My Dad Taught Me How To Saturday

Do you know how to Saturday? I do. Not long ago I realized that I have a routine and that I learned it by watching my dad when I was a kid.

On an average Saturday morning, my dad would do some home improvement project, or work on a car, or do some activity with the family, or some other active work.

On Saturday afternoon, he would watch John Wayne movies or sports (golf or bowling or whatever was on), and then take a nap on the floor with this giant pillow he had.

I must have internalized the same pattern; I always try to make my own Saturdays fit the same basic mold. Saturday morning is for hard work. Saturday afternoon is for resting.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions, and a great day often looks nothing like that. But when it does happen, I always feel like I’m living “correctly.”

Once again, thanks, Dad.

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Why My Dad Is The Hero We Need

When my dad passed away last July at the age of 87, there were no public memorials or vigils. No graveside scenes or heartfelt eulogies, because there wasn’t even a funeral. Not even an obit in the newspaper.

Intensely private people, my parents wanted it this way. Hardly anyone knew my dad, and even fewer really got to know him. But there’s something the world should know.

He’s exactly the kind of hero our world needs today. He did something truly amazing, something that raises him far above the average man in my eyes. Something a man does, that most all of us have forgotten how to do.

My dad had already raised a family to young adulthood when his first wife passed away in the early 1970s. A few years later, in his late 40s, he met my mom and they decided not only to get married, but to start a family together.

Stop and think about that. My dad had already raised three children up to adulthood, and had had his wife pass away. He was solidly middle aged. And he was done–his years as a family man were done.

And then he started all over.

He raised my mom’s young son from her first marriage, and he and my mom had two sons of their own–my brother and I. Do the math–he was actively raising children almost non-stop until he was nearly 70.

I mentioned this to my mom recently, and she said that he never regretted it. Never complained. Never looked back. He committed to doing it all again and he gave it 100%–helped take care of us as babies, worked the side jobs to make ends meet, squeezed in time to attend our activities, and all past the age when most men are done.

Or when many men, these days, haven’t ever started. In a society that increasingly idolizes childlessness, he raised not just one, but two families, back to back. His entire adult life was dominated by fatherhood.

Once, when I was an angry teen, he thanked me for letting him have another chance in life. I wasn’t sure what he meant and, being an angry teen, didn’t care. Now, as a middle aged father of 7 myself, I understand perfectly.

He was a total hero, the kind that songs and movies are about, the quiet middle class guy just doing what really needs to be done, with no  one forcing him to and with no applause when it got tough.

He didn’t just do what so many today aren’t willing to do, he did it twice. With all his heart.

 

 

Read This, Then 2 Nephi 3

There are great doctrinal truths here, of course, but I had long been confused by the nature of 2 Nephi 3. Elderly Lehi is about to die, and he takes his youngest son aside for a moment to…talk about ancient history and prophecy about the future. That’s pretty much it. There’s really not much here that seems to relate directly to the young man himself.

Reading it again recently, I went looking for an answer. Why does Lehi spend his last words to his son lecturing about such seemingly random stuff? Here’s the answer I found:

I ended up imagining this implied context for the chapter. Read 2 Nephi 3 again after this, and see if it doesn’t open up better:

Joseph, my youngest son, you’ve already had a hard life out in the old desert wilderness, on the raging seas, and in this new jungle wilderness, and I wish I could promise that things will get easier, but honestly, they won’t. I haven’t been able to protect you much, but even that little comfort is about to be lost to you. I’m dying. After I’m gone, you will continue to face challenges in life.

But remember this:

There are three great Josephs at major turning points in history who will help advance the Lord’s work.

One was Joseph of Egypt, in the distant past. He endured serious adversity also, but founded a people who were close to the Lord. He knew of us and wrote about us.

Another Joseph will be in the distant future. He will endure serious adversity as well, but will found a people who will be close to the Lord. He will know of us and will write about us.

