When I was a teenager I often found my father to be embarrassing to me, in numerous half-remembered ways. This is a common enough phenomenon.(1) Some of that embarrassment found expression at Church. In particular, he seemed to lack the deference to local authorities the other kids’ fathers had, and he also seemed to be embarrassingly smart.
My dad was a college professor (of education) in a ward of mostly good, humble folk. He seemed to think of Church as an extension of the university. It was a place for discussion, debate, questioning and critique. None of the other boys’ fathers did this. To my teenage eye he seemed to lack appropriate deference to the decisions of local authorities.
His faith was like a rock (much stronger than mine), but he came from a different place and time in the Church. He had been schooled by the great Utah Institute teachers of a couple of generations ago, men like T. Edgar Lyon. He seemed to have a supreme confidence in the Church and his place in it. It was his Church, too, and he felt entitled and secure in voicing his opinions about things. This drove me a little nuts at the time, but from the perspective of maturity and increased experience I’ve grown to appreciate this more than I did as a boy. My assumptions about church leaders–that they are generally good and honorable people but far from infallible and prone to human error, as are we all–derive largely from my father. As a result, I have never lost faith as a result of disappointment in the words or actions of a church leader.(2)
One concrete example I remember involved a high school teacher who drove trucks during the summer to make ends meet. In the summers he would come to Church in an open neck shirt, sans suit or tie. The local leadership started leaning on him hard to at least wear a tie, but my dad came to his defense, and told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t need to wear a tie if he didn’t want to. At the time I was mortified by this, but now I appreciate his willingness to “throw down”(3) in defense of a friend he felt was being yanked around unnecessarily.
He was also really smart, which annoyed me no end at the time. On one occasion, he was asked to substitute teach the youth Sunday School class, and in the drama of youth I died a thousand deaths sitting in that class. It wasn’t like the other classes at all.
As the class ended and we walked from the room, I was preparing to offer obsequious apologies to my friends for having to sit through such a lesson. To my great astonishment, they liked it. They gushed about what a great lesson it was and what a great teacher he was and how he hadn’t talked down to them and they actually learned things and on and on. I was completely shocked by their reaction. And I began to see my father through the eyes of my friends, as others saw him, and my appreciation for him began to grow that day.(4)
(1) See, for example, the experiences of 15-year old Jeremy Duncan in the comic strip Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, distributed by King Features.
(2) Rather like the old Mad TV staple routine, Lowered Expectations, which was the name of a dating service parody on the show.
(3) An expression meaning “to engage in combat” common in UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] parlance.
(4) A personal shout out to J. Stapley: Thanks for putting me up at your place, and please extend my gratitude to your lovely wife for me. The footnotes in this post are in your honor.