as it was, and I'm sure it's not fully complete, it can never be fully complete in then in this world, in this life, but it wouldn't have been as complete as it was, without your faith in Christ. That your faith in Christ allowed that understanding and that forgiveness, probably to have a much deeper and richer and fuller realization that it would have otherwise. But I think, for our listeners, that understanding and forgiveness might not seem quite as real if we didn't really know your dad. So can you tell us a little about your dad, and just what kind of a man he was?

MO: Well, as a teenager, and then going to college, he was extremely ambitious. He graduated from a working class suburb of Boston, Walden, from which not a whole lot of kids went to college, and especially not a whole lot of kids went to Harvard. And that was his ambition. He graduated, applied to Harvard was turned down. Harvard, had a cap at that point on Jewish students, there was a lot of anti semitism there. And I grew up in a Jewish household. My father certainly was. And when I eventually got the materials from Harvard, which included his application file, it was funny to read, because when he applied that first time, he had recommendations from neighbors saying, oh, what a fine Jewish scholar he is. He's in the tradition of the rabbis and so forth, which was exactly the wrong thing to say to Harvard. So after graduating from high school, he somehow got to do a senior year, a special type of project, I'm still not sure how it happened at Boston Latin, which was a feeder school for Harvard. And he recreated himself there. The the recommendations were so different from the other. None, none of the none of the, oh the days of yore of the rabbi's. But oh, what um, what a manly fellow, of fine character. That's what the head master at Boston Latin wrote, which is exactly what Harvard wanted to hear. And he got in, not with a scholarship. But he got in and immediately almost flunked out because his father wanted him to become a doctor. He was not interested, particularly in science and so forth. He ended up finally being able to switch majors to anthropology and was extraordinarily ambitious there. Worked his way up from the bottom, up to the top half of Harvard students at the same time that he was going to Hebrew Teachers College. Because at that point his fallback position was to become a Hebrew teacher. That's not what he wanted. But he had about a 72 hour work week, as I figured out. He had a commute from Walden to Cambridge for Harvard. Then he had to go over to another part of Boston area, Roxbury. Just a long day. Two intensive programs of education. He just worked it and worked it and worked it. Got himself accepted to Harvard Graduate School, and then he was kicked out. And that, in a way was the first strike to continue with a baseball motif. The first track basically, and turning him from a very ambitious person into somewhat of a person who was in social isolation before it became necessary. And really just like to read mysteries and science fictions and escape. So total change in personality.

WS: Yeah, before we kind of unpack the second strike in that, to use your baseball metaphor, I want to back up a little bit and ask you to say a word or two more about Hebrew Teachers College because I think a lot of our listeners, which are mostly evangelical, probably won't know about Hebrew Teachers College, and it was it was an unusual place. It was an interesting place.

MO: Yeah, just a hugely intellectual place, with all kinds of discussions about the, about the Old Testament, about Israel, just just vibrant from the descriptions of other people who went there. But a different worldview. Now he grew up on, my grandfather was orthodox here, an immigrant from from the Russian Empire. But theologically, orthodox. Hebrew Teachers College was pretty much along those lines, too, there was there was some more discussion. But still very different from what he got at Harvard anthropology, where there was a famous professor who was very devoted to Darwin and evolution. And really, it looked like my father had to make a choice. Was he going to stick with the theology of his father and Hebrew Teachers College? Or was he going to adopt a different worldview and become successful at Harvard? And he adopted that worldview. I got his senior thesis. And he was writing about the Bible and saying, Oh, it's just another piece of ancient Near East literature. Nothing inspired about it. Product of evolution, so forth. So, so just he had to make a choice. And he chose Harvard Anthropology. And then Harvard Anthropology rejected him.

WS: Well, you know, I, I found that juxtaposition between, between Hebrew Teachers College and Harvard that you unpack in the book. And you unpack it by doing a lot of research, you just mentioned a couple, you know, getting his senior thesis and so on. That was one of the things that was really fascinating to me about the book was just, you know, yes, it was a memoir about your dad and the stories that you heard from your family. But it was also a tremendous amount of sort of boots on the ground street level journalism that went into writing this book. And the result of that was kind of this in some ways, not only a juxtaposition of the two experiences at Harvard and Hebrew Teachers College that your, that your dad had, but also a juxtaposition of worldviews. You had this very waspy environment, the the not necessarily the intellectual elite, but the cultural elite at Harvard. And you had this at Hebrew Teachers College, they were the cultural outcast, you might say, in a way. And yet, in a sense, they took ideas, they took the life of the mind more seriously than they did at Harvard. Is that a fair assessment?

MO: Yeah, that is a fair assessment. And no, I appreciate you referring to my research, because the one reason to write this book was to tell the story, but another reason in a way, it's a, it's somewhat of an implicit and structural instructional manual on how to do it. In other words, you know, it's really good to saying to the folks listening here, I mean, if you have elderly parents, sit with them, listen to them, hear their stories. But if they're already passed, then you can still find out a lot about them by doing research. And and I was able to find out what kind of music they were listening to what was on the hit parade at that point. What What were we at recreational activities. Where, what were, what were the stores, like? What was the route that my father had to take to to just get to this place in Roxbury, through some very anti semitic areas where you Jews got beaten up. And how he did that I was able to just through the internet, especially, but just other stuff in libraries be able to research it. And listeners could do the same about their own parents if their parents were already died.

WS: Yeah. Well, Marvin, I could go down these little side paths all day long. But But let me try to keep the story moving forward here a little bit. We talked about strike one, which is when he if you will flunked out of grad school. What was strike two? What happened next?

MO: Yeah, he was in World War Two as a soldier, packed parachutes. Wasn't in the front lines where people sometimes had what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But as best I can figure, I can't exactly say this for sure. But with about 90% certainty, I can say that in the six months after the war, he, with a fluent knowledge of German, and being Jewish, was dispatched to some of the concentration camps in southern Germany, to see the survivors, to help with refugees. And there he must have seen some absolutely horrific things. I can't say this for sure, because the Army records were burned up in a fire a couple of decades ago. But you know, there is some stuff in his record suggesting he was in Central Europe, which wasn't where he was before. And that's, that's for a fluent person in German, the Army wanted those translators. So he did that. He saw dead bodies stacked up, he saw jars full of hands and feet, he saw the few people who'd survived tottering around. It was just horrible. And he saw it. He never talked about it. And I think he protected his wife to be. And he protected my brother and myself from that. You know, one advantage I had, if he had, if he had told stories about that, or even telling stories about probably getting beaten up on the way to Hebrew Teachers College, I would have grown up with just a real feeling of anti of that there's, oh, all the anti Semites around everywhere. And that might have that might have jaundiced me against Christianity, because among a lot of Jews, there's a tendency to equate Christianity with anti semitism. So I never had that, though. And thus, you know, there were a lot of theological changes that God did for me, but I didn't have to overcome that.