The third Joseph is you, my son. Just as the Joseph long before you and the Joseph long after you have their part in overcoming opposition to start new dynasties of righteousness, you have yours. Our little family here will grow to become a dispensation of a thousand years, whose story will someday go to all the world. And you’re here at the beginning, to help make sure it happens. This is your place in the story, and this is the difference you make.

The words which the ancient Joseph saw in vision and which the future Joseph will publish are the words which are being written now by our family. You’re an important part of this larger plan. 

The Joseph before and the Joseph after will know you in the eternities as their brother in this work. They are counting on you. I am counting on you. Indeed, a world is counting on you. Follow Nephi and serve with him. Make Joseph of Egypt and Joseph of America proud. Make the Lord proud. Make me proud. Good bye, my son, and fare well. I believe in you.

Notes and Quotes, June 2014

Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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Notes on My Talk in Church Today

Below are my notes from a talk I gave in my ward today, about fatherhood and priesthood.  I had to cut a few things out for time, most notably a story about President Monson’s father’s example of priesthood service with his son, and a paragraph about honoring my own dad.  The notes are choppy, but I think you could get the gist of it. 

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Thomas S. Monson quote:

My own father, a printer, gave me a copy of a piece he had printed. It was titled “A Letter from a Father” and concluded with this thought: “Perhaps my greatest hope as a parent is to have such a relationship with you that when the day comes and you look down into the face of your first child, you will feel deep within you the desire to be to your child the kind of parent your dad has tried to be to you. What greater compliment could any man ask? Love, Dad.” (“Treasured Gifts,” 12/06)

My version: tucking son in bed, feeling sentimental, tell him that someday he’ll grow up and we’ll be best friends.  He laughs and says, “Don’t be silly, you’ll be dead.”

Speaking on assignment from bishop about fatherhood and priesthood.

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Politically Incorrect Thought of the Day

I once spent three years teaching in the room next door to a woman who, after we’d spent all that time sharing and discussing many of the same students, made a startling observation that, although it contradicted her own political beliefs, she said she could no longer deny. After yet another female student from a broken home had made huge mistakes due to her low self esteem, the other teacher said, “I’m going to lose my feminist credentials for this, but the fact is that girls need affirmation from men. All these sad girls we see wasting their lives are doing it because their fathers aren’t there for them. If girls don’t get attention and affection from their fathers, they’ll just go out and get it from some guy at school.”

Of course, there are also girls who ruin their lives with sex or drugs despite having great fathers, but she was right: the vast majority of girls with social, emotional, or academic problems got that way lamenting the lack of adequate attention from a male.  I suppose this is just one more example of the damage wrought by our easy divorce culture, but certainly one of the most tragic.  The correlation between a strong father-daughter relationship and her success is well established. Does this influence how much extra positive regard I try to give to my own girls at home? Yes it does.

Book of Moses Commentary Part IV: Fathers Must Teach Their Sons the Gospel

[Previous installments here, here, and here]

Quick, who can spot the pattern in these two verses?

“Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begat Enos, and prophesied in all his days, and taught his son Enos in the ways of God, wherefore Enos prophesied also.”  Moses 6:13

“And Jared lived one hundred and sixty two years , and begat Enoch; and Jared lived, after he begat Enoch, eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.  And Jared taught Enoch in all the ways of God.”  Moses 6:21

This formula is certainly used or suggested elsewhere in scripture: in the Book of Mormon, for example, Nephi starts off by telling us that he had been “taught somewhat in all the learning of my father,” (1 Nephi 1:1), just as Enos begins his story by declaring that he, “knowing my father was a just man–for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…” (Enos 1:1), and King Benjamin had three sons whom he also “caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers…” (Mosiah 1:2)

(Maybe this post should have been called, “Fathers must teach their sons the gospel…and, apparently, literacy skills.”)

