03227_000_018How could I give “your basic Fathers’ Day talk” when my father didn’t fit the mold?
On that hot August day, the fan inside the grimy gas station office did little but blow the flies around and rearrange the dust. I was nine or ten, a blonde-haired tomboy in jeans, and I sat cross-legged in my usual summer spot atop the pop box in the shade of the overhang. I remember that Dad allowed me one soda a day, and I almost always chose green lemon-lime. I’d sip it slowly, savoring the sweet syrupy stuff as I observed the steady flow of customers. I liked to think that I had an important job—the miniature goodwill ambassador of Route 66—as I waved and smiled and made polite conversation with locals and summer travelers alike.
Late in the afternoon, an old flatbed truck rattled into the station. As it lurched to a stop by the pump, I saw that its cargo included several children clinging to what appeared to be all a family’s worldly possessions—mattresses, chairs, bundles, and boxes. The children and I exchanged curious glances, and I noticed that except for their various sizes, they all looked much alike: brown, windblown faces; hollow cheeks; intense, cornflower-blue eyes that looked red-tired and rather sad. But one straw-haired girl about my age cracked a smile as she eyed my soda. I could feel her thoughts. She wanted to jump off that hot truck and join me in the shade on the pop box.
When the cab door creaked open, a man jumped down and yelled, “Fill ‘er up!” I watched him saunter into the station’s office and leaf through the free road maps, then open up the small freezer in the corner. The box was full of warm-weather treats—frozen bullets, bright-colored pop-ups, ice-cream sandwiches, and orange/vanilla 50/50 bars. He picked up one after another, examining each as his eyes darted from the freezer to my father outside. Finally, I saw him tuck a few handfuls of the treats beneath his shirt.
“What should I do?” I wondered frantically as the man stepped out of the office. “Should I jump down and tell Dad about the Popsicles?” But for some unfathomable reason, I could only sit there, silent.
When Dad banged the hood down, the man and I both jumped. Then the stranger awkwardly pulled some bills from his pocket as he held the cold stash up against his chest with one arm.
When the money had changed hands, the man turned toward the truck, but a loud, authoritative voice forced him back around.
“Were you going to pay for the Popsicles?” Dad demanded, nodding toward the hidden bundle.
There was a long, awkward pause. “No,” the man finally said. “Don’t have enough money to pay for ‘em.”
Dad’s voice was harsh, uncompromising. “You were going to steal them? Take Popsicles right in front of your kids?”
The man nodded, his eyes thrust down. Although I saw no tears, I thought he must be crying on the inside, for his gruff voice cracked when he said, “The young’uns are hot and hungry, Mister. We got a long ways to go and I got nothin’ more.”
“Well, put the Popsicles back.” Dad’s voice was gentle now, and he placed a hand on the man’s slumped shoulder. “If your kids are hungry, we’ll feed ‘em.”
Then he sent me to the house with instructions for Mom and me to pack the family a bag of food. I can still remember Mom slicing the roast beef and cheese, then putting sandwiches, fruit, crackers, cookies, and a couple of cartons of milk into a large sack. When I carried it back to the station, Dad handed the bag in through the cab’s open window. The stranger seemed at a loss for words, but his wife leaned over, her eyes full, touched Dad’s sleeve, and said, “God bless you, Mister. You’re a good man.”
The truck crawled back onto the highway, its engine still hammering and clanking, and the straw-haired girl waved and smiled till the truck rounded a curve in the road. Dad and I stood there side by side, a strange closeness enveloping us. We were silent for a while, then Dad said—more to himself than to me—“I can’t imagine anything worse than a father having to watch his kids go hungry.”
Reciting that childhood recollection caused my voice to shake as I stood before the ward and finished my Fathers’ Day talk. The incident was one of the most charitable acts I’d witnessed, but it involved a person I’d seldom mentioned before such a congregation—not in the lessons I’d presented, the talks I’d given, or the testimonies I’d borne.
A few days earlier the bishop’s counselor had called me on the phone. “Sister Hinton,” he said, “we’d like you to give a talk for our Fathers’ Day program.”
“Fathers’ Day?” I laughed in disbelief.
“Right,” he continued, puzzlement creeping into his voice. “Just a talk about honoring your father. You know, your basic Fathers’ Day talk.”
“Well,” I said haltingly, letting the word dangle as my internal wheels turned wildly. My dad isn’t exactly your basic father … I just don’t have that kind of dad … what do you mean, honor? But something noble or crazy or conscience-ridden welled up inside me and, to my surprise, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”
At that point the days of turmoil began. What could I say about Dad? We hadn’t been close for as long as I could remember. Things had been especially strained during my teen years when, upon seeing the world in “black and white,” I fancied myself a female Nephi clutching the iron rod while Dad lurked somewhere across the way, in the shadowy depths of the great and spacious building. He was the dad with the year’s supply of brew; the dad who told home teachers and bishops and well-meaning relatives to leave him alone; the dad who cursed and came home late or not at all.
But he was also the dad who went to the daddy-daughter dinner; the one who attended the first (and last) spelling bee I was in; the father who perused every school text to make sure I was getting an adequate education; the man who fed a stranger, even one who’d tried to steal from him.
During the next few days, I thought a lot about the word honor. In every scripture I checked concerning the commandment to honor fathers and mothers, honor was used as a verb—a word expressing an act. One scripture I found especially meaningful was in Ephesians:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
“Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
“That it may be well with thee.” (Eph. 6:1–3.) The issue at hand was not my father’s honor; it was how I honored my father. I was left with the nagging feeling that although I had certainly done my share of judging, I had done little honoring, little loving.
The prophets have said that our greatest tests often take place within our own homes. How we behave toward one another as children, parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, and roommates under the stress of everyday life is the real indicator of our Christianity. And although the gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses the highest ideals and standards, we must never forget its underlying principle—love. And that is what honoring implies—loving. Not judging, not resenting, but loving in its highest form.
Many of us know the sorrow of seeing loved ones choose a road in life other than the gospel path. We pray for them and rejoice when they come back to embrace correct principles, but we must also accept the possibility that some never will in this life. I do not know which path my father will ultimately choose, but I do know that my honoring him is not conditioned upon that choice.
Just as I remember the principle of repentance by thinking of four R’s, I think of the principle of honor as having four R’s. These include:
Recognize and accept. He is my father (my brother, sister, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, friend), a child of God, a combination of good and bad just as I am. Above all, he is an individual with agency.
Regard with respect. I needn’t deny reality, but I should never fail to appreciate the positive, to focus on the good. Through my father I received my earthly body. He provided for me physically, loved me in his way, and offered me a worthy lineage.
Revere and esteem. I should reconcile my negative feelings through humility, prayer, and counseling, if necessary, until I can truly revere and esteem. It’s amazing how relationships change when I respond to a person with my best self.
Reward by offering unconditional love. There are still many differences between my father and me; but, as I have tried to honor him, I’ve been greatly blessed with an appreciation for him, his life, his feelings, and his gifts to me. My new attitudes have resulted in a love that spans our differences, a bonding of generations, a bridge over the canyons that have divided us in the past.
Standing before the congregation that Sunday, I nervously clutched the podium and delivered my Fathers’ Day message. And I felt the Spirit attending me. Later that day I delivered it a second time, at the kitchen table before an audience of one—my father. He remembered the Popsicles and smiled, and that same sweet spirit attended once more.