This is about honoring my parents.
As you may know, I live with my wife and sons in Helsinki, Finland. My parents and siblings live in the Los Angeles area, where I was raised. My children are my parents’ only grandchildren. Since the boys were born, we have seen each other once a year for two or three weeks at a time. I’ve recently returned from a three-week visit to California, my first in four years and our first ever as a married couple. (My brother had not yet met my wife.)
Well, it was a great trip. It was generally relaxing — hanging out in parks under the sycamores and the hot blue sky; visiting old friends and watching our kids mingle; experiencing the wonder and excitement of the ocean; swimming and playing in the same back yard in which I swam and played.
And there were great moments. One was the Sunday after we arrived, and my brother and sister and their spouses (and pets) all came over. As we sat in the lush garden and laughed and talked, watching the boys chase the dogs, I saw my parents, sitting more quietly on the edge of the group, basking in the presence of their family. I made an effort to memorize the looks on their faces as they watched us.
My father and I also spent an evening at Dodger Stadium, where we spent many evenings when I was younger, but now we talked as two men — about baseball, the realities of my mother’s health, the dynamics of serving in the church, politics and, my father’s great passions, birds and conservation. Again, moments of that evening are etched in my memory and recorded in my journal.
Later, the boys got sick for a few days, and we decided to give them blessings. My father anointed them and I blessed them as my wife held them on her lap and my mother looked on and wept. I’m not really sure what to say about that experience. Performing a priesthood ordinance in connection to three levels of people to whom I’m sealed gives me a sense of something like the hearts of the fathers and the hearts of the children, but it is more complex and personal than that. Here’s my best try: we were all in a room where I had argued bitterly with my parents and disappointed them in ways I try not to remember, and I felt like those sins were forgiven and that person was dead and I was there in his place, buoyed up and eternally connected to this network of people who love me, and whom I love.
My parents have never complained to me about my decision to live abroad, and they never ask if or when we will return to California. They treat my wife and her family with respect and love, and they honor her Finnish-ness to a degree that surprises me. I cannot remember a single negative comment or gesture in relation to our situation.
But here comes the hard part. As they took us to the airport and we hugged and said goodbye, I could see in their eyes that their hearts were breaking. I could see the emotional burden they bear without assigning blame or without expressions of bitterness, but instead a greater outpouring of love. On the long, dark flight to Paris, I had lots of time to feel equal shares of guilt and gratitude, and also to watch my boys as they slept and realize they will probably break my heart as they go out in the world and live as expansively as I hope they will. I hope I can react with the same dignity and charity as my parents, and cherish the incredible moments we have as they come along.