With Fathers’ Day coming up this weekend, I wanted to pay tribute to my father, Mario Luna, who died when I was in my early twenties. Although he was just as creative as my mother (his talents included painting, soapstone carving, and costume design), the strongest legacy he left me was a love of books and learning.
In my recent post about my mother, I mentioned how our messy household was full of art supplies, drawings, and half-finished projects. It was also full of books. When visitors came in the front door and entered the foyer, the first thing they saw was a wall of books. There were hundreds of them: collections of myths and fairy tales, volumes of poetry, Shakespeare plays, Greek tragedies, detective novels, classics by Dickens and Dumas, science fiction, and mysteries. The living room, dining room, and den also contained bookshelves. And don’t even get me started on the boxes of paperbacks in the basement.
Although my father didn’t learn to read until he was eight (his first language was Spanish), once he started, he never stopped. For years, he taught Art History, so one of our bookshelves contained tomes that covered the entire canon of European Art History. I remember spending hours leafing through these enormous books, filled with color illustrations.
Any time my father developed a new passion for a subject, he’d come back from the bookstore with a stack of books. He was always urging me to research topics I was interested in (and this was pre-Internet, so there were no shortcuts). When I was struggling with questions of religious identity in the 10th Grade, he bought me books on comparative religion, so I could learn what else was out there besides Catholicism.
Throughout my college and grad school experiences, he was eager to hear about my classes, especially since I studied Anthropology and Art History—two of his favorite subjects. He was one of the few people who knew how much I loved doing research, yet hated having to wade through complex articles on theory and semiotics.
Just before he died, he wrote me a series of letters. The early letters were about his grandparents and their lives in Mexico. These were followed with tales of his childhood during the Great Depression and his experiences as a soldier in the Korean War. These letters brought me closer to him than any gift he ever bought me.
His passion for books and learning has stayed with me, and it’s something I hope I have passed on to my own children.
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