With my sister, father and brother in Tannum Sands, QLD, Australia in May of 2014.
My father died an hour ago (in his sleep) at age 90.
He wanted to die for the last three months as he lost control of his body and mind.
I feel exactly what I expected to feel — relief.
This will sound horrible, but that man scared me. When my hallway creaks in a particular manner, I still get frightened that my father is coming to my room to reprimand me.
As a child, whenever I saw my father walking towards me with some urgency, it was never good news. It never meant he wanted to go fishing or to watch the cricket. Instead, it was usually him bringing to my attention one of my moral failings.
Dad was not an unfair man, I did a lot of bad things growing up (chiefly lying to avoid punishment), and I got my share of reproof. He rarely hit me (I only recall three beatings and none after age 11).
By the way, what was my father’s view of me? He talked to journalist Peter Gilstrap for the Jan. 28, 1999 issue of New Times Los Angeles:
Delving into Ford’s motivation ultimately leads back to his father and to Luke’s early years, much of which is covered extensively in his online bio. After leaving the Seventh Day Adventist church over a
doctrinal dispute in 1980, Dr. Desmond Ford founded Good News Unlimited, a church ministry based in Auburn, California. It is a Christian organization whose “only purpose is to preach the gospel,” the father says. His church has been broadcasting on the radio for 20 years, and Dr. Ford has traveled the world lecturing and teaching since before his son was born.
“My family are religious Christians,” says Ford the younger. “So it’s been very hard on them that I converted to Judaism and that I’m writing on porn. They’re basically left with two explanations: either I’m evil or I’m sick. And if I’m sick, it’s because I was hit in the head when I ran into a parked school bus in a Volkswagen bug in 1985.”
Ford, a fine-looking man, still bears a scar from the incident on his forehead.
“You need to understand Luke’s background to understand the foolish things that he’s doing,” offers Dr. Ford. “He was separated from his mother when she was declared to be a terminal patient of cancer when he was 12 months old, and so he had a series of [nannies] for a number of years. Each time he’d get his affection wrapped around one, things would change, and he’d have another person looking after him. This went on until I remarried, and by that time he was something of a psychological case because he’d been deprived over and over.”
Brutal honesty seems to run in the Ford family.
“He was fairly normal until he got chronic fatigue syndrome and he had years of nightmares, thinking he was in pits with snakes,” the doctor continues. “Then he had a car accident [in 1985] that injured perhaps his pituitary and that changed the shape of his face. He has behaved quite out of character since he had CFS and the accident.
“The psychiatrists say that if a child experiences deep anger before the age of five or six, that when they get a bodily disease they’ll be in trouble in a psychiatric way. We think this is exactly what happened to Luke. He is narcissistic, seeking excessive amounts of attention, and has chosen a calling that has given [him] that amount of attention. He’s just not acting sanely because he’s not well.”
And the doctor has an explanation for Luke’s embracing of Judaism as well.
“He wants to be someone in his own right, which is a normal desire, but it’s very difficult for a son growing up whose father is in public work. He didn’t want to be thought of as a clone of his father, he had to strike out in something different. Judaism for him is a psychological out from being thought of as a clone of his father. He’s not really behaving according to the ethics of Judaism at all. It’s only a front, though he may not know it’s a front.”
Still, it’s his son’s involvement in porn that concerns the doctor most.
“I’m afraid he’ll be shot,” he says. “He’s doing damage to people who have no scruples, so he’s in a dangerous position and I fear for him very much. We’d rather have him live a quieter life–we love him dearly–but that would bore him to tears. If people understood his background perhaps they
wouldn’t feel so harsh about his erratic behavior.”
When informed of this conversation, the son’s only comment is, “Oh, my poor father.”
As Bertrand Russell said, “The fundamental defect of fathers is that they want their children to be a credit to them.”
Dad was a lonely man, particularly after he was kicked out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s ministry in 1980. Dad was not comfortable around people, and he often recited that saying by Sartre that “hell is other people.” By and large, dad would only go into social settings if he could instruct people about theology or preventative health. His favorite speaking engagements were funerals because that’s when people would take his words most seriously. A person close to me called him “Dr. Deathman” because he was so gloomy and pre-occupied by death.
Dad and I said our final goodbyes January 8, 2019. I emailed someone close to him:
You can let him know that I am grateful he lived a righteous life, left a righteous example for me, that he never stole from anyone, that he paid his bills, that he made responsible choices, that he didn’t make reckless decisions that caused people like me needing to clean up after him, that I never went without anything I needed… You can let
him know that I am happy and healthy, the best I’ve been…and I have
money in the bank, way out of debt, that I am a valued part of my
religious community and i have friends in LA and a good life here.
When I think about dad, there’s nothing I seek him to understand about
me and my choices… There’s no particular incident that I want to
work through. There’s no conscious pain I carry of some thing in
particular…and I never think, oh, if only dad had done X or Y or
Z… Dad found effective ways to overcome the disabilities of his
upbringing, and I found effective ways to deal with the chaos of my
I hope you are doing ok…and I hope dad is at peace… There aren’t
any particular words or emotional expression I seek to hear from him.
