I remember when I was washing the car as a 17-year-old young man, my father came out to the driveway and, with justification, began to criticize me for something I had done wrong. I became upset and turned to dad and said something like, “Hey, let up, dad. This is the first time I have ever been a teenager.”
My father, in a beautifully sensitive way, said, “Hugh, this is the first time I have ever been a parent.”
My father, perhaps unknowingly, had taught me a great lesson. As a teenager, I had responsibilities to my parents and was to be patient with them as I expected them to be patient and understanding with me.
All through his life Jesus Christ referred to the relationship he had with his Heavenly Father. He taught his disciples, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). Often he would remind those with whom he associated to “Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). This commandment is almost as old as formal religion. Not only had he spoken it to ancient Israel, but the Savior repeated it to the man who asked, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Among the commandments that the Savior reiterated were these words: “Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). Companion commandments, and rightfully so.
Many of a person’s attitudes are borrowed directly from his or her parents. When a father and mother teach the advantages of adhering to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and do so in a loving way, their children usually respond by accepting the teachings and reflecting them in their lives. As a mission president, I was reminded constantly that an elder or sister, even at age 19, 20, or 21, bears the attitudes, beliefs, and approaches to life learned at the knees of parents. The Savior taught us to honor and respect our earthly parents, knowing that what we become depends largely upon what we receive from them. He also taught all of us, including parents, to “become as little children” (Matt. 18:13) “for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). I believe he expects parents to reinforce the absolute purity and innocence, total absence of deceit or cunning, and other Christlike virtues that each infant has when born into this mortal life.
I remember with pride hearing of my own father’s honesty in the accounting profession. It was easy to honor him, because he had honored the commandments of our Father in Heaven. He and I still fish together even though we don’t have the time we once had. I see a twinkle in his eye when I succeed on the trout stream or do something that meets his approval. I feel the same deep pride and honor in what he has done and still can accomplish.
While attending high school or just beginning college, a teenage friend of mine had a bitter verbal fight with his father. The father, very upset, left the room, and while climbing the stairs to the second floor, he suffered a heart attack and died. My friend commented so many times how he wished he had honored his father and how he wished those angry words had never been spoken.
Another young friend of mine had a father who was serving as bishop. He often said he wished his dad was not the bishop so he could sit with the family in sacrament meetings and could spend more time at home and with the family. As the years passed, my friend changed his mind. He honored his father because he had served well as a bishop and the family had really learned more in many respects and had shared rich spiritual experiences that would not have come had the father been with the family more instead of being bishop. The son honored his father and his father’s Church calling, just as he honors the memories of that wonderful man.
I had the privilege on a number of occasions to be in the home of Brother and Sister T. Edgar Lyon. That great scholar and teacher would inspire us as he talked about Joseph Smith or Nauvoo or the General Authorities. His six fine sons—David, John, Laurie, Jamie, Teddy, and Lynn—have honored their parents by living the gospel as they were taught at home. That is the best way we can honor our parents. The way we live tells our Heavenly Father whether we are honoring our moms and our dads.
While attending grade school and then later the University of Utah, I had the opportunity of knowing Barbara Benson and the other daughters and sons of President and Sister Ezra Taft Benson. As I would talk with Barbara or Bonnie or Mark or Beth, I was impressed with the deep respect these children had for their parents. On one occasion Barbara said, “It is so easy to respect my parents because of the deep respect they have for us.”
Sometimes a parent will do something wrong, causing a young boy or girl or a young man or woman to ask, “How can I honor my parents when they do things that are not right?” The answer, of course, comes in the words of the Savior where he said, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). We have the same responsibility to forgive a parent’s mistake as we expect to be forgiven by them and by others.
Dr. Russell Nelson, former Sunday School general president, commented recently about his parents and the great honor he feels for them. After a luncheon, while walking to another building, I heard of the great respect that this marvelous man has for his mother and father. I felt certain that this is a characteristic of happy and successful people everywhere.
Several months ago I was talking with one of the most effective athletes I know. This powerful young man had just given a particularly outstanding performance in a football game. Afterwards, I asked him what gave him his great motivation. He said, “Didn’t you see, my parents were watching me.” He was honoring them by extra-mile effort on the football field. A Sterling Scholar, a beautiful young woman, when commenting about the scholarship that she had just won, said, “You know, this never would have happened had mother not encouraged me and been such a strong example.” She was honoring her mother.
While I was talking with some parents a short while ago, the mother stated that she didn’t worry when her children were out late at night on different occasions. I asked why she felt that way. She said, “The kids call if they are going to be late. I always know where they are and what they are doing.” Her sons and daughters were honoring her.
I remember a young woman in college who was called upon to make a very difficult decision. She was especially sensitive to the feelings of her mother and father and so asked them for advice. After listening carefully, she made a proper decision that affected the rest of her life. She honored her parents.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, of the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, calls his home every day just to say hello to his mom and dad and to tell them what is happening. Elder Maxwell truly respects and honors his parents.
Honor is a simple word; it means to give special respect and to pay tribute. It means to respond to teachings that have been patiently and thoughtfully given. Each of our families would be more happy if we as children would honor our fathers and our mothers. The oft-quoted statement of President Abraham Lincoln, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother,” could be spoken sincerely by almost all of the teenagers in the Church. Much of what you are or ever hope to be, you owe to the patient and encouraging words and actions of your parents, or those who serve as your parents.
May you honor your mother and your father every day by thanking them for all they have done in righteousness for you.