WS: Yeah. Well, and of course, that, I mean, I think it's beautiful that you say that, and it's, you know, you know, to your father's credit, that he protected you from that. On the other hand, his inability or lack of willingness to talk about those experiences, created a counter narrative. And that that counter narrative was from your mother, that your dad lack ambition, that he was kind of a ne'er do well, that he, you know, couldn't provide for the family in the way that you know, others in your family had received financial success. It probably created a narrative in your mind, where maybe you didn't respect him as much or you weren't close, or you didn't really feel like y'all had much of relationship. First of all, is that is that a fair assessment?

MO: That is exactly right. Yep. I internalized some of my mother's criticism, and nagging and all that. And doing this research made me see that, well, this was really, this was really unfair, because he he really did have I think, what today we would call PTSD, post traumatic stress, just seeing all that. It changed the, the arc of his of his desires, his career, and so forth. So this could leave me really annoyed with my, with my mother. But she went through tremendous disappointment. I mean, she grew up with a with a brutal father. She was smart, but never got to go to college. She didn't get married until she was 28. I mean, as she said, later on, she, she never had a birthday party, never had a teddy bear, never had any love in her house. And she thought that she was marrying a Harvard graduate who would get a PhD in anthropology. And they might not be rich, but they'd travel the world. She could go to the Metropolitan Opera that she always dreamed of. And, you know, she would just have this exciting life. And so she was disappointed, very disappointed. And she took it out on my father.

WS: Yeah, yeah. Well, and so this happens, and, you know, there's a just a tremendous number of sort of side trips that I could could take from here, Marvin, but I want to, if I could sort of fast forward to your young adulthood, where you are, kind of, I guess, in that environment. It wouldn't be a surprise that from a world, you had ambition. I mean, you you academically, intellectually, you prospered. But from a worldview point of view, you kind of took on board, I don't know the secularism, not quite nihilism. I don't think that that would be a fair, but maybe a word that you introduced in the book a couple of times, stoicism. That seemed to inform some of your early adulthood. Is that a fair assessment?

MO: Well, my father became somewhat of a stoic but a very pessimistic, stoic. He used to say expect the worst so you won't be disappointed.

WS: Right.

MO: I don't think I became a stoic in that sense, but I certainly became an atheist. You know, these are late 60s, Vietnam War stuff. I kept moving to the left, eventually went all the way over to the Communist Party. So, yeah, I think, in a way that was that, in some ways was was consistent with my father, who I think politically was on the left, although we never really talked about it very much. But he voted for Henry Wallace or supported Henry Wallace in 1948. So that's where he was. And, yeah, there I was as a, as a communist until, until God intervened. And, you know, that that was interesting. I mean, it was it was vital for my whole life. But first, I left the, left the Communist Party, started reading Christian authors, eventually came to came to believe in in Christ, and did did not inform my parents that I was on that path. But in 1975, I brought, a month before we were going to get married, I brought home to to Boston, my wife to be, Susan, and inform them that I was getting married. And she came from a, from a very liberal United Methodist background, kind of like Hillary Clinton. But to my parents, she's a Christian. And not only a Christian, but from Royal Oak, Michigan, which was the home of Father Kauflin, who was a very anti semitic radio priest of the late 1930s. So that was a tremendous blow, I think, especially to my father, even though he didn't have any belief in God. He still had a visceral dislike for, for Christians, whom he associated with anti Semite. So I was joining the enemy. And then a year later, when I actually professed faith in Christ and eventually informed them of that, that was a further, a further blow to him. Even though I said truthfully, that, hey, I'm now reading the Bible. I'm now closer to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And my kids are going to grow up reading the Bible and so forth. But to him, it was joining the enemy. So that was, you know, along along with being disrespected by his wife, and being disrespected by his sons. I mean, that I think was a was a further blow to his what remained of his of his self esteem.

WS: Well, Marvin, you've mentioned a couple of times briefly, and I'd like you to maybe talk about a little more than briefly your conversion experience, because I think that in some ways, and I don't know whether you planned it this way, or not your own conversion, which is actually an afterword in the book, it's not part of the narrative arc of the book itself. But But you've attached it kind of as an epilogue, or an afterword. In some ways, I think encapsulates some of the themes of the book as well. But before I get to get to that notion, tell everyone if you don't mind. So you go from, you know, atheist, communist to believer in Jesus. And there were a couple of books that were instrumental in that process for you. One was a Russian Bible, and another was a book about the Puritans. Can you say more about that?

MO: Yeah, November 1 1973, my life changes. And, at least in my own mind, I was I was a happy communist. I had opportunities for, for movement upwards, in the in the party. And yeah, I was pretty content with that. And remember, back in 1973, this was Watergate was breaking out, the United States seemed to be falling apart in lots of ways, which at that time, I thought was a very cheerful proposition. But God intervened. I mean, this is the weirdest experience of my life for eight hours, I just sat in my room, in the red chair next to my bed at the University of Michigan in graduate school, just thinking, well, what if I'm wrong about communism? What if, what if there really is a god? You know, just eight hours, these thoughts kept kept coming to me and, and, you know, why do why have I come to hate America? So this was mixed up with theology and history and just my sense of things. And 11 p.m. I got up and wandered around the University of Michigan campus, the next couple of months, seemed like a couple of months, left a couple of hours, and conclude at the end of that, hey, I'm just no longer believer in communism. And I think there is some kind of God of some sort. So that's where I was then it didn't make me a Christian. But yeah, the two books you mentioned, number one I, I had started learning Russian to be able to speak to my Soviet big brothers had actually gone across the Pacific on a Soviet freighter and crossed the Soviet Union on the Trans Siberian railroad, all those all those fun things. So I knew some Russian, had to learn more for to get PhD out of a good reading knowledge of a foreign language. And the one book I had in my room, just that I picked up for reading practice was a book that had been given me a couple years before after I was reporter in Oregon, a copy of the New Testament in Russian, which I'd held on to just as I was kind of interesting. Never looked at it, but started reading very slowly in Russian. And, you know, Gospel according to Matthew. Um, I may be the the rare person who really liked the chapter at the beginning with all the begats

WS: Yeah, Matthew's begats in chapter one that's right.

MO: I could get through that really quickly.

WS: But it's speaking to your Jewish heritage, right? I mean, that's a that is a direct message to somebody with a background like yours.

MO: Very true. And just reading very slowly, actually having to think about the meaning of the words. And, you know, by the time I got to the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five and six, I was thinking, this is this is not man made. This is something really spectacular. You know, in communism, it wasn't turn the other cheek, it was it was, you know, bash the other person and, and hatred. So this doctrine really that Jesus was teaching just really struck me. And so that was moving me. But again, it wasn't my plan. It was just, I was reading this to improve my Russian. And then later in 1974, I was forced to teach a course on early American literature because the other regular professors there they wanted to teach about, about Polynesian-American literature and all sorts of other things. They didn't want to go back to the, to the 1600s, or the 1700s. So I was the one who had to do it as a graduate student. And had to, I never studied it so I had to do a crash course and reading a book called The American Puritans, just a selection of their their readings, edited by a Harvard professor Perry Miller. And I had grown up thinking that Christians were kind of stupid people who worship Christmas trees and all that. And, you know, you can love the Puritans. You can hate the Puritans. But they were smart. They were smart dudes, Warren. They, they logically developed things. I was just really impressed. These are these are smart guys. So that changed my thinking also, but but again, these were two books that moved me along. But it was really the end of the process, moved out to California to become a professor at San Diego State University. And picked out from the Yellow Pages. I figured, okay, I want to see if there are any, I know what all these dead people, these dead white males from 300 years ago, were believing, the Puritans. But are there any people alive today who actually believe this? So I went to the Yellow Pages. Thought it was time to go to church. Looked and there were lots of Baptist. I knew that Christians baptized. I'd read that in the New Testament. And there was a group called Conservative Baptists. Since I wasn't a Marxist, I thought, oh, conservative, they're not going to be, they're not going to be leftist. So I went to a Conservative Baptist Church. And the pastor there, fella named John Berger just had the same sermon week after week. You must be born again. He explained it very simply. And that's what I needed to hear. So at the end of this process. It's really interesting. Sometimes some of the listeners may have had the experience, if they're, if they're talking with folks on an evangelistic way to folks who they might think of as intellectuals, then, oh, I must develop some really huge intellectual defense of Christianity. The minister of visitation Earl Atnett, an old guy who came to my apartment, he didn't do any razzmatazz, like that. He just said, Well, well, you believe this stuff, don't you? And I said very reluctantly, because I knew this was not good for an academic career. I said, yeah, I guess I do. And he said, Well, then you better sign up, which meant getting baptized. And yeah, it was irrefutable logic. I said, Okay, I guess I will. And there you are.

WS: Well, I, you know, Marvin, I've heard you tell that story before, at least a few times. And of course, I read it again in the book. And it's a beautiful story, for several reasons. And I'm going to mention a couple of them and just ask your reaction. And also, I'm wondering if I if the connections I see between that story and the book as a whole, are imaginary, am I making them up or are they real and intended on your part? And one of them is that is what you just said that an instrumental reason for your coming to faith was reading the Word. That God's word doesn't return void. That sometimes we can just really over intellectualize this and we forget that the Holy Spirit is working, whether we know it or want him to or not.

MO: Yeah, amen. The word does not return void. Now, at the same time, in and of itself, it's not magic. It's the Holy Spirit that makes it come alive. I mean, there are lots of people who read the Bible. And maybe they say it's a nice story. Maybe they say it's a horrible story. But it doesn't move hearts and minds unless God for his mysterious purposes says so. So yeah, that was that was very useful for me to learn and then very useful for me to to see that this is how it's all God, all the time.

WS: Well, and I'm also want to and I don't want to over psychologize the story but it was also interesting to me when I read your testimony in as an afterword in the book that, that Earl Atnett, this deacon for visitation that came to you. You intentionally identified him as an older man. And I'm just wondering if at that phase in your life at that stage in your life, if you were looking for a father. If there was, you know, again, I don't want to over psychologize this and say that you had a father wound or a father hole. But on the other hand, I don't want to ignore that possibility either. And I'm just wondering how you respond whenever I say this out loud.

MO: Interesting, I really haven't thought about that. I have I have told the story a few times, but hadn't thought that through. My, my initial reaction is, no, I don't think I thought of him in that way. But, but it's interesting, I will I will meditate on it. No, I think I think one of the things that that just reading the Bible helped me to see is that all earthly fathers have flaws. Some bigger than others, some smaller than others, but none is perfect. And if we're looking for our salvation from an earthly father, we are going to be disappointed. So and that sounds, so yeah, some some people had fathers who played catch with them and and I wish I wish my father had. But yeah, even a father who played catch. It's really interesting how, and I don't know if this is your experience, Warren. But even we even with better fathers, something happens between, say, ages 12 and 16 as the testosterone moves in, where suddenly you moved from, from just being wanting to be with your father all the time to wanting to avoid your father. And that seems to be part of our of our growing up process. And we have to separate ourselves in some ways. But the Father in heaven stays with us. And we don't, we don't, we should not separate ourselves from him if we have any, any discernment at all.

WS: Yeah. Well, Marvin, I don't want to be too dogmatic or pedantic in extracting lessons from your book. I mean, it's just a beautiful story in and of itself with, with kind of the, the lessons subtle and embedded in the telling, which I really appreciated about the book. But that said, I'm going to do it anyway, to a certain extent and ask you,

MO: Waren, Warren, we can't, we can't hold you down.

WS: Well, and I know you're a teacher, you're a teacher at heart. And that was one of the things that even in the beginning of this conversation, you said, one of the lessons of the book is talk to your parents, ask them, if you still can, if they're still alive, and you can get them to tell those stories. If not, do the research. There are some other lessons that it seemed to me are in the book that I wanted you to say a little bit more about. For example, you asked the question, what does it mean to honor your father and mother, when their stories are dark and tragic? In other words, do we stand on the truth, that the truth will set us free and not turn away from that truth? Or do we soft peddle it in some way, either for our parents sake or our children's sake? Do we protect them in the way that your father protected you only to allow to flourish some sort of a false narrative?