Dad often says, I’m not emotionally demonstrative…but he doesn’t
need to demonstrate anything to me…
I emailed someone else close to dad:
I have no grudge against dad…and there’s nothing I’m struggling to forgive re him, nor want to work through… There’s nothing I’m dying for him to understand about me and my lived experience. He’s a flawed man, I’m a flawed man, I was an imperfect son, and he was an imperfect father but I accept his imperfections as he accepts mine. I want him to live in peace in this world and the next as I seek the same state for myself.
I can’t think of any hurt I carry around with me regarding dad. I’m
probably the most like dad of the three kids. Both dad and I put our
work, at times, ahead of all other considerations…
If anything comes to me, I will email you. I have thought about this
over the past few days in particular, also over the past few years at
I never recall dad acting unethically with me or with anyone else…
You can tell him that… I value good behavior even when I don’t reach
that level myself…
My father dictated this response that same day:
How very kind of you to write
You have been given much intelligence and I appreciate how you manifest it.
Luke your best days are ahead. Do what your intelligence and conscience tell you to do . I will love you as long as you live. And I thank you for your very kind letter. Blessings luke today and always
February 19, 2019, my father issued his final testament:
Statement by Desmond Ford dictated to his wife and signed by himself:
This is a brief record of my memory of my own record of speech over years. As a Christian, I have been motivated by the Christian demand for truth. Therefore, I have never knowingly debased truth. As a Christian when I have been invited to defend that which cannot be defended by the facts, I have refused. There have been many times when it seemed to my profit to accept error, but I have refused.
Now, at the end of my life, I wish to say that to my knowledge I have defended truth for over ninety years. Those who have known me and lived with me will defend this charge. I make this comment because of other charges, which will be made against me in later years.
The books I have written also defend what I have asserted here, and statements of close friends. Pray as you read these statements and trust God in all things.
I usually had the sense that my father was smarter than me, that his accomplishments were more formidable, and that he saw me more accurately than I saw myself. I didn’t always appreciate this.
Until I went to UCLA in August of 1988, I admired my father (even during my atheist phase). When I returned from UCLA in June of 1989, I saw my father as an emotional cripple. Obviously, he didn’t change during these nine months. I did. I was on my way to converting to Judaism. The journey was not smooth and I did not cover myself in glory.
The last time I tried to seriously talk to my father was the Spring of 1991. A friend of mine (acquainted with my father) came to visit. We had a pleasant chat and then I brought her back to say g-day to my father who was studying on his porch. When she arrived, he immediately got stuck into her about evolution. She went into shock, made her polite goodbyes as soon as possible, and left.
I went back to my dad and asked him not to debate my friends. Offended, he said, “Fine, I won’t talk to your friends.” I tried to explain that was necessary, just abstain from provoking them, but it did no good, and my father stopped talking to my friends and I gave up trying to talk to my father.
My father could not brook the slightest criticism (except from a handful of people). He was crippled by shame and anything that touched on this burden caused him to close off and to shut down.
My conversion to Judaism in 1993 was embarrassing to him, but not 1/1000th as embarrassing as my writing about the porn industry.
My fondest memories of my father include:
* Him bringing freshly squeezed orange juice to my room in the mornings
* His cooking
* His understanding of me
* His protection of me
* As a kid, I’d don my dressing gown like a cape and carry a broom like a lance and ride around on his back
* Dad was funny. For my 21st birthday, he prepared and delivered ten-minutes of jokes. After two hours, however, he couldn’t wait to usher people out of the house so he could return to his routine.
* When I developed an interest in philosophy around age 20, he spent hours reading up on the philosophers I was intrigued by and we would discuss them over dinner.
* Dad never tried to live through me.
My father baptized me into the invisible church of Jesus Christ in February of 1982. It was important to him and I got the hint and went along with the ritual with my best friend from childhood, Wayne Cherry, though this was also the month I got hooked on porn (Playboy, Penthouse, etc).
* I ran into some Seventh-Day Adventist intellectuals in 2010 who knew my father and they said that I seemed a much happier man.
* Two of my girlfriends found him frightening (ala intimidating). They suddenly understood why I turned out as I had. One couldn’t wait to get away from my strict home so she could stuff her face with cupcakes.
* My father didn’t enjoy life. One of his most memorable sayings was, “I don’t give a cracker for this life.”
* Every few years after I converted to Judaism, dad would mail me tracts and books to try to bring me back to the church. I’d toss them in the trash.
* Circa 1992, I published a letter to Spectrum magazine about my recollections of Glacier View, and when my father read it (he was on a speaking tour of Australia), he ran to the bathroom and retched.
* My father was often away preaching when I was growing up. He wrote home regularly but his handwriting was so poor, I rarely put much effort into deciphering it.
* I see movies and TV shows about kids who get disappointed because their dad doesn’t show up for their birthday party or other celebration. I don’t understand this. Wouldn’t you rather party with your mates?
* When I was a kid, I’d often invent elaborate games. I’d be asked, why don’t you play that with your father? “Oh no,” I’d reply, “my dad would have no interest. It would be pure torture. He’d rather be studying.”
When dad would play with me as a kid, he’d usually carry such an air of burdened obligation that I quickly learned to stop asking him. I think the last time we threw a ball around was in 8th grade and his shoulder popped out of its socket and he was in agony.