I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was the oldest of my parents’ three children. My father was drafted into the military during World War II. As a six-year-old, I remember praying with my mother that the war would end and that Dad would come home. Because he had three children, he was one of the first to be discharged when the war was over. There were so many men being discharged at the same time that he couldn’t even get a telephone line to let us know that he was coming home. He just showed up at our door. I think that that was the first time I felt a real answer to prayer. I had complete confidence in the power of prayer from that point forward.
Dad was the bishop of our ward for most of my youth. One night when I was ten or eleven years old, he took me with him to visit some ward members. (He often took one of his children along with him so that he could spend more time with us.) As we visited a young lady that night, a big black car drove up in front of her house. In the car was David O. McKay, the President of the Church. I remember thinking that he was very impressive looking. In the course of the short visit, he and Dad gave a blessing to the young girl.
After the blessing, President McKay went out on the front porch and talked to me. He commented on how nice it was that I could be with my dad. He talked about the times he had been with his father. On one of those occasions, he said, they had come to Salt Lake City to general conference. He was just a young boy at the time. He was introduced to John Taylor, who was then President of the Church.
During their conversation, President Taylor showed him the scars on his arms from wounds he had suffered in Carthage Jail with the Prophet Joseph Smith on the day of the martyrdom. All his life President McKay had recalled talking firsthand with someone who had been in the presence of the Prophet Joseph. He said that since I was in his presence and he had been in the presence of someone who had known the Prophet, I, too, had a connection to Joseph Smith.
I thought about that experience when we discussed the sixth article of faith in Primary: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” I’ve always related to that article of faith in a special way.
President McKay was the prophet of my boyhood. I can remember how sad I felt when he passed away. It was a personal loss for me. Even though I was nearly thirty years old, I still remembered vividly the first time I met a prophet.
All Church leaders influenced me to some degree. A brother in my ward taught twenty or more of us in a Sunday School class. The whole class was socially and spiritually active, and we had great respect for our teacher. When my wife and I attended his fiftieth wedding anniversary many years later, most of the members of that class came to show their love and respect. Many of us felt that he had made a significant difference in our lives—not just because he was a good teacher, but because he took a personal interest in each one of us.
My mission president also had a profound effect on my life. I served a mission to Australia and was his second counselor for more than a year. I learned a lot from him. He shaped my sense of moral values and my ability to work hard. He showed us, taught us, and expected us missionaries to do the right things and to work hard; but he loved us, regardless.
When I travel to various areas of the world, I always try to visit the Primary children. I love to be with you. When I think of you and of my own grandchildren, I worry about the temptations you will face in today’s world. I think that your salvation lies in being blessed with strong families where you can grow up knowing that Heavenly Father loves you, that your parents love you, and that your Church leaders love you. We all want you to be happy and successful, particularly in coping with temptations.
Children can be a strength to the family. I hope you children will be strong family members, enjoy family activities, and cheerfully accept assignments to contribute to the family. You can be leaders and remind family members about responsibilities such as scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening.
Young children can prick the consciences of their parents as no one else can. When a little child comes up to his priesthood-holding father and says, “Daddy, when are we going to have family prayer?” or “Can we offer a special prayer for Susie?” it just melts his heart. Whether yours is a one-parent, two-parent, or step-parent family, you children can help make it stronger.