“Saturday’s activity will be a daddy-daughter cooking class,” Sister Marshall announced.
A wave of excited murmurs rolled through our Primary group. I suppose every girl was imagining bubbling desserts, fun games, and two whole hours with her dad. Every girl but me, that is. I didn’t have a dad—not even a shared-visitation dad like the ones some girls at school talked about. Instead of excitement, an anxious knot twisted in my stomach. I felt my face flush hot with emotion, and I clenched my teeth, fighting to force back tears.
Sister Marshall must have noticed my reaction. Once the meeting was over, she gently placed her hand on my shoulder. “Feel free to bring your mom, Tess.” She meant well, but those simple words were enough to set my tears free. I dropped my head so she wouldn’t notice and turned away.
“It’s OK,” I told myself. “You don’t have to go to that silly activity anyway.” But I knew it was a lie. I would have given anything to be part of a family that didn’t need special instructions from Sister Marshall—a family like the others that I saw dotting the rows of the chapel every Sunday. But my dad had left my mom, sister, and me when I was just a baby. We hadn’t heard from him in years, and I knew there was no way he was going to magically reappear just in time for Saturday’s activity.
“Get over it!” I ordered myself for at least the hundredth time since our baptism three years before. Our family was so much stronger now that we had a testimony of Heavenly Father’s plan, and I was grateful for all the gospel had given us. Still, it hadn’t been easy stepping into a group of friends who had been together since they were little—sharing baptisms, Primary activities, ward socials. I was the new girl, and although the others really tried to make me feel included, I still felt that I was different. I sometimes felt like a puzzle with one center piece missing.
“How was class?” Mom asked cheerfully as we drove home. She was a different person since our baptism—happier and more confident.
“Great,” I fibbed. Probably better not to worry her about the cooking class. After all, there was nothing she could do about it.
The week passed quickly. Schoolwork, chores, and friends kept me busy and allowed me to forget about Saturday’s activity. That is, until the phone rang Friday night.
“It’s for you,” my sister said, holding out the receiver.
“Hi, Tess. This is Brother Erickson.” Brother Erickson was our home teacher. He owned an ice-cream shop in town and sometimes brought containers of mint chip or cherry chocolate to our house. He often made me laugh with his twinkling eyes and quick smile. But I couldn’t imagine why he would be calling me.
His voice was cheerful and strong. “I was wondering if you’d let me join you at the cooking class tomorrow.”
I held my breath and peeked into the kitchen where my mom was washing the dinner dishes. I smiled at the mounds of bubbles clinging to her arms. “She couldn’t have told him,” I thought. “She didn’t even know.” I wondered if Sister Marshall had called him.
“I read about it in the bulletin last Sunday,” he continued. “It sounds like fun.”
“Oh yeah, the bulletin.”
“So? Think you can handle toting an old man like me around your party?”
“You don’t have to—” I started.
“I want to!” Then he was silent for a moment. “Please.”
“Well, OK.” To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure it would be OK. I mean, I didn’t know him that well. But my new excitement for going to the activity outweighed any doubt.
Saturday came, and when Mom dropped me off at the church, Brother Erickson was waiting for me in a bright red apron. His smile eased my worries as we joined the other fathers and daughters. We had a blast learning how to make cherry cobbler and homemade whipping cream in our crowded meetinghouse kitchen. He never once made me feel like he was doing me a favor or just fulfilling his calling.
When Mom came to pick me up, Brother Erickson gave me a big high five. “Thanks for letting me come. I had a great time!” I knew that he really meant it.
Years passed, and Brother Erickson remained our home teacher. In addition to his visits, he invited my family over for many game nights at his house. He joined me at more father-daughter activities and gave me my first real job at his ice-cream store when I turned 16.
After college when I was getting married in the Los Angeles California Temple, I asked Brother Erickson to serve as a witness. When I walked into the sealing room, I saw him sitting in the chair typically reserved for the father of the bride. He smiled his silly smile at me, and I knew that he was exactly where he should be. After all, he was no ordinary home teacher. He had become my very close friend.
“The priesthood can bless all members through the ministration of home teachers.” President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “Father, Come Home,” Ensign, May 1993, 36.