Other than the fictional Clark Kent, my Dad is the only person who has ever made me think spontaneously of the adjective “mild-mannered.” My Mother explained why my Dad took almost no part in disciplining his children, by saying he was too much of a marshmallow. But in intellectual matters, my Dad had a spine of steel. He was not willing to say anything he did not believe, and he was not willing to believe anything he did not think through.
My Dad had an unwavering belief in a universe that makes sense. He rejected the idea that the universe is dead set against us. And while he recognized that people sometimes do terrible things, he always started with the assumption that people would act reasonably if not needlessly antagonized.
My Dad was an example of putting loyalty to the truth first and foremost, without neglecting other loyalties. He could do both because he knew the limits of his own knowledge, and gave people the benefit of the doubt. And because of both that intellectual humility and his tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, he didn’t turn away by even a hair’s breadth from his friends and relatives whose views differed from his.
My Dad knew well the complexity of Mormon history, but he believed in Mormonism until his last breath. In his last four years, after my Mother died, I had many conversations with my Dad about religion. He was genuinely curious about my beliefs and had me read to him many of my religion posts and Unitarian-Universalist sermons. In our discussions he homed in on the common threads in my beliefs and his.
My Dad, like my Mother, was ambitious for his children. But neither of my parents ever pushed me in a particular career direction. And at moments when I had some success, my Dad made a point of reminding me it was more important to be good than to be successful.
When my Dad was 56 years old, and his Mother followed his Dad in death, he spoke of himself as an orphan. In that same sense, at the age of 56, I am now an orphan. And the world, too, has lost a man it could ill afford to lose.