The Population Bomb was one of only two gifts I gave my dad that he refused to accept. The year was 1968, and I was shopping for a Christmas gift. He was an avid reader, and I was searching for a book that sounded interesting. I settled on a runaway bestseller, The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich. Everyone seemed to be talking about it.

The theme of this alarming publication was that there were far too many people in the world, and the problem was getting worse by the second. Ehrlich projected global disaster by 1975, involving worldwide disease and human beings overrunning the earth like rats in a subway. He warned his readers that a billion people could starve to death in the 1980s. The only thing that might save us, Ehrlich said, was immediate population control to prevent what he referred to as “a dying planet.”

I made the mistake of not reading the book before I gave it to my dad. I proudly wrapped it in festive paper and put it under the “tree” to be opened on Christmas morning. When my father tore the paper off the package, his countenance fell. He thumbed through the pages for a few seconds and then rudely handed the book back to me.

“I won’t accept this,” he said.

He didn’t explain his irritation, but clearly I had struck a nerve. Now I know that he was deeply concerned at that time about the approaching support for legalized abortion on demand. The Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court was handed down five years later, and my father had seen it coming. When he talked about the prospect of killing countless babies in the ’60s and ’70s, big tears filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks.

“Population control” for my dad, and now for me, meant the ...

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