Hugh Nibley on Fatherhood

Group photo of the Hugh Nibley family

Hugh Nibley, center, casts a skeptical eye on his role as father of a burgeoning tribe. The baby (Rebecca) seems to have doubts as well. The rest are straight from the Family Home Evening Manual.

[Letter to Paul Springer]

June 1956

Dear little bodybuilder,

The weirdest weather: three days ago the Springer Thermometer and Hygrometer registered 107 and nine resp. in the office, and the next day the mountains were covered with snow! The worst is the assorted pollens that crowd the air and get everybody snuffling and spitting and tweezing. I revert to my former thesis: IS this a habitable planet? Marginal at best.

It seems that the former and still owners of our house had planted an around-the-year catalogue of bulbs and whatnot, so that every morning we get up to find some new botanical confection throwing off waves of passion; it is like living in a forcing-house or the late Dr. Fu Manchu’s conservatory. We dare not stop watering for a minute lest our neglect blight some floral rarity found only in the steaming depths of Sumatra. At the same time phone beats out the canonical hours with urgent requests from restless committees wondering where the next two lessons are or what became of pp. 74 and 103 of the footnotes.

Don Decker dashed off to Alaska to make some money over the summer and his family plumped in on us on Friday – only for a short stay, but now it is 8 (eight) 8 kids around the house, all but one under seven (7) seven years of age, though the presence of a couple of gabbing dolls (their parents) does keep things somewhat in hand. Just the same I know now what it used to be like, even barring the Edwards [sic] Act, and you can have it! [Probably refers to the Edmunds Act of 1882.]

Then there is a little matter of bills. It is true, everybody in California is loaded and certainly deserves to be happy as that is the law in California. But it is also true that some poor suckers are paying for it. I never knew there could be such a difference in standards of living. All in all, S.F. Seems like something that happened in the preexistence or before the Fall – very far away and too good to be true. Here we are prepared for the worst because we already have it. The days since I got home have been an unbroken series of interruptions, the nights and unbroken festival of footnotes. We decided against taking the family to Seattle: I am taking Paul alone instead. The reasons for this great decision are painfully obvious. The baby has been having the measles but never for a moment gave up enjoying himself – the picnic is for him the life, especially after 2 A.M. …

Along with that, though poverty keeps me off many a sucker list, the nature of my writings has brought me into direct and heated correspondence with every crackpot in the country. I do take the kids out into the canyons and the sagebrush for overnight jaunts, but it always Ends with Mikey howling his head off if he doesn’t go, and then crawling into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to kick the stuffing out of the bag and me. Still it is the one advantage of living here that one can escape into real wilderness without any difficulties at all. In spite of the furiously hot days the nights have been very cold (all last week the humidity stayed below 20) so we have been searching out the red-rock country and the pink sands, where nobody goes in summer and nobody can go in winter, even to hunt for lost cattle. I am beginning to acquire a perverse love for unwashed vagabondage in colored dirt – a touch of Bedouin defiance, you might say, that could lead to serious results. There is no danger of desertion here, since the kids are getting it worse than I am, but what if I we should sever all ties with society? That would be like having no TV – you might as well be dead.

What brings me back to earth is the good old B.M., the book that really tells you what goes on in the world. At this very moment without any preliminary roar or even the slightest trace of foreboding sultriness the frame of my glasses has suddenly and quietly come apart, broken right in two. That Means 8 bucks in the morning. That is what I get for writing letters on the Lord’s day.

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About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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One Response to Hugh Nibley on Fatherhood

  1. Rachael Decker Bailey says:

    Don Decker was my grandfather! Thanks for a tiny bit of insight into some of my family history–I didn’t know about the Alaskan summer.

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