MO: It seems to me if if you're bringing out warts in a in a tell all book about a celebrity dad in some way, I mean that, I wonder about doing that. There may be some use in it, but you know, if you're going to make if you're going to make some money on it, that seems a little questionable in my in my mind. But I certainly don't think we should soft peddle human lives and not tell the truth about about human lives. Again, I'm just I'm trying to separate this a little bit from from the mercenary stuff. And also, I didn't feel in doing this, again, since neither of my parents is well known. I mean, I have a minor following in some small circles, but it's not it's not at all, you know, a celebrity type thing. I think I would have been very reluctant to do it if I felt I was taking advantage of them in some way. But actually doing it this way, I think at least in my in my own defense, I do think it honors them, because it well, my mother, one of my cousins, and I interviewed 10 of my cousins wanting to find out more about my parents and how they perceived them. One of my cousins referred to my mother as ‘the angriest woman I ever knew’. And that I think people perceived her in that way. And no, why was she angry? I think I'm able to tell the story of why she was angry, in terms of her own growing up, and then her disappointments in marriage. You know, my father was looked upon, I think, by my cousin's as somewhat of a, of a mystery. Not a really nice person in some ways. And I think I can explain that and and honor him by doing that, and honor. You know, he didn't have to go to World War Two. I mean, he had a he had a job and he had a deferment. And with his father's father making boilers for submarines. He could have sat out the war. But he wanted to go to fight Hitler. And that's a very honorable thing. Packing parachutes. You know, where basically, you make a mistake, this can be the death of someone. That's an honorable thing. Going and, and seeing these horrible things in the concentration camps. And then and then keeping it to himself to avoid giving his wife or children nightmares. So there are so many honorable things there. And even his whole career. I mentioned at the end, he went through a series of jobs, because each time he was hired as a teacher or a couple of times as a principal, because there could be a headline, you know, such and such Hebrew school hires Harvard graduate. And that was supposed to be influential, but they were always disappointed with him, because he kept very much to themself. As a principal, he wasn't a schmoozer with parents. And so he lasted only a couple years job after job after job. At the very end, he took a position in what was essentially in the 1970s, a Welfare to Work program. He didn't I don't I don't think they were I mean, he had to earn some money, but I don't think he was desperate enough to do that. That was really a servant heart, at that point, wanting to work to be helpful. My mother at that point was earning a salary, they could have rested on that. But he, he didn't do that. So this is very honorable. And, you know, because of him, his sacrifices, my mother's sacrifices, I was able to go to college, I had a scholarship but they paid some money, too. You know, all these things. I never lacked a roof over my head, never lacked food, had a bed of my own, had a teddy bear, and all those types of things. Given where they started, and the traumas they had, I think they did pretty well. So it, so it honors them well, while not just saying hey, these were, these were people who were faultless.

WS: Well, that's certainly the way it came across in the book that the, you know, that by sort of telling the truth about them, and their character, really caused me by the end of the book to see them in, I don't know if heroic terms is exactly the right word, but certainly approaching heroic terms. And it also, and this is Marvin, I'd like to close on this, it also helped me understand the journey of understanding and forgiveness that your subtitle, names in a in a more complete way. And I'd like to I, like I say close with kind of this anecdote and a question for you. You said in the book that the last time you saw your father, you gave him a hug. And you I don't know, whispered in his ear or said, you know, you were close. Your your faces were close together. And you said to him, that you loved him. And you also said you admitted that you said it because you thought that this was the last time that you would see him and that you thought that that was something that you should say, and maybe not necessarily something that you really felt. And I guess my question for you is how do you feel now? Did you get to a place of true forgiveness and love for your father?

MO: Yeah, I mean, that's a that's a question I have, I have not been asked before. And yeah, I think I can say honestly right now I love him. I think I understand what he went through and he did. He did. Yeah, he did the not only the best he could but but something heroic about it, too. So I love him, I honor him. Yeah, I do. And then and then the forgiveness part of it. How can I not forgive? When, when God has forgiven me so much, I mean much, much more. I mean, I, I hated God, I tried to get get other people to hate him when I was a communist. And yet God did not give me what I deserved. He's, he's given me a good, a wonderful wife, and, you know, a marriage. That's just about 45 years now. Uh, he's given me children, he's given me, you know, a really good run at WORLD for almost 30 years now. I am, I am very thankful to God. I am thankful to my parents, because if they hadn't gotten together, of course, I would not exist, but, in God's providence, that's what God wanted and that's what happened. And yeah, I think I think they both their whole experience, and then doing the research on it taught me something theologically about the nature of sin, generation after generation. And I think I end up with that, with that story that, that Justice Scalia and others have told that, you know, well, there's a person who believes or says that, that the world sits on a stack of turtles. And the question is, well, what, what's below the turtle? And, and the person says, well, it's turtles all the way down.

WS: Right.

MO: And, I think, if we go generationally, we can see original sin rearing itself up over and over again. And I even have a certain, an appreciation now for my mother's father, who I always thought was a very nasty guy. But I think I understand somewhat more about what he went through and, and probably, although I don't know, probably what his father and his father's father and all sorts went through. So yeah, my only my only thought for our listeners is a lot of them probably had had fathers that, that they could actually say, while the father was alive, I love you. And that's, that's terrific. And and understand. There's, there's a teaching message in that, that even even when it's easy to forgive our fathers, then we need to pray all the more fervently to thank God for forgiving us, to pray that he'll forgive others, to pray that our children and our children's children will will have that love also. So yeah, this was, and I recommend to the listeners doing this process, because it'll help you understand more about your parents. But it'll also help you to understand more about God.



WS: That brings to a close my conversation with Marvin Olasky. Marvin Olasky is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books on journalism, American history, and public policy. Marvin spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas.

Listening In comes to you from WORLD News Group, and this program is just one of the many benefits of WORLD membership. To find out more about becoming a member of WORLD, go to GetWorldNow.com.

The producer for today’s program is Leigh Jones. She gets technical support from Johnny Franklin, Carl Peetz and Kristen Flavin. Our executive producer is Nick Eicher. I’m your host Warren Smith. And you’ve been Listening In….

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MARVIN OLASKY, GUEST: [2:45] We lived in an urban area, Boston area, there wasn't any grass. So we went out in the street, I begged him. I was trying to become a decent Little League player. I was 11 years old. And just said, you know, please play catch with me. And so he reluctantly came out. He was very interested more in reading, reluctantly came out, threw a ball that bounced twice. I should have stopped it. But I missed it, and it kept rolling and rolling. And as I'm going to retrieve it, I yelled back over my shoulder, why didn't you throw it straight? And thus, following original sin and blaming someone else, retrieved the ball, looked back and my father was walking in the house. Because, you know, he didn't like being yelled out that way. But that was it. We never played catch again. So we, we played, yeah, say, a 10th or a 100th of a catch.

WARREN SMITH, HOST: That’s how Marvin Olasky begins his new book, Lament For A Father: The Journey to Understanding and Forgiveness. It’s a deeply personal story about misunderstanding, missed catches, and ultimately, God’s grace.

I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with WORLD News Group editor in chief Marvin Olasky.

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WS: To regular readers of WORLD Magazine, or even regular listeners to this and other of WORLD’s audio offerings, Marvin Olasky likely needs very little introduction.

In addition to his work as editor-in-chief for WORLD, he has been a college professor, a college provost, and advisor to the President of the United States and members of Congress. He’s the author of more than 20 books, books which include a novel, and even a series of graphic novels.

I will also say that he has been a mentor to me and to many, and that’s why I was especially interested in reading his new book, Lament For A Father. Even for those of you who—like me—think we know Marvin Olasky because we’ve been reading him in WORLD for decades, and hearing his voice on The World And Everything In It, or perhaps The Olasky Interview … well, it’s time to think again. Lament For A Father is his most personal and—in my view—his most beautifully written.

We had this conversation during the early part of the summer. He spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas.

WS: [3:40] Well, you begin the book that way, it was very, it's obviously very poignant. And I don't know, you know, how that hit you as a 11 year old, whether you were just angry, maybe more than sad, or whatever. But in some ways, it was a perfect metaphor for a tragically imperfect relationship with your dad, and a lot of the book is really trying to unpack that relationship and understand why he was the way he was, is that a fair short summary of the book?

