Friend to Friend


Dallin H. Oaks
Fam’lies can be together forever Through Heav’nly Father’s plan (Children’s Songbook, page 188).

One winter evening when I was about five or six years old, my father took me for a walk downtown. This was during the depression, when jobs were few and many homeless, hungry people were on the streets. My father and I were looking at all the store windows as we walked, and soon we found ourselves standing in front of the window of a sporting goods store. It was full of bright things that would catch every boy’s fancy—things like fishing lures and pocketknives for whittling.

A shabbily dressed boy was standing near us, looking longingly into the window. I didn’t pay much attention to him, but my father went over and spoke with him briefly, then put his hand on his shoulder and led him inside the store. I watched as he took the boy to a showcase of pocketknives, told him to pick one out, then paid the shopkeeper for the knife.

I didn’t get a pocketknife that day, but I did get a lesson. At the time, I felt let down, as a little boy would feel when the gift he thinks is his goes to someone else. But as my father and I walked away from the store, he said, “You have me. He doesn’t have anybody.” Later I realized how generous and how sensitive to the needs of others my father was.

When I was almost eight years old, my father, who was a doctor, died of an ailment he caught from one of his patients. A few months later, my mother left my little brother and sister and me in the care of her parents and went away to attend a university so that she would be able to earn enough money to support us. But the stress of her husband’s death, combined with the stress of leaving us children, was too much for her to bear. It affected her health very seriously, and she was placed in the care of a nurse. I didn’t see her for many months.

I had lost my father, and for a time I lost my mother too. I was a very unhappy little boy. In school, I was hopeless as a student. I didn’t learn how to write cursive, and to this day I can hardly write in cursive except my own signature. My spelling was terrible, and my mathematics was worse. My teacher would have the class pass their arithmetic papers forward one seat to be corrected; then we had to announce the results out loud. On a twenty-problem exercise, I’d usually get fifteen or sixteen wrong answers—so I was usually at the bottom of the class. I believed that I was the dumbest boy in the room. I remember one occasion when some classmates threw snowballs at me and called me stupid. It was a sad time in my life.

Mother recovered, and when she was able to take care of us again, we moved to Vernal, Utah, where Pearl Shaffer became my fifth-grade teacher. She was a dear soul, and what she did for this unhappy little boy can never be repaid. She had confidence in me and expected me to be able to do the work. She really helped me to learn and to recover my confidence. By the time I finished my fifth-grade year, I was competing with the better students.

We all get knocked down in life sometimes. But just because you’re down, don’t assume that you have to be there all your life. Just get up, dust yourself off, and go on. Lots of young people feel discouraged. They feel that they’re not very good; they feel that they are supposed to be as good as their sister or their brother or their friend. But we know from the scriptures that everyone has gifts, so we should find our own gifts and develop them. Everyone has some things they can do well or some traits that stand out. For some that will be the ability to draw, for some it could be singing, for others it might be dancing. Others might be taller than almost everybody else. One of the glories of God’s creation is that it is so varied. No one is just like anyone else. Know that you are a child of God, and that He loves you. Even if you think nobody loves you, God does.

When I was twelve, the bishop asked me to help him deliver Christmas baskets to the widows of the ward. I felt honored to be asked. It was snowing on the day that we made the deliveries. I remember that the backseat of the bishop’s car was filled with baskets containing grapefruit and oranges. This was during World War II, when grapefruit and oranges were scarce, so they were quite a treat. The bishop waited in the car while I took a basket up to the door and said, “The bishop asked me to deliver this to you. It is a Christmas basket from the ward.”

Soon we had delivered all the baskets but one. The bishop took me home, and before I got out of the car, he handed me the last basket and said, “This is for your mother.” Then he drove away.

I stood there in front of our house, snowflakes falling on my face, holding the basket and wondering and thinking. We had been delivering baskets to widows, and I hadn’t thought of my mother as a widow. I had never heard her refer to herself as a widow. That was the first time it occurred to me that somebody thought that she was a widow.

I realized that Mother handled that circumstance with a great deal of faith. She taught us that we had a father and she had a husband and that we would always be a family because of her and my father’s temple marriage. I’d always just felt that my father was away because the Lord had called him to another work. I knew other kids had dads who took them hunting and fishing, and I felt that absence keenly. But those were war years, so I thought of myself as like a boy whose father was away in the war. My father would be away for a very long time, and it hurt me that he wasn’t there, but I knew that someday we would be together again. Since that time, my testimony of the importance of temple marriage has grown even stronger. How grateful I am for temple marriage and for the blessing of being sealed together as an eternal family.

[photo] 1. With his father (about age 3)

[photo] 2. At age 12 with his sister, mother, and brother

[photo] 3. Playing the violin at age 7

[photo] 4. Elder and Sister Oaks

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett