When I departed for my mission to London, England, in 1972 my 91-year-old grandfather Mahonri Moriacumer White gave me a hug and exclaimed, “You have no idea what lies in store for you!”
When I returned two years later, Grandpa was no longer here. Had he been alive, he could have given me the same advice about the future prospects of getting married and becoming a father.
Raising eight sons was a little bit like running a miniature missionary training center, especially when it came to food: hundreds of gallons of milk and truckloads of dry cereal, along with thousands of grilled-cheese sandwiches served at the counter on Sunday nights over the years; beans on toast, a staple missionary meal from my days in England, was always a favorite.
When we finished the last of 24 consecutive pinewood derby cars, we had shoe boxes full of old models we had carved. The only winning car we fashioned was one that had to run down the track backwards for some reason. We drove to dozens of Scout camps and fathers-and-sons outings. We ordained our young men to 24 priesthood offices, marveled at eight patriarchal blessings and missionaries being set apart. We made the solemn drive to the Provo MTC eight times and watched each boy walk through that door on his way to becoming a man.
Nobody wants to brag about being a good father. I know many men who far surpass me in parenting skills who, through no fault of their own, have children that make unwise choices that result in a lot of sorrow.
Circumstances vary widely, and parenting is work that is done in the trenches, at ground zero, in real-time, with very little previous training. The advice I proffer on fathering is not my own, but rather the pieces of wisdom from others to whom I have tried to pay attention as I faced my parenting tasks. Here they are:
•“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” – President David O McKay.
•“If you don’t have a relationship with your child, nothing else will matter.” – from my own father, Dr. Merritt H. Egan, in a private conversation. (He would counsel me to treat my sons very well during the first 10 minutes I was with them. Then the following hour would go much more smoothly, even if some difficult issues needed to be discussed. It’s along the same lines as not talking about grades at the dinner table.)
•“Your children are not distractions, they are the very purpose.” – Richard and Linda Eyre, from a fireside address.
•“Live your life as a father so that your children will say, 'If my mission president is anything like my father, then I want to serve a mission.' ” – From my oldest brother, M. Winston Egan, in a private conversation.
•On being realistic with a son about the rigors of missionary work, I like the following: “I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
I used to remind my sons as they left for the mission field that I was the fifth son to serve in my family, and that I was surprised by how difficult the experience was, and how nobody had been able to communicate that forthcoming difficulty to me because I had to experience it for myself. Knowing that it was tough for dad and all their older brothers made it easier for each of my sons to accept the trials of being away doing hard work.
• “The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.” – President Harold B. Lee.
•“Just wait until you’re married and you have 10 kids. Then you’ll really know you’re alive!” – My mission president Milan D. Smith (who actually raised 10 children), in a private conversation.
•“Raise your children with the attributes of personal prayer, personal scripture study and personal acts of Christian service. These behaviors will have more to do with your children reaching their spiritual goals than other outward signs of church activity.” – Elder Dean L. Larsen, from a stake conference adult session address.
•“Be an active listener. Empathetic listening is the key to making deposits in the Emotional Bank Account. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” -- Steven R. Covey, the mission representative to my mission in London, England.
We spent a lot of father-and-son time traveling in the car. I realized that during extended periods together, every once in a while, important things would come up, and we really had opportunities to connect and teach.
Many have observed that “quality time has to be quantity time.” All of my sons had different interests and talents. We tried to play to their strengths on an individual basis. There was no set mold. As we would discuss an open range of topics through the years, we kept in mind that no matter what our children were saying, they were always asking, “Do you love me?”
“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 2011, pp. 407–15). This statement from President Smith underscores the reality that our work as parents is infinite and eternal in nature. Hugh Nibley liked to remind us all in reference to Moses 1:39 that the “glory is in the work.”
Finally, and most importantly, I credit my wife, Leslie, with bearing the major workload in raising our sons and preparing them for missions, temple marriages and parenting on their own.
There are many challenges ahead and many lessons yet to be learned by us, our sons and our grandchildren.
Elder Marion D. Hanks gave us comfort years ago in a stake conference when he remarked that “God would never give up on any of His children.” This assurance gives us courage and great hope for the future.
Note: For the first time in 17 years, Dwight and Leslie Egan did not receive a telephone call from a missionary son on Mother’s Day this year; all eight of their sons are returned missionaries. But they did enjoy the presence of 16 grandchildren in lieu of such a call.