MO: Yeah, that's a fair short summary. And in a way I was researching and writing it for myself. But I guess 30 years, almost, as an editor have trained me to think of an audience. So I didn't want to just do it for myself. Would it be useful to other people? And the response to that column I wrote in WORLD a year and a half ago was extraordinary. With not in terms of the the I mean, there were a lot of letters. We've we've gotten more letters on a couple of other subjects, political subjects and so forth. But the the emotions in the letter. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of Christians out there, who are now in a good relationship with our Father in heaven, but they had a difficult relationship with their father on Earth. So what I wrote, seemed to resonate. And I figured at that point, okay, let's get to work on it, this could actually be helpful.

WS: Well, it was helpful to me, I found the book to be beautiful, Marvin, I'll just say that. I mean, you know, without putting too fine a point on it, and then at the risk of sucking up to my editor in chief here.

MO: You would never do that, Warren.

WS: No, I don't, I hope I wouldn't. And you know, I've known you for a long time. And I've read, I think just about everything that you've written, certainly every book length thing that you've written. And, you know, I don't know your, how, which of your children do you love the most? Might be, it might be tough for you to answer this question. But I think it is certainly if not your best book among your very best books. So maybe before we go on, I should just say, congratulations on that alone. And I'm wondering now that the book is done and out in the world, and you're starting to get a response from it. How do you feel about the book? Do you feel like it accomplished what you wanted to accomplish?

MO: Yeah, I feel great about it. Very different type of book than anything I've written before. A lot more’ I in it, writing in the present tense, because it was real to me. And I wanted to make it real to readers. And at least from the initial response, yeah, it resonates with people. And yeah, I'm really pleased.

WS: Well, I think I certainly think you should be. And you know, the subtitle of the book is the journey to understanding and forgiveness. And I certainly want to talk about that, because forgiveness and understanding, it seems to me after reading the book, wouldn't have been as complete as it was, and I'm sure it's not fully complete, it can never be fully complete in then in this world, in this life, but it wouldn't have been as complete as it was, without your faith in Christ. That your faith in Christ allowed that understanding and that forgiveness, probably to have a much deeper and richer and fuller realization that it would have otherwise. But I think, for our listeners, that understanding and forgiveness might not seem quite as real if we didn't really know your dad. So can you tell us a little about your dad, and just what kind of a man he was?

MO: Well, as a teenager, and then going to college, he was extremely ambitious. He graduated from a working class suburb of Boston, Walden, from which not a whole lot of kids went to college, and especially not a whole lot of kids went to Harvard. And that was his ambition. He graduated, applied to Harvard was turned down. Harvard, had a cap at that point on Jewish students, there was a lot of anti semitism there. And I grew up in a Jewish household. My father certainly was. And when I eventually got the materials from Harvard, which included his application file, it was funny to read, because when he applied that first time, he had recommendations from neighbors saying, oh, what a fine Jewish scholar he is. He's in the tradition of the rabbis and so forth, which was exactly the wrong thing to say to Harvard. So after graduating from high school, he somehow got to do a senior year, a special type of project, I'm still not sure how it happened at Boston Latin, which was a feeder school for Harvard. And he recreated himself there. The the recommendations were so different from the other. None, none of the none of the, oh the days of yore of the rabbi's. But oh, what um, what a manly fellow, of fine character. That's what the head master at Boston Latin wrote, which is exactly what Harvard wanted to hear. And he got in, not with a scholarship. But he got in and immediately almost flunked out because his father wanted him to become a doctor. He was not interested, particularly in science and so forth. He ended up finally being able to switch majors to anthropology and was extraordinarily ambitious there. Worked his way up from the bottom, up to the top half of Harvard students at the same time that he was going to Hebrew Teachers College. Because at that point his fallback position was to become a Hebrew teacher. That's not what he wanted. But he had about a 72 hour work week, as I figured out. He had a commute from Walden to Cambridge for Harvard. Then he had to go over to another part of Boston area, Roxbury. Just a long day. Two intensive programs of education. He just worked it and worked it and worked it. Got himself accepted to Harvard Graduate School, and then he was kicked out. And that, in a way was the first strike to continue with a baseball motif. The first track basically, and turning him from a very ambitious person into somewhat of a person who was in social isolation before it became necessary. And really just like to read mysteries and science fictions and escape. So total change in personality.

WS: Yeah, before we kind of unpack the second strike in that, to use your baseball metaphor, I want to back up a little bit and ask you to say a word or two more about Hebrew Teachers College because I think a lot of our listeners, which are mostly evangelical, probably won't know about Hebrew Teachers College, and it was it was an unusual place. It was an interesting place.

MO: Yeah, just a hugely intellectual place, with all kinds of discussions about the, about the Old Testament, about Israel, just just vibrant from the descriptions of other people who went there. But a different worldview. Now he grew up on, my grandfather was orthodox here, an immigrant from from the Russian Empire. But theologically, orthodox. Hebrew Teachers College was pretty much along those lines, too, there was there was some more discussion. But still very different from what he got at Harvard anthropology, where there was a famous professor who was very devoted to Darwin and evolution. And really, it looked like my father had to make a choice. Was he going to stick with the theology of his father and Hebrew Teachers College? Or was he going to adopt a different worldview and become successful at Harvard? And he adopted that worldview. I got his senior thesis. And he was writing about the Bible and saying, Oh, it's just another piece of ancient Near East literature. Nothing inspired about it. Product of evolution, so forth. So, so just he had to make a choice. And he chose Harvard Anthropology. And then Harvard Anthropology rejected him.

WS: Well, you know, I, I found that juxtaposition between, between Hebrew Teachers College and Harvard that you unpack in the book. And you unpack it by doing a lot of research, you just mentioned a couple, you know, getting his senior thesis and so on. That was one of the things that was really fascinating to me about the book was just, you know, yes, it was a memoir about your dad and the stories that you heard from your family. But it was also a tremendous amount of sort of boots on the ground street level journalism that went into writing this book. And the result of that was kind of this in some ways, not only a juxtaposition of the two experiences at Harvard and Hebrew Teachers College that your, that your dad had, but also a juxtaposition of worldviews. You had this very waspy environment, the the not necessarily the intellectual elite, but the cultural elite at Harvard. And you had this at Hebrew Teachers College, they were the cultural outcast, you might say, in a way. And yet, in a sense, they took ideas, they took the life of the mind more seriously than they did at Harvard. Is that a fair assessment?

