Of sons and fathers

The size twenty-nine white pants I purchased for my mission fourteen years ago don’t fit me anymore. I don’t know how many years I went to the temple to rent white pants instead of just buying a new pair. Denial, perhaps. But I was going to baptize my oldest child. So I went to the Distribution Center and purchased some. A friend hemmed them for me and I wore them, along with a new white shirt, white tie and white socks. I checked to see that the black Nike swoosh at the calf was not visible.

It was a half an hour before the service was to start. Saturday morning. Then, a cry of panic from outside my bedroom door. I quickly found myself handing the 911 operator to someone, it had to be my wife or my mom, they were the only ones there and I knelt straddling my father’s unresponsive body on the floor. His lips and fingers blue and his eyes glazed. I gave away the phone so I could bless him, but there was no peace in my mind, no transcendent spirit. So I did what I could, what I could remember. I stretched my hands out. “Oh God,” I thought, “let this be right.” And I rebuked his condition and commanded him to be well.

The emergency responders were soon there. I smile now thinking about what they thought this guy dressed in white was doing. I told them we were going to a religious service. And then we went through the litany of medications and medical history that could perhaps contextualize his condition. And then they left. At some point my sister and one of my brothers came – a physician – and they followed them to the hospital. Another brother went to the chapel to greet our friends.

I changed and drove my mother to the hospital as well.

My brother – the physician – and my sister had traveled half the continent to be there that day. You can’t keep the grandkids at the hospital, though. They couldn’t see my dad like this and they had come to see more than the aspirantly sterile floors and walls of that building. At some point, it was just me and my physician brother again. And as my mother looked on I anointed his head and my brother laid on hands to seal it. “Please let me feel your spirit,” I thought. And I did.

After church, we drove to the stake center where the font was again filled. I entered the warm grave and immersed my son. I stood with my family around him and pressed my hand to his damp head. “At the appropriate time you will be called and ordained a king and a priest to your God. And though you will die, you will yet be made alive. You will be raised up and behold your Savior and your kin.” I am shaking.

Every day I go to the hospital. Work is flexible and the hospital has wifi. I watch my dad struggle against the restraints that keep him from removing the tubes to his lungs and stomach. I know that they are giving him an amnesiate, that he won’t remember. But he is still suffering. It hurts to watch.

On a good day they extubate him. My other brother, the last sibling to arrive, has come and the four brothers surround their father. Again, I anoint his head with the oil. My oldest brother seals it. His hopeful promises quicken me as I hope they quicken my dad. They re-intubate in the morning.

Five weeks and my dad is released. He stays with us until he is strong enough to fly home. On the last day, I place my hands on my parents’ heads. My mother is spent, my father recovering. Finally, peace and clarity. Words come to me as I promised they would come to my son six week earlier: “You will prophecy, and your words shall be a stream of living fire.”


  1. Mormon charismatic gifts did not end in the 19th century. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  2. Wow.

    This brings back so many personal memories – and tears.

    Thank you.

  3. Wow.

  4. SC said it. Amen.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Jonathan, I am so pleased to know that your father is healthy again.

    Your words here are important to me. Thank you.

  6. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Okay, totally bawling now. Thank you so much, J.

  7. Thank you so much.

  8. Rebecca J says:

    This is so powerful. I thank you for sharing it.

  9. Glad to hear he’s pulled through. Very moving, J.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    You sporting the size 36 these days? All that fire in your belly, methinks. Nice stuff, J.

  11. And, um, since we’re talking about fashionable distractions from serious topics on the other thread–size 29?? Seriously? I think I’m bigger than that! Marriage has been good to you :)

  12. Doh. Great minds…

  13. Thanks all.

    I still like to think I have it in me to get to 30, alas.

    …and Steve – 32. Stop projecting.

  14. I hope you’re raising the same kind of sons that your father raised. This was beautiful.

  15. Thanks for this, J. Beautiful.

  16. Nate Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing this. As a new father I found it particularly inspiring.

  17. Thank you for sharing this. It came at a good time.

  18. J. I’m so glad you’re dad is doing better. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  19. Thanks for sharing, J. A beautiful juxtaposition of the images of the liquid grave and the unction, and forgetting (medic-types usually call those drugs “amnestics”) and remembering and fear and clarity. That holy jolt of a fingertip against warm oil as it disperses over a scalp never leaves me. I am grateful that as we have entered the twenty-first century we have not forgotten the nineteenth, and this beautiful piece reminds me how grateful I am of that fact.

    Your dad’s lucky to have you. So is your son.

  20. Latter-day Guy says:

    That was beautiful. I’ve been feeling a bit guilty regarding my lack of enthusiasm for tomorrow’s conference, but this post really softened my heart. Thank you.

  21. wonderful, J.

  22. J-That was extremly touching–I have tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms. I’m so grateful to have you as a bro-in-law–I have seen the power of the priesthood displayed many times with you and your bros and it never fails to move me.

  23. W. V. Smith says:

    Hope all is well with your dad, J.

  24. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  25. Beautiful, inspiring, evocative. Thank you.

  26. How blessed your parents are—it would be an answer to prayer if our son chose to live his life in such a way that he could give his father a blessing.

  27. Thanks for this post Jonathan. You bring a unique and moving perspective to the modern world of healing administration and ritual.

  28. As a big fan of the priesthood blessing, I loved this DEEPLY. Nothing better than a man who knows his priesthood power and uses it to bless his family.

  29. Well said, J. Your faith went a long way in sustaining the sealing we pronounced. You prayed to feel the Spirit. I was scared out of my mind. I understand better the strength of having others in the circle, especially brothers, as the blessing is given.