“I remember my father quite well,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks. “He was a very kind and gentle man who liked to joke and who loved his children. He was a well-respected physician and a faithful member of the Church.”
His father died when Elder Oaks was eight years old. His mother then decided to leave her children in the care of their grandparents and go to Columbia University in New York City to get the additional education that she needed to support her children. “It was a very courageous thing for her to do,” said Elder Oaks. “But the loss of her husband and then the separation from her three children within a two-month period were too much, and Mother suffered a nervous breakdown.
“Mother was told that she would never recover, but through the blessings of the Lord, she did recover. She got a teaching position in Vernal, Utah, and later returned to New York City and finished her master’s degree at Columbia. When she recovered from her breakdown, she was stronger than ever. From her experience as a widow, she helped other women who had to raise their children alone. Mother also helped start adult education and senior citizen programs and did many other worthwhile things. She was a remarkable person and a very good mother.
“The death of my father and my mother’s going away so soon were difficult experiences for me. When I was about nine years old, I remember thinking that there was nobody in the world as unhappy as I was. As dear and wonderful as my grandparents were, it was difficult for them to be parents to a young family while Mother was away at school.
“I remember that in the fourth grade I was a bewildered little boy who couldn’t do long division and couldn’t spell. Every day we had about twenty spelling words and twenty long-division problems. Whenever we would correct our papers, I would always miss fifteen or more. Everybody knew that Dallin Oaks was the dumbest boy in the room.
“But after my mother recovered, our family was reunited and we moved to Vernal. There, I had a wonderful fifth-grade teacher, Pearl Schaeffer. She is still living in Vernal, and I correspond with her. She helped me understand that I was somebody who could achieve in school, and she expected me to do it. She was a good, warm, loving person and a fine teacher. My school performance changed almost overnight as a result of her expectations and our improved family situation.
“Although I had some difficult times as a boy, I also had a lot of advantages. Mother was a valiant, great person, the ideal mother to a fatherless family. And there were her two sisters and a brother, my father’s numerous brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles by marriage, and our grandparents. All of them were supportive and helpful to me and to my younger brother and sister.
“Mother was very wise in wanting her children to have good male role models. My grandfather and my uncles included me in work on the farm and in hunting and fishing and camping. Since I didn’t have a father, Scouting was especially important because it gave me the chance to associate with good men who were fine leaders. Athletics were also important. Although I was never a great athlete, I was good enough to make some teams and get to play.
“Mother helped us feel a closeness with our father. She made him a reality for us while we were growing up. I remember once when I was twelve going out with the bishop of our ward in Vernal to take baskets of fruit to the widows. When we pulled up in front of our house and the bishop gave me a basket for my mother, it was a shock. I never thought of my mother as being a widow, because we still had a father. He and Mother had been married in the temple, and I knew that he was with us, although he was on the other side of the veil. He loved us and knew what we were doing.
“I was raised in a home where faith was present and the commandments were taken seriously. I didn’t get a testimony of the gospel at any particular time. I just grew up with it! I didn’t really know what a strong testimony I had until I got to graduate school. Then, when I was confronted with a lot of questions and challenges, I found that I was strong. I think my mother’s faith was the greatest single factor in my testimony.
“The most important thing I can say to children is this: Lots of you boys and girls are having difficulties. Some of you have the challenge of not having a mother or father in your home. Some of you have physical handicaps. Others of you feel frustrated and inadequate because you can’t do the things you think you’re supposed to do—you can’t throw the ball far enough or you think you aren’t attractive, for example. Everybody has those feelings. Problems like these are part of the experiences that all of us have in this life.
“Remember that sometimes the greatest blessings our Heavenly Father gives us are blessings that come out of what we first think are hardships and problems.
“Hang on. Keep trying. Say your prayers. Trust in your Heavenly Father. He loves you, and He will bless you to carry on and accomplish what you need to accomplish in this life so that you will receive all of His choicest blessings in eternity.”