Children, Chairs, and Covenants


While serving as general chairman of a northern California leadership convention, I was suddenly impressed with the extraordinary inner beauty of a young lady who approached the registration desk. Her outward appearance left nothing to be desired, but it was her cheerful personality that caught my attention. Her happiness with life was wonderfully contagious. After the girl left, I said to my wife, “Nothing would thrill me more than to have a daughter just like that young lady.” Then our attention was drawn to a sandy-haired, freckled young man equipped with guitar, blue denims, faded blue shirt, and well-worn tennis shoes. His smile only emphasized his warm, friendly personality. “Been on a mission?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied, mentioning the place; and because others stood in line, he said good-bye and went to his room. “I hope we have a son like that some day,” I said quietly to my wife. “So do I,” she replied.

The next day I saw the couple walking hand in hand, looking at small wild flowers. Their eyes mirrored the happiness they felt. That night I watched as they joined others around a fireplace and seriously talked about the Church, God, their families, and school.

The next day, Sunday, in testimony meeting they sat together, sang the opening song with great enthusiasm, and then with quiet reverence and a special depth of feeling blended their voices in the sacramental hymn. When the priesthood leader turned the time over to the audience for testimonies, the girl stood up.

“I love my dad and mother,” she began, then stopped, brushed a tear away with the back of her hand, cleared her throat, and continued. “I haven’t always been able to say that. When I was about thirteen, I had a problem and went unexpected to my father’s office. He is president of a large corporation. Upon being told that he was too busy to see me, I rushed home, flung myself upon the bed, and cried. Mother, hearing my sobs, came into the room. ‘Daddy doesn’t love me!’ I blurted out through the tears. ‘Why do you say that?’ Mother asked. Then I told her what had happened. Nothing more was said, except my mother firmly declared that Father did indeed love me, and I was not to think otherwise again.

“The next day while at school I received a call from my father’s private secretary. ‘Could you come to the office at 4:00 o’clock today for a visit with President ____________?’ and she named my father. I was thrilled, and the appointment was set. At 4:00 o’clock I was ushered into my father’s office with as much pomp and ceremony as the richest client. There, my father told me to sit in a brand-new chair located next to his desk. Then he said, ‘That is the chair. Whenever you have things bothering you, come and sit in that chair, and I will drop whatever I am doing and listen to and help you, because I care about you more than I care about anything in this world except your mother and your brothers and sisters.’ And you know,” the girl said, wiping more tears from her eyes, “he never once broke his promise.”

As I sat there, I thought how wonderful it would be if every family had the chair in their home. How much easier growing up would be if every child knew there was a place where he could receive the whole attention, unconditional love, and wisest help of his parents—a place where parents would listen to him, because it is often in listening that the right solutions to problems come. As young people dream about and plan for their future homes, they should determine that there will always be such a place for their children.

There is another important aspect of family life about which young people can make early determinations. I have often thrilled at the covenants the Lord has made with his children in the scriptures. Yet I find that seldom do parents make covenants with their own children.

While I was serving as a deacon, teacher, and priest, we usually had a priesthood lesson about the value of keeping the Word of Wisdom, and almost always a part of that lesson would concern itself with the marvelous story of Creed Hammond. Creed was an excellent runner whose coach tried to get him to drink some wine the night before the national track championship. A few years ago in a stake conference I heard Creed himself tell of that experience, and I was very moved when I caught a detail that I had missed as a boy. President Hammond told of going as a young boy from Springville to Provo with his mother and sister to hear Apostle Reed Smoot speak. That evening Elder Smoot chose as his topic the Word of Wisdom. Returning home, Sister Hammond stopped the buggy, took her son and daughter by the hand, and they made a covenant together that they would never violate the principles contained in the Word of Wisdom. “The night,” Creed said, “when the coach wanted me to drink the wine, I could feel my mother’s hand and my sister’s hand, and, though it was long ago, I could hear my mother’s voice. I could not violate the covenant we had made together.”

As a boy I had seen my father sit for years upon the stand as a member of a bishopric. He was always faithful to the Church and its teachings. Yet one night as we milked cows together, I heard him say, “You are now a teenager, and you will be tempted to smoke and drink.” “I guess that is correct,” I found myself thinking. He continued, “If you are tempted, do not smoke or drink behind my back, but come to me, and I shall buy the liquor and the tobacco, and we will do it together! Will you make that covenant with me?” Somehow the concern in his heart reached mine, and we made a solemn agreement. I can write today that I did not smoke or drink or drink tea or coffee, not always because I knew the Word of Wisdom was revealed from God, but many times because of my dad. When tempted I could hear the milk hitting the bottom of the bucket and his voice saying, “Don’t do it behind my back; we will do it together.” It is needless to say, perhaps, that I was never tempted to smoke or drink with Father.

While visiting with a young man a few years ago, he told me that when he was twelve, his father, the ward bishop, upon finishing his Aaronic Priesthood interview, said, “Son, I have talked with you as your bishop. Now I want to visit with you as your father. I can honestly tell you that I have never smoked or drunk or touched tea or coffee. And I want you to know how good it makes me feel to be able to say that to you. Now I would like you to covenant with me that when your own son or daughter is twelve years old, you will be able to tell him or her the same thing.” The covenant was made. Just one year after this, this same man, still the bishop, still a prominent dentist, was just finishing his dissertation prior to receiving another doctors degree, this time in education; he went to his medical doctor for a physical and was told he was in perfect health. Yet that night he cancelled all of his appointments for the next day and arranged to take his wife to the temple. On the way he discussed with her many family financial matters. Upon returning home he went into my friend’s bedroom, reminded him of the covenant they had made a year earlier and then told him that if anything should happen to him that he (my friend) was the man of the house and that he should take care of his mother. Concluding, he bore his testimony that he knew Jesus was the Christ and that the Church was led by prophets, and then he left the room. A little later, hearing a scream, my friend rushed to his parents’ room, and finding his father lying on the floor, he administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He heard his dad pronounced dead when the ambulance arrived. As he told me of this experience, tears came to his eyes, and as he looked at his own three-month-old son, whom he held in his arms, he said, “When he is twelve years old, I will be able to tell him that I have never tasted tea or coffee, liquor or tobacco, and how good that makes me feel.”

We can often depend upon one another for strength and courage. Listening, really listening in a chair or some private place in the home can draw parents and children closer together, and sometimes the reality that a father and mother really love a child can make the difference between a child choosing right or wrong. Furthermore, making covenants with each other can only strengthen our desire to do good and live right.

As a father I am grateful to a young lady at Lake Tahoe and her father for real insight into raising children, and to the Lord for making covenants with me so that I in turn can make them with my children. I would counsel you young people to plan now that you also might make your covenants and enjoy their eternal benefits with your future children.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Fletcher