As my mother and father are nearing their 50th wedding anniversary, I decided to write about my parents’ impact on my life. There is no relationship outside of marriage as special as the one between a parent and child. The upbringing a child receives not only shapes the rest of their life, but the lives of every one that child touches as well. It’s a ripple effect and huge responsibility for parents.
Life from the perspective of a three-year old is really strange to adults. It is one of the earliest memories I have—one where I’m sitting on the first row bench seat of our family’s gray Astro van, looking out the front windshield while I notice two women occupying the driver and passenger bucket seats in my periphery. I imagine I was a little older than three at the time, but age is such a fluid thing when I look back on it now.
Nothing special was happening. We were simply driving south on Indiana State Highway 41 past the Whirpool factory to who knows where. The most poignant part of that memory is the image of my mother talking to this lady in the passenger seat, but the only thing I see from my limited view is the waving circling hand motions each lady makes as they take turns conversing. I wondered to myself, “Why does Mom and this lady always make circles with their hands when they talk?” I thought it very strange, and I guess that might be the main reason why the memory stuck with me.
And yet, perhaps another reason this memory stuck with me for so long was due to the reinforced actions behind it. My memories of my younger life were all like this: going to the duck pond, grabbing pizza at the McDonald’s on the way to visit someone, and picking people up to go to church with us. They were all acts of service, kindness, and love that I saw my mother commit. It was those acts of service that prepared me to serve others through participating in Eagle Scout projects, mowing lawns, or even by visiting and singing to strangers in a nursing home.
My mother has done so much for my benefit, starting most obviously from a temple marriage and giving birth to me. That love and sacrifice continued as she dealt with all the issues and challenges in raising a little boy at the close of the twentieth century. However, out of all the things my mother did for me—many of which were more appreciated and recognized at the time—the clarity of 20/20 hindsight revealed to me how my mother has impacted my life more than anything else. At first, I was surprised to realize how her persistent service to others became the greatest sculpting of my life’s course, but I quickly comprehended how this could be from all my experiences with developing a testimony, serving a mission, and becoming a father. My service to my fellow man on a mission blessed my life in more ways than I will ever be able to appreciate, and those blessings and experiences are only surpassed by the feeling of commitment I had when I first held my sons. Our lives are enriched beyond measure when we serve, and that is what my mother taught me.
Of course, the Savior’s Atonement was the ultimate service, sacrifice, and act of love for me and all mankind. Even though we do not seem to think of this reality often, that service provided through the Atonement surely enriched and glorified the life of Jesus Christ to an incomprehensible level. Through her example, Mom taught me how to be more like Him.
If I could only choose one word to describe Dad, I would have to choose “Projects”. While there is no one specific memory that clearly encapsulates this attribute and impact he had on my life, my mind is full of moments where Dad was actively working on something to help others. I knew his was a life of service as well, though I could not appreciate that fact as directly as I did from Mom. However, I found that Dad’s individual actions did not drastically alter my development; rather, it was his passion that drove me.
I believe our younger lives contain many seeds of potential that sprout and grow at different times and in different ways depending on how others influence us. I vividly remember Dad reading stories to me at bedtime and Mom bemoaning the fact that I liked his reading voice better than hers. I imagine his earlier forays into artistic painting helped develop that talent, but I loved to explore the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and adventures of Star Wars with him when I was too young to read them well myself. That sparked a love of reading that carried on through today. Even more profound, Dad was the one who taught and encouraged my exploration of computers and programming. The evidence of that teaching is clear for anyone to see by my choice in careers.
Whenever I had an overly ambitious idea come to me, it was Dad that helped me turn it into a reality beyond what I had thought possible. When I wanted to build a spaceship, he caught the vision and supported me in every step. When the Scout office requested some technical help, he went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the entire office was fully networked.
Dad has a pure, unadulterated passion for life—an approach that calls for the very best in everything he does. He helped me realize anything worth doing in life is worth putting your heart into, and that approach has embedded a persistent nature in me to take on any challenge I face. From re-learning how to swim to serving a mission—no matter how great or small the trial is—Dad’s example taught me how to go after what I wanted. It was that drive that helped me gain my own testimony of Heavenly Father’s existence and love for me, and that has made all the difference.