My Ninety-Year-Old Father Has It Both Ways

I stood in the doorway of my dad’s study. He hadn’t heard me coming, not even with his high-cost, high-tech hearing aids.

On the table lay what appeared to be an ancient book. But on his computer screen, he was reading an ebook, in German.

When I cleared my throat, he looked up.

“Guess what I found on Hathitrust Library?” he said, pivoting his chair to reach for the old book.

“This was published in 1853,” he told me. “My grandfather’s mother gave it to him.”

The book contained a section on the beginnings of the Amish church, and my father was reading it to prepare for a talk at a history conference.

“But why are you reading electronically?” I asked.

Old books in digital form have perks, my dad explained to me. He showed me how he clicked on the full-screen toggle and how he could search for words. With the backlit screen and control of font size, he didn’t need to strain to see. And besides, it saved the wear of the old book.

But when he looked at the vellum-bound book in his hands, his eyes softened. His great-grandmother and his grandfather had held this book. They had turned these very pages, now yellowed and brittle. 

My nonagenarian father likes the lure and nostalgia of old books. But he isn’t tech-averse. He appreciates the efficiencies of new ways.

When I finish writing this post, I’ll head to his house for my daily check-in. He won’t hear me coming. So I’ll pause again in the doorway of his study to catch him in action. If he’s not reading a book on Hathitrust, he’ll likely be on some online database, using the new to search out the old.

4 Replies to “My Ninety-Year-Old Father Has It Both Ways”

  1. I feel very similarly about the bibles college students carry around in their pockets. Everyone has one! Great for searching (especially now that we’re increasingly biblically illiterate.) Click on a note, brilliant. But I also encourage students to get a hard copy. Whereas the screen is a small viewfinder and the scripture pass les through it, holding the open Bible gives an immediate sense of context (oh, the gospels are near the end of the story), and you can easily scan across pages to make connections. Those kinds of things…


  2. This brings back fond memories of visiting with your dad in his study filled with books. Thank you for brightening my day.


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