The relative silence in the scriptures about the training that comes from mothers, or towards daughters, shouldn’t be construed to mean that no such teaching takes place, nor should this emphasis on father-to-son teaching be taken to mean that no other teaching is important in the family.  After all, the Book of Moses reminds us that as Adam and Eve started having children, “Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.”  (Moses 5:12)  Adam may have had some personal priesthood interviews with Cain, Abel, Seth, and his other sons, but certainly the first family also had plenty of family home evenings where the teaching was more generally dispersed. 

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Inactive Husbands

My experience ministering at church has shown me that there is one large demographic whose quiet sense of loss in their community is rarely understood by those around them: women with inactive husbands. 

There are certainly men who go to church but whose wives are unsupportive, but that’s relatively rare.  Far more common are women who strive to get to church as much as possible, often taking kids with them, but whose husbands refuse to get up and come along.  I’m not talking about women with non-Mormon husbands–those women knew what they were getting into when they got married–or even women whose husbands have never been very involved in church. 

What still shocks and discourages me is just how many men become inactive after marriage and then put their wives in an impossible position: these men may think that they’re not making their wives choose between them and church, but these poor women are still living in a gray twilight zone, trying to trudge along the thorny path of discipleship but doing so without a partner with whom to share her burden, unlike most of her friends at church.  Her husband may think that his non-involvement is purely neutral, doing no harm, but that doesn’t help when the kids ask why they have to go to church and Dad doesn’t. 

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The Backyard Campout

Ever since our tragi-comic attempt at a family campout last Fall, my three year old has been begging for another one.  Since the weather’s nice and I have some free time this week, we headed out…to the backyard.  I don’t have that much free time this week. 

We set up the smaller tent since it would be just me and two of the littler kids, and stocked our “camp” with some coloring books.  We bundled up as we settled in to go to sleep, but it wasn’t necessary: it was cool–chilly, even, by the end of the night–but never cold. 

I woke up feeling refreshed and grateful not to have had a hard night.  It was getting bright and I was surprised that the kids weren’t up before me–the kids in this family are early risers who rarely miss the first round of the day’s cartoons.  I had to go to the bathroom, so I went inside and checked what time it was.

3:12 A.M.  The light I’d mistaken for pre-dawn was just the full moon shining through the window of our tent.  Heartbroken, I trudged back into the tent. 

An hour later I still wasn’t back to sleep when my three year old woke up and said he had to go potty.  I took him inside and after he finished and was zipping up his jammies, he turned to me and said with the world’s biggest smile, “It’s fun having a campout!”  So I guess it was worth it. 

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On a random note, I just want to share that, in a little over a year, this is my 300th post on this blog.  My original goal was to average a post per day, but I’m happy with how things have gone so far.

What We’ve Given Up

In 1998, my church had an area conference, where everyone in Southern Nevada was invited to attend a massive meeting at our largest local stadium, the Thomas and Mack Center, and hear addresses from two of our highest ranking leaders: Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle, and Thomas S. Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency to Gordon B. Hinckley.

Somehow, I got assigned to be an usher at the meeting, and was given the unglorious task of managing seating on the central section at the back of the upper level: the section of the arena furthest from the stage.  I sat, entranced, in my extreme nosebleed seat, squinting to make out the tiny figures ahead of me.

I remember the moment that made the deepest impression on me.  Elder Nelson was speaking, and in his remarks, he mentioned that he and his wife had celebrated their fifty year wedding anniversary a few years before.  He also told us that they had nine children, a total of grandchildren that must have been about fifty, and a growing generation of great grandchildren. 

But that wasn’t what touched me.  Continue reading

Fathers’ Day

Several years ago I had just begun to realize in my career as a teacher that fathers either make or break the destinies of their children.  It was a dour epiphany, because most of the men that I knew of were dropping the ball.  We may be inclined to interject with inspiring exceptions, but such a vast majority falls into this simple scheme that it’s practically a rule.  At that point, I had learned a truism that every teacher learns: absent (or ineffective) fathers create damaged offspring.