MO: Yeah, that is a fair assessment. And no, I appreciate you referring to my research, because the one reason to write this book was to tell the story, but another reason in a way, it's a, it's somewhat of an implicit and structural instructional manual on how to do it. In other words, you know, it's really good to saying to the folks listening here, I mean, if you have elderly parents, sit with them, listen to them, hear their stories. But if they're already passed, then you can still find out a lot about them by doing research. And and I was able to find out what kind of music they were listening to what was on the hit parade at that point. What What were we at recreational activities. Where, what were, what were the stores, like? What was the route that my father had to take to to just get to this place in Roxbury, through some very anti semitic areas where you Jews got beaten up. And how he did that I was able to just through the internet, especially, but just other stuff in libraries be able to research it. And listeners could do the same about their own parents if their parents were already died.

WS: Yeah. Well, Marvin, I could go down these little side paths all day long. But But let me try to keep the story moving forward here a little bit. We talked about strike one, which is when he if you will flunked out of grad school. What was strike two? What happened next?

MO: Yeah, he was in World War Two as a soldier, packed parachutes. Wasn't in the front lines where people sometimes had what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But as best I can figure, I can't exactly say this for sure. But with about 90% certainty, I can say that in the six months after the war, he, with a fluent knowledge of German, and being Jewish, was dispatched to some of the concentration camps in southern Germany, to see the survivors, to help with refugees. And there he must have seen some absolutely horrific things. I can't say this for sure, because the Army records were burned up in a fire a couple of decades ago. But you know, there is some stuff in his record suggesting he was in Central Europe, which wasn't where he was before. And that's, that's for a fluent person in German, the Army wanted those translators. So he did that. He saw dead bodies stacked up, he saw jars full of hands and feet, he saw the few people who'd survived tottering around. It was just horrible. And he saw it. He never talked about it. And I think he protected his wife to be. And he protected my brother and myself from that. You know, one advantage I had, if he had, if he had told stories about that, or even telling stories about probably getting beaten up on the way to Hebrew Teachers College, I would have grown up with just a real feeling of anti of that there's, oh, all the anti Semites around everywhere. And that might have that might have jaundiced me against Christianity, because among a lot of Jews, there's a tendency to equate Christianity with anti semitism. So I never had that, though. And thus, you know, there were a lot of theological changes that God did for me, but I didn't have to overcome that.

WS: Yeah. Well, and of course, that, I mean, I think it's beautiful that you say that, and it's, you know, you know, to your father's credit, that he protected you from that. On the other hand, his inability or lack of willingness to talk about those experiences, created a counter narrative. And that that counter narrative was from your mother, that your dad lack ambition, that he was kind of a ne'er do well, that he, you know, couldn't provide for the family in the way that you know, others in your family had received financial success. It probably created a narrative in your mind, where maybe you didn't respect him as much or you weren't close, or you didn't really feel like y'all had much of relationship. First of all, is that is that a fair assessment?

MO: That is exactly right. Yep. I internalized some of my mother's criticism, and nagging and all that. And doing this research made me see that, well, this was really, this was really unfair, because he he really did have I think, what today we would call PTSD, post traumatic stress, just seeing all that. It changed the, the arc of his of his desires, his career, and so forth. So this could leave me really annoyed with my, with my mother. But she went through tremendous disappointment. I mean, she grew up with a with a brutal father. She was smart, but never got to go to college. She didn't get married until she was 28. I mean, as she said, later on, she, she never had a birthday party, never had a teddy bear, never had any love in her house. And she thought that she was marrying a Harvard graduate who would get a PhD in anthropology. And they might not be rich, but they'd travel the world. She could go to the Metropolitan Opera that she always dreamed of. And, you know, she would just have this exciting life. And so she was disappointed, very disappointed. And she took it out on my father.

WS: Yeah, yeah. Well, and so this happens, and, you know, there's a just a tremendous number of sort of side trips that I could could take from here, Marvin, but I want to, if I could sort of fast forward to your young adulthood, where you are, kind of, I guess, in that environment. It wouldn't be a surprise that from a world, you had ambition. I mean, you you academically, intellectually, you prospered. But from a worldview point of view, you kind of took on board, I don't know the secularism, not quite nihilism. I don't think that that would be a fair, but maybe a word that you introduced in the book a couple of times, stoicism. That seemed to inform some of your early adulthood. Is that a fair assessment?

MO: Well, my father became somewhat of a stoic but a very pessimistic, stoic. He used to say expect the worst so you won't be disappointed.

WS: Right.

MO: I don't think I became a stoic in that sense, but I certainly became an atheist. You know, these are late 60s, Vietnam War stuff. I kept moving to the left, eventually went all the way over to the Communist Party. So, yeah, I think, in a way that was that, in some ways was was consistent with my father, who I think politically was on the left, although we never really talked about it very much. But he voted for Henry Wallace or supported Henry Wallace in 1948. So that's where he was. And, yeah, there I was as a, as a communist until, until God intervened. And, you know, that that was interesting. I mean, it was it was vital for my whole life. But first, I left the, left the Communist Party, started reading Christian authors, eventually came to came to believe in in Christ, and did did not inform my parents that I was on that path. But in 1975, I brought, a month before we were going to get married, I brought home to to Boston, my wife to be, Susan, and inform them that I was getting married. And she came from a, from a very liberal United Methodist background, kind of like Hillary Clinton. But to my parents, she's a Christian. And not only a Christian, but from Royal Oak, Michigan, which was the home of Father Kauflin, who was a very anti semitic radio priest of the late 1930s. So that was a tremendous blow, I think, especially to my father, even though he didn't have any belief in God. He still had a visceral dislike for, for Christians, whom he associated with anti Semite. So I was joining the enemy. And then a year later, when I actually professed faith in Christ and eventually informed them of that, that was a further, a further blow to him. Even though I said truthfully, that, hey, I'm now reading the Bible. I'm now closer to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And my kids are going to grow up reading the Bible and so forth. But to him, it was joining the enemy. So that was, you know, along along with being disrespected by his wife, and being disrespected by his sons. I mean, that I think was a was a further blow to his what remained of his of his self esteem.

WS: Well, Marvin, you've mentioned a couple of times briefly, and I'd like you to maybe talk about a little more than briefly your conversion experience, because I think that in some ways, and I don't know whether you planned it this way, or not your own conversion, which is actually an afterword in the book, it's not part of the narrative arc of the book itself. But But you've attached it kind of as an epilogue, or an afterword. In some ways, I think encapsulates some of the themes of the book as well. But before I get to get to that notion, tell everyone if you don't mind. So you go from, you know, atheist, communist to believer in Jesus. And there were a couple of books that were instrumental in that process for you. One was a Russian Bible, and another was a book about the Puritans. Can you say more about that?

