Friend to Friend


Elder Robert B. Harbertson

Elder Robert B. Harbertson of the First Quorum of the Seventy

Elder Harbertson was born in Ogden, Utah, and did all his growing up there. “I have three older sisters and a brother who came nine years after me,” he said. “My brother and I had a very close relationship. I had looked forward to having a brother for a long time, and from the time that he was old enough to walk, I took him everywhere with me. He was the batboy of every team I played on. When I was a teenager, he even went on dates with me sometimes.

“My mother and dad were active in the Church, and both were disciplinarians. I didn’t get away with much, and I had to help around the house. Some of my duties were to scrub and wax the kitchen, bathroom, and hall floors and the wooden stairs that went down to the basement. It seemed like I had to do them weekly. I don’t think I was ever able to get them done right the first time. My mother always checked them, and I’d have to do them again. Although it was difficult for me as a child, I’m grateful now that she taught me the value of doing things the best that I could.

“She expected me to be at church on time. If I was late, I’d have to do the Sunday dishes. There was hardly anything that I disliked more than doing dishes—except getting up in the morning. So I did the dishes almost every Sunday!

“My dad was a great hero to me. Neither he nor Mother had much formal education; in fact, I think Dad only went as far as the eighth grade. Most of what he learned in life came through practical experience and through being self-taught. I thought he was the biggest, strongest, smartest, greatest man in all the world.”

Elder Harbertson’s father expected him to be an obedient son. “My folks gave me guidelines to go by, and there were no questions in my life about what was right and wrong. My dad gave me a great example to follow. When I was a little boy, he taught me the principles of the Word of Wisdom. He said, ‘Now if at any time you think that you need to break the Word of Wisdom, you talk to me about it, and if it’s that important, we’ll do it together.’ Well, I never have touched a cigarette, liquor, tea, coffee, or drugs.

“We were quite poor, but I never realized it until I was much older. I received my first bicycle for Christmas when I was about twelve. Later I found out that Dad had gotten three or four old bicycles and put them together to make one good one, then repainted it for me. We had so much security and love and closeness in our home that we never realized that we didn’t have very much materially.

“I enjoyed all sports. My father was a great athlete, and I was never able to beat him at anything. I was blessed with a great deal of natural talent in every sport except swimming. I’m like a rock in the water. I finally learned to swim, but it was a real effort for me to learn to float.

“As a young boy, I was attracted most to baseball and softball. When I was in the fourth grade, I asked my physical education teacher in Ogden to put together a softball league with the other city schools, and she did. I was really excited to be able to play in a league. I was my team’s pitcher, and when it finally came time for the league to start, we had to play on Tuesday afternoons after school. But Primary was held on Tuesday afternoon! I played the first game, but my mother and dad found out that I had not gone to Primary, and that was the last game I played in that league. As I grew older, I was grateful to my parents for insisting that I go to Primary, because I learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ comes first. It doesn’t matter whether it’s baseball or anything else—Heavenly Father comes first! That lesson helped me to not have to spend much time making decisions whenever there was a choice between doing things the world’s way and living a principle of the gospel.”

A few years later, Elder Harbertson played softball for a commercial team. “And when we went into the state tournament and the national tournament,” he recounted, “games were scheduled on Sundays. I went to the manager and said, ‘I’m sorry, but I won’t play on Sunday.’ I thought I would be dismissed from the team, but I was allowed to play in the state tournament. I played every game but the one on Sunday, and we won the state tournament. Then, as we were preparing to go to the nationals, the coach came to me and said, ‘We let you play in the state tournament and miss the game on Sunday, but we can only take twelve players to the nationals, and we have to have you play on Sunday.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t play on Sunday.’ I thought, There goes my dream of playing in the national tournament. But the team had a meeting, and they decided to let me go, and I played every game but the one on Sunday! Heavenly Father always blesses you when you choose to do right!”

Elder Harbertson’s message for children is twofold: “First, I would hope that the children of the Church try hard to gain a special relationship with Heavenly Father, and that comes through prayer. Talk to Heavenly Father just as you do to your earthly father and mother. He’s there, and He loves you and wants to bless you. Prayer is the way you can talk to Him and receive strength and guidance. He can give you the courage and strength to be obedient all your life.

“Second, love your parents and listen to them. If you talk to them and spend time with them, you will never have better friends. No one in the world loves you more or is more desirous of your being happy and successful than your parents. The restrictions that they place upon you and the discipline that they give you occur only because they love you and want to help you to enjoy life and to keep Heavenly Father’s commandments.”