I remember wanting to vent about this discovery and commiserate with my colleagues.  At my school at the time, our email system had a “teachers’ lounge” bulletin board feature that we used to post jokes, items for sale, and announcements.  I wrote up a post lamenting my loss of rose-colored glasses on the fatherhood front.  I included a link to a favorite news article of mine: a herd of elephants in Africa had lost its adult males to poaching, and the younger males went crazy and started attacking other animals.  The problem wasn’t solved until the local wildlife authorities imported some adult males from another herd.  After that, the “delinquency” stopped.  I commented that this story could serve as a useful parable for our society’s woes.

After it went up, a female administrator in the building privately replied that she was confused and bothered by my post, and asked me to explain it further.  I said that I now understood clearly that the single greatest factor determining the success or failure of our students–academically and in life–was their fathers.  She quickly sent a curt reply that I was only to post professional messages from that point on, or face disciplinary action.

Other teachers responded with more sympathy.

My old supervisor’s politically correct management by planting her head firmly in the sand came back to mind as I read this wonderful essay this week about mainstream America’s war on fatherhood.  Even more sobering was this amazing essayby Andrew Klavan, which included the following anecdote:

The teacher told me that she once had to explain to the class why her last name was the same as her father’s. She dusted off the whole ancient ritual of legitimacy for them—marriages, maiden names, and so on. When she was done, there was a short silence. Then one child piped up softly: “Yeah . . . I’ve heard of that.”

I’ve heard of that. It would break a heart of stone.

And thus it is.  In the panorama of demographic decline, the effective, involved father may well be the most endangered species. 

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To end on a slightly more positive note, last year my bishop assigned me to put together a packet of recent General Conference addresses on priesthood leadership in the home, for a training we wanted to do with the men in our ward.  As I looked through the archives, I was struck by how often the clearest talks on this subject came from Elder L. Tom Perry.  He must have a special love for this issue.  Here are a few of his that I have benefited from, and which would be of value to us all:

“Fatherhood, An Eternal Calling”

“Father–Your Role, Your Responsibility”

“Called Of God”

One of the great “forgotten” talks of General Conference is Richard G. Scott’s “First Things First,” where he emphasizes the importance of striving for an “ideal” family.  I’ve been divorced before, myself, so I know that such counsel can be difficult to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Elder Scott said:

Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective. If it requires fundamental changes in your personal life, make them. When you have the required age and maturity, obtain all of the ordinances of the temple you can receive. If for the present, that does not include sealing in the temple to a righteous companion, live for it. Pray for it. Exercise faith that you will obtain it. Never do anything that would make you unworthy of it. If you have lost the vision of eternal marriage, rekindle it. If your dream requires patience, give it. As brothers, we prayed and worked for 30 years before our mother and our nonmember father were sealed in the temple. Don’t become overanxious. Do the best you can. We cannot say whether that blessing will be obtained on this side of the veil or beyond it, but the Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances.

Perhaps the strongest, clearest counsel I know on the subject is what Jeffrey R. Holland said in a talk called, “A Child’s Prayer,” where he boldly declared:

Parents simply cannot flirt with skepticism or cynicism, then be surprised when their children expand that flirtation into full-blown romance…. We can be reasonably active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints, but if we do not live lives of gospel integrity and convey to our children powerful heartfelt convictions regarding the truthfulness of the Restoration and the divine guidance of the Church from the First Vision to this very hour, then those children may, to our regret but not surprise, turn out not to be visibly active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints or sometimes anything close to it….

Live the gospel as conspicuously as you can. Keep the covenants your children know you have made. Give priesthood blessings. And bear your testimony!  Don’t just assume your children will somehow get the drift of your beliefs on their own.

This is part of the gospel that we preach and live.  In our efforts to draw near to God by worship, discipleship, and service, let’s make constantly improving our fatherhood an integral part of that sacred work.

 

Story Time!

Introducing a new page (seen on the menu above, next to “Home” and “About”), wherein our beleaguered hero, abashed at his dearth of success in publishing fiction, valiantly posts his stories on the Internet for free…

Story the First: a semi-autobiographical bit of catharsis…