MO: Yeah, November 1 1973, my life changes. And, at least in my own mind, I was I was a happy communist. I had opportunities for, for movement upwards, in the in the party. And yeah, I was pretty content with that. And remember, back in 1973, this was Watergate was breaking out, the United States seemed to be falling apart in lots of ways, which at that time, I thought was a very cheerful proposition. But God intervened. I mean, this is the weirdest experience of my life for eight hours, I just sat in my room, in the red chair next to my bed at the University of Michigan in graduate school, just thinking, well, what if I'm wrong about communism? What if, what if there really is a god? You know, just eight hours, these thoughts kept kept coming to me and, and, you know, why do why have I come to hate America? So this was mixed up with theology and history and just my sense of things. And 11 p.m. I got up and wandered around the University of Michigan campus, the next couple of months, seemed like a couple of months, left a couple of hours, and conclude at the end of that, hey, I'm just no longer believer in communism. And I think there is some kind of God of some sort. So that's where I was then it didn't make me a Christian. But yeah, the two books you mentioned, number one I, I had started learning Russian to be able to speak to my Soviet big brothers had actually gone across the Pacific on a Soviet freighter and crossed the Soviet Union on the Trans Siberian railroad, all those all those fun things. So I knew some Russian, had to learn more for to get PhD out of a good reading knowledge of a foreign language. And the one book I had in my room, just that I picked up for reading practice was a book that had been given me a couple years before after I was reporter in Oregon, a copy of the New Testament in Russian, which I'd held on to just as I was kind of interesting. Never looked at it, but started reading very slowly in Russian. And, you know, Gospel according to Matthew. Um, I may be the the rare person who really liked the chapter at the beginning with all the begats

WS: Yeah, Matthew's begats in chapter one that's right.

MO: I could get through that really quickly.

WS: But it's speaking to your Jewish heritage, right? I mean, that's a that is a direct message to somebody with a background like yours.

MO: Very true. And just reading very slowly, actually having to think about the meaning of the words. And, you know, by the time I got to the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five and six, I was thinking, this is this is not man made. This is something really spectacular. You know, in communism, it wasn't turn the other cheek, it was it was, you know, bash the other person and, and hatred. So this doctrine really that Jesus was teaching just really struck me. And so that was moving me. But again, it wasn't my plan. It was just, I was reading this to improve my Russian. And then later in 1974, I was forced to teach a course on early American literature because the other regular professors there they wanted to teach about, about Polynesian-American literature and all sorts of other things. They didn't want to go back to the, to the 1600s, or the 1700s. So I was the one who had to do it as a graduate student. And had to, I never studied it so I had to do a crash course and reading a book called The American Puritans, just a selection of their their readings, edited by a Harvard professor Perry Miller. And I had grown up thinking that Christians were kind of stupid people who worship Christmas trees and all that. And, you know, you can love the Puritans. You can hate the Puritans. But they were smart. They were smart dudes, Warren. They, they logically developed things. I was just really impressed. These are these are smart guys. So that changed my thinking also, but but again, these were two books that moved me along. But it was really the end of the process, moved out to California to become a professor at San Diego State University. And picked out from the Yellow Pages. I figured, okay, I want to see if there are any, I know what all these dead people, these dead white males from 300 years ago, were believing, the Puritans. But are there any people alive today who actually believe this? So I went to the Yellow Pages. Thought it was time to go to church. Looked and there were lots of Baptist. I knew that Christians baptized. I'd read that in the New Testament. And there was a group called Conservative Baptists. Since I wasn't a Marxist, I thought, oh, conservative, they're not going to be, they're not going to be leftist. So I went to a Conservative Baptist Church. And the pastor there, fella named John Berger just had the same sermon week after week. You must be born again. He explained it very simply. And that's what I needed to hear. So at the end of this process. It's really interesting. Sometimes some of the listeners may have had the experience, if they're, if they're talking with folks on an evangelistic way to folks who they might think of as intellectuals, then, oh, I must develop some really huge intellectual defense of Christianity. The minister of visitation Earl Atnett, an old guy who came to my apartment, he didn't do any razzmatazz, like that. He just said, Well, well, you believe this stuff, don't you? And I said very reluctantly, because I knew this was not good for an academic career. I said, yeah, I guess I do. And he said, Well, then you better sign up, which meant getting baptized. And yeah, it was irrefutable logic. I said, Okay, I guess I will. And there you are.

WS: Well, I, you know, Marvin, I've heard you tell that story before, at least a few times. And of course, I read it again in the book. And it's a beautiful story, for several reasons. And I'm going to mention a couple of them and just ask your reaction. And also, I'm wondering if I if the connections I see between that story and the book as a whole, are imaginary, am I making them up or are they real and intended on your part? And one of them is that is what you just said that an instrumental reason for your coming to faith was reading the Word. That God's word doesn't return void. That sometimes we can just really over intellectualize this and we forget that the Holy Spirit is working, whether we know it or want him to or not.

MO: Yeah, amen. The word does not return void. Now, at the same time, in and of itself, it's not magic. It's the Holy Spirit that makes it come alive. I mean, there are lots of people who read the Bible. And maybe they say it's a nice story. Maybe they say it's a horrible story. But it doesn't move hearts and minds unless God for his mysterious purposes says so. So yeah, that was that was very useful for me to learn and then very useful for me to to see that this is how it's all God, all the time.

WS: Well, and I'm also want to and I don't want to over psychologize the story but it was also interesting to me when I read your testimony in as an afterword in the book that, that Earl Atnett, this deacon for visitation that came to you. You intentionally identified him as an older man. And I'm just wondering if at that phase in your life at that stage in your life, if you were looking for a father. If there was, you know, again, I don't want to over psychologize this and say that you had a father wound or a father hole. But on the other hand, I don't want to ignore that possibility either. And I'm just wondering how you respond whenever I say this out loud.

MO: Interesting, I really haven't thought about that. I have I have told the story a few times, but hadn't thought that through. My, my initial reaction is, no, I don't think I thought of him in that way. But, but it's interesting, I will I will meditate on it. No, I think I think one of the things that that just reading the Bible helped me to see is that all earthly fathers have flaws. Some bigger than others, some smaller than others, but none is perfect. And if we're looking for our salvation from an earthly father, we are going to be disappointed. So and that sounds, so yeah, some some people had fathers who played catch with them and and I wish I wish my father had. But yeah, even a father who played catch. It's really interesting how, and I don't know if this is your experience, Warren. But even we even with better fathers, something happens between, say, ages 12 and 16 as the testosterone moves in, where suddenly you moved from, from just being wanting to be with your father all the time to wanting to avoid your father. And that seems to be part of our of our growing up process. And we have to separate ourselves in some ways. But the Father in heaven stays with us. And we don't, we don't, we should not separate ourselves from him if we have any, any discernment at all.

WS: Yeah. Well, Marvin, I don't want to be too dogmatic or pedantic in extracting lessons from your book. I mean, it's just a beautiful story in and of itself with, with kind of the, the lessons subtle and embedded in the telling, which I really appreciated about the book. But that said, I'm going to do it anyway, to a certain extent and ask you,

MO: Waren, Warren, we can't, we can't hold you down.

WS: Well, and I know you're a teacher, you're a teacher at heart. And that was one of the things that even in the beginning of this conversation, you said, one of the lessons of the book is talk to your parents, ask them, if you still can, if they're still alive, and you can get them to tell those stories. If not, do the research. There are some other lessons that it seemed to me are in the book that I wanted you to say a little bit more about. For example, you asked the question, what does it mean to honor your father and mother, when their stories are dark and tragic? In other words, do we stand on the truth, that the truth will set us free and not turn away from that truth? Or do we soft peddle it in some way, either for our parents sake or our children's sake? Do we protect them in the way that your father protected you only to allow to flourish some sort of a false narrative?

MO: It seems to me if if you're bringing out warts in a in a tell all book about a celebrity dad in some way, I mean that, I wonder about doing that. There may be some use in it, but you know, if you're going to make if you're going to make some money on it, that seems a little questionable in my in my mind. But I certainly don't think we should soft peddle human lives and not tell the truth about about human lives. Again, I'm just I'm trying to separate this a little bit from from the mercenary stuff. And also, I didn't feel in doing this, again, since neither of my parents is well known. I mean, I have a minor following in some small circles, but it's not it's not at all, you know, a celebrity type thing. I think I would have been very reluctant to do it if I felt I was taking advantage of them in some way. But actually doing it this way, I think at least in my in my own defense, I do think it honors them, because it well, my mother, one of my cousins, and I interviewed 10 of my cousins wanting to find out more about my parents and how they perceived them. One of my cousins referred to my mother as ‘the angriest woman I ever knew’. And that I think people perceived her in that way. And no, why was she angry? I think I'm able to tell the story of why she was angry, in terms of her own growing up, and then her disappointments in marriage. You know, my father was looked upon, I think, by my cousin's as somewhat of a, of a mystery. Not a really nice person in some ways. And I think I can explain that and and honor him by doing that, and honor. You know, he didn't have to go to World War Two. I mean, he had a he had a job and he had a deferment. And with his father's father making boilers for submarines. He could have sat out the war. But he wanted to go to fight Hitler. And that's a very honorable thing. Packing parachutes. You know, where basically, you make a mistake, this can be the death of someone. That's an honorable thing. Going and, and seeing these horrible things in the concentration camps. And then and then keeping it to himself to avoid giving his wife or children nightmares. So there are so many honorable things there. And even his whole career. I mentioned at the end, he went through a series of jobs, because each time he was hired as a teacher or a couple of times as a principal, because there could be a headline, you know, such and such Hebrew school hires Harvard graduate. And that was supposed to be influential, but they were always disappointed with him, because he kept very much to themself. As a principal, he wasn't a schmoozer with parents. And so he lasted only a couple years job after job after job. At the very end, he took a position in what was essentially in the 1970s, a Welfare to Work program. He didn't I don't I don't think they were I mean, he had to earn some money, but I don't think he was desperate enough to do that. That was really a servant heart, at that point, wanting to work to be helpful. My mother at that point was earning a salary, they could have rested on that. But he, he didn't do that. So this is very honorable. And, you know, because of him, his sacrifices, my mother's sacrifices, I was able to go to college, I had a scholarship but they paid some money, too. You know, all these things. I never lacked a roof over my head, never lacked food, had a bed of my own, had a teddy bear, and all those types of things. Given where they started, and the traumas they had, I think they did pretty well. So it, so it honors them well, while not just saying hey, these were, these were people who were faultless.

WS: Well, that's certainly the way it came across in the book that the, you know, that by sort of telling the truth about them, and their character, really caused me by the end of the book to see them in, I don't know if heroic terms is exactly the right word, but certainly approaching heroic terms. And it also, and this is Marvin, I'd like to close on this, it also helped me understand the journey of understanding and forgiveness that your subtitle, names in a in a more complete way. And I'd like to I, like I say close with kind of this anecdote and a question for you. You said in the book that the last time you saw your father, you gave him a hug. And you I don't know, whispered in his ear or said, you know, you were close. Your your faces were close together. And you said to him, that you loved him. And you also said you admitted that you said it because you thought that this was the last time that you would see him and that you thought that that was something that you should say, and maybe not necessarily something that you really felt. And I guess my question for you is how do you feel now? Did you get to a place of true forgiveness and love for your father?

MO: Yeah, I mean, that's a that's a question I have, I have not been asked before. And yeah, I think I can say honestly right now I love him. I think I understand what he went through and he did. He did. Yeah, he did the not only the best he could but but something heroic about it, too. So I love him, I honor him. Yeah, I do. And then and then the forgiveness part of it. How can I not forgive? When, when God has forgiven me so much, I mean much, much more. I mean, I, I hated God, I tried to get get other people to hate him when I was a communist. And yet God did not give me what I deserved. He's, he's given me a good, a wonderful wife, and, you know, a marriage. That's just about 45 years now. Uh, he's given me children, he's given me, you know, a really good run at WORLD for almost 30 years now. I am, I am very thankful to God. I am thankful to my parents, because if they hadn't gotten together, of course, I would not exist, but, in God's providence, that's what God wanted and that's what happened. And yeah, I think I think they both their whole experience, and then doing the research on it taught me something theologically about the nature of sin, generation after generation. And I think I end up with that, with that story that, that Justice Scalia and others have told that, you know, well, there's a person who believes or says that, that the world sits on a stack of turtles. And the question is, well, what, what's below the turtle? And, and the person says, well, it's turtles all the way down.

WS: Right.

MO: And, I think, if we go generationally, we can see original sin rearing itself up over and over again. And I even have a certain, an appreciation now for my mother's father, who I always thought was a very nasty guy. But I think I understand somewhat more about what he went through and, and probably, although I don't know, probably what his father and his father's father and all sorts went through. So yeah, my only my only thought for our listeners is a lot of them probably had had fathers that, that they could actually say, while the father was alive, I love you. And that's, that's terrific. And and understand. There's, there's a teaching message in that, that even even when it's easy to forgive our fathers, then we need to pray all the more fervently to thank God for forgiving us, to pray that he'll forgive others, to pray that our children and our children's children will will have that love also. So yeah, this was, and I recommend to the listeners doing this process, because it'll help you understand more about your parents. But it'll also help you to understand more about God.



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WS: That brings to a close my conversation with Marvin Olasky. Marvin Olasky is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books on journalism, American history, and public policy. Marvin spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas.

Listening In comes to you from WORLD News Group, and this program is just one of the many benefits of WORLD membership. To find out more about becoming a member of WORLD, go to GetWorldNow.com.

The producer for today’s program is Leigh Jones. She gets technical support from Johnny Franklin, Carl Peetz and Kristen Flavin. Our executive producer is Nick Eicher. I’m your host Warren Smith. And you’ve been Listening In….

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