“Father, Where Are You?”

By Jerry Pruyne as told to Hermine B. Horman

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    Do you have a favorite chair or a special place you return to again and again when you want to escape from the world? I do. I have an old-fashioned rocking chair that seems to take me wherever I want to go. When I sit in it, I sense the freedom of childhood, the growth of maturity, and answers to present and future frustrations.

    I enjoy my “chair time.” One cold night as I watched the icy frost make designs on my window, my thoughts went back to a time long ago.

    “David! Boyd! Come home! It’s time to eat!”

    No response. My wife asked me to help her find them.

    “David! Boyd! Answer me! Stop teasing! Where are you?”

    The anxiety in our voices grew with each unanswered call. David and Boyd, three and four years old, had been playing in the yard at our home on Sixth Avenue next to the Manister River in Manister, Michigan. They had only been out of my sight ten minutes when they disappeared. We searched for an hour with no success. Then we began to panic. We decided we had better telephone the police.

    Within 30 minutes a group of policemen, firemen, Boy Scouts, and friends were searching the area. About 4:00 in the afternoon, an officer reported, “Better call the state police and have them bring Saber, the German shepherd.”

    Saber arrived, pulling hard on his leash. He bounded up the stairs to the boys’ bedroom and jumped on their beds. The trainer rubbed Saber’s head and nose with the boys’ clothes.

    “Off with the leash!” commanded the dog trainer, and the big dog scrambled headlong down the stairs. “Go find them, Saber!” he called, as the dog bounded out the door.

    Saber sniffed the house and yard before running across the street to a small wooded area, then made a sharp turn to the south.

    “Oh, no! Not the river!” I cried, as I ran after the barking dog. He didn’t stop until he was right on the riverbank where we both identified four little foot prints walking out about 30 meters onto the ice. The silent evidence was there. A big hole was broken in the ice and cold, black, water swirled below it.

    Drowned? Dead? My two little innocent boys? These thoughts filled my mind and stopped my speech. I turned away to avoid the awful scene and I ran right into my brother and father. “Oh, how I hate God!” I cried out as I ran from the horrible scene.

    How long I ran I don’t know. I do know that when I finally fell down from exhaustion, I had covered a 20-mile distance and was at the home of an old friend who had been kind to me years ago. But I found no comfort there that day.

    The next morning I went back to the river. State police skin divers were doing their sad work. Each minute was more painful than the last, as I watched men in wet suits search the cold dark waters.

    After three hours of searching, one finally shouted, “Score one!”

    Not a little boy, not a child, but a number. Not my own flesh and blood, soft and warm, with a question on his lips, but a hard, stiff little body was lifted into the waiting boat. A frozen statue, with right hand outstretched and fingers clenched. It was David, and his frozen body told the tragedy. Boyd, the more adventuresome of the two, had gone first and broken through the ice. David had followed and tried to reach out to save him. Both went under, and death was quick in the freezing waters.

    A few agonizing minutes later came the second call, “Score two!”

    Grief overcame me. The days that followed were like a blur. I moved in and out of reality as funeral arrangements were made. I remember little of what was said during the service, except the minister’s parting words, “This is God’s will. We are not to understand.”

    I had to understand! These were no words of comfort. A God who would kill innocent children was no friend of mine now or ever, and I told the minister so.

    Tragedies often strengthen marriages, but not mine. I was so filled with bitterness that relationships of any kind were impossible. My wife and I divorced. I turned people away from me wherever I went. My anger filled every part of my life.

    After forcing a driver who made an illegal turn in front of me off the road, I beat him up. I attacked a 6-foot-4-inch skier whose skis poked me in the ribs while I was waiting to get on an airplane. Legal charges for my bad behavior grew in number, as did my debts to avoid being sentenced. My life was filled with anger and violence.

    I chose the usual means of worldly escape, but the pain still remained. I cried every time I remembered that awful scene. I continued blaming God for ruining my life and my chance for happiness. Years of complete frustration followed, and although I remarried and moved to another area, I did not feel peace.

    After coming home from work one evening, I saw two young men at my door. They announced themselves to be missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I shouted at them loudly, then took one of them by the back of the neck and ordered them off my property with the threat, “And don’t let me see you in this neighborhood again, or I’ll make you sorry you ever came here!” They left my property quickly.

    The incident, typical of many of my days, was soon forgotten. The following week, as my wife and I were about to sit down for our evening meal, the doorbell rang. I answered it, and much to my surprise, there stood the same two young men I had ordered off the property a week ago! Before I had a chance to say a thing, one of them looked me straight in the eye and said very sincerely, “I know you don’t want to hear what we have to say, but we have a very important message for you from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He wants you to hear it.”

    The confident, yet humble tone in his voice took me by surprise, and I listened. Then they listened as I expressed my anger and bitterness. They seemed to understand. They talked to me about “free agency.” My heart responded. And thus began my search for truth.

    I was eager for each weekly visit. My soul hungered for the answers to the questions Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And after death, what? The missionaries helped open the eyes of my understanding through the scriptures. My longing, aching heart began to heal.

    They explained my unanswered questions. I came to understand that although my little boys had died so early in life, they had had the privilege of earth life and had chosen to come here. They were not victims of a revengeful God who mercilessly let them drown, but were party to a great plan long before they became my David and my Boyd. This life was merely a step forward in their eternal progression. The magnitude of this idea made a great impact upon me.

    Today tears still fill in my eyes when I think of my boys. But they are not tears of anger or hate. They are tears of love and understanding. This new knowledge of the plan of salvation has transformed my life, and I have joined the ranks of the believers.

    Illustrated by Paul Mann