Below is a letter my father wrote to his 11 children back in 1984. I was 15 at the time and was one of the children still at home, along with my younger brother and two younger sisters. Much of the content of this letter was directed to my seven older siblings, many of whom were married and had young children. As I’ve grown older and begun my own family, I’ve found more and more wisdom in my Dad’s observations and insights. The original letter sent to all of us was handwritten and photocopied. I remember Dad going to my grandma’s temple condo in St. George for hours at a time to work on this letter where he would not be easily interrupted. I look upon this letter, in some ways, as scripture for our family. However, the principles contained in it, I think, apply well to virtually any family and so I share it with anyone who might be interested.
July 17, 1984
To all my children—wether “bound or free,”
For some time I have been wanting to write all of you about some things of hopeful significance. Many of you have been a party to much of this material already. However, there should be a little new material for each of you, and a letter such as this seems appropriate because some things just may need to be written, and I would like for all of you to have this together. As you already know, getting all of you who are at home together all at once for Family Home Evening is often difficult.
Last New Year’s Day I went set aside to do this, but it was such a beautiful clear day that I succumbed to the temptation to take your Mother for a ride to see what was happening in the area. So much was going on in construction that it took the better part of the day. For instance, we were surprised to find two new chapels about completed that we knew nothing about.
Some may say that it’s because of premature senility; but to write a letter such as this, I need a little peace and quiet, and the best time to get it is on a holiday. So I planned to write on Memorial Day, but circumstances took us to Parowan instead. One compensation, however, was that, beside visiting the cemetery with your Grandmother, we got to have a Boy Scout breakfast with his honer, the Governor. So if this letter seems a little disjointed, it may partly be because it had to be written in bits and pieces.
To begin with, I’d like to tell you what I remember about what I believe was the next to last phone conversation I had with my Dad. He seemed to be in a calm philosophical mood. He told me about his great affection for Mom and how pretty he thought she was even in her very weakened condition. (As you get older, old people don’t look so old, perhaps we then see somewhat beyond the physical.) But of profound significance to me, he said that he though he had raised his children a little better than he had been raised, and then went on to say that his children seemed to be doing an even better job. Considering the situation, I have hardly ever heard a more appreciated statement.
A large purpose of this letter is to encourage you to keep up the tradition. Some of you may think that that should be no problem at all. Actually, barring bad luck, and if your careful, you should be able to do considerably better. Hopefully, you are, or can be, so much better parents.
Yet, considering the circumstances of my birth, I am so grateful that my parents married each other. As most of you know, I hope to go back to the Atlanta Temple before long, with some of my brothers and sisters, and have Mom and Dad sealed to each other and be sealed to them. It could be argued that this will not work, but I have a personal reason to believe that it will. Speaking of gratitude, just recently your Mother and I almost spontaneously and together expressed to each other how fortunate we were that we got each other. Call it delusion if you will, but don’t tell us.
As we get from heredity our basic building blocks, we can profit greatly by a careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of an ancestry and also our uncles, aunts, etc., as characteristics they have may pop out in us or our children. If I had been more keenly conscious of this, I’m sure it would have helped. That’s one reason why it’s important to learn about them. For instance, if we should decide to become great musicians, it would be comforting to see evidence of that in our ancestry, but if none can be found, we probably would be well advised to prepare with extraordinary care, or direct our efforts to a more promising area. In a physical sense, it has been said that Betty Grable, the pin-up girl of World War II, was asked her recipe for the pretty teeth she had. She reportedly replied, “Carefully select your grandparents.” But she did many years ago of lung cancer possibly because her parents didn’t have the talent to effectively teach her not to smoke.
Just thin of your hereditary assets which, as far as mortality is concerned, you got as a free or nearly free gift. You are probably blessed to be in the upper fiver percent of all the people who now or ever have lived on this earth that we know about, with the possible exception of the people of the City of Enoch an the remaining Nephites for a generation or so after the Savior appeared to them.
- Most of you appear to have excellent health.
- Most of you are rather good looking (remember what Tom says about good looks?).
- Most of you are well endowed with native ability.
- Most of you are interested in the significant things that go on in the world. (D&C 88:78-79;90:15; 93:53, John 8:32; Abr. 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:15; D&C 88:118)
- Critically important, most of you have the talent to believe.
- Even most of you have considerable charity—possibly more than you suppose (more on this later).
- A couple or so of you have rather charming personalities (understated your Mother says).
- Your parent love each other.
In addition, just look at the opportunities you have and the favorable conditions most of you are in (relatively free country), despite having a somewhat worthless father and a harried mother.
Maybe I should comment on that “worthless father” bit. When your Mother and I got married she agreed to live in the mission field because I thought so much more could be done there and also because I thought that it was a better place to raise a family. I had seen the difference.
There was a problem though. I always had the vague, and sometimes not so vague, feeling that something was amiss with be but didn’t exactly know what it was. Since, I have learned that part of my problem is called mixed dominance, and I also have low blood hemoglobin. Once I tried to give blood in Louisville and they wouldn’t take it. Here in St. George I tried; they tested me twice, and all that was done was to tell me to go home and eat some nails. Whether the mixed dominance is because of heredity, a birth injury, not permitted to crawl enough, some other reason, or a combination, I don’t know. My memory is a little fuzzy on some of this. The cause of my low blood hemoglobin may be heredity but may be developmental. A contributing factor may be that during my youth I was almost always hungry. An example of this was my Dad not wanting me to drink separated milk when we visited Grandpa and Grandma Planck. They had a hand-turned separator to separate the fresh milk from the cream. (They fed most of the milk to the hogs and shipped the cream.) Dad’s heart was in the right place when he instead wanted me to drink whole milk, but I can remember just craving the separated milk. I have wondered since if there wasn’t something in it that I needed without the cream.
Anyway, one evening when your Mother and I were moving into the apartment in Louisville where we were living when you three older ones were born, and being somewhat tired, a strong feeling came over me that making a living after graduating was going to be a near total commitment and that I would just not have the needed energy and time to properly raise you in the mission field. I felt I needed the full program of the Church to help, which did not exist at that time in the mission field. From where I was unloading our belongings, I remember going up the stairs to our apartment and telling your Mother that. She was overjoyed with the prospect of returning closer to home, but before this time I cannot even once remember her even murmuring about it.
Despite all the great characteristics most of you have, and these can become liabilities if you are not grateful for and humble about them, most of you are heir to tendencies for some weaknesses—the serious ones being mostly intangible. As all are innocent in the beginning (D&C 93:38) these intangible weaknesses are most likely not inherited but just the vulnerability to get them. For instance, in the physical sense, when I went to school, it was taught that rheumatic fever was not inherited, but because of inherited susceptibility, if both parents had had it, there was almost an eighty percent chance there children would get it. It seems that in a similar way we inherit a tendency to choose between what spirit we “list to obey” (D&C 29:45; Mosiah 2:32; Alma 3:26-27;John 10:14; 1 Timothy 4:2).
A careful look back into your family tree might give you reason to believe that:
One relatively minor problem could be a slowness to mature (a sometimes exasperation to your parents and to each other, but just be patient).
Most of you should be alert to the debilitating effects of at least three or four types of pride (D&C 90:17).
A couple or so of you should perhaps be on guard against some neurotic emotional tendencies.
There could be a tendency to make pleasure and the things of the world your god (D&C 1:16).
There could be a tendency to display righteousness (Matt. 6:2, 5), a usually transparent act thus destroying the very thing sought.
There could be a tendency to condemn for a word (2 Nephi 27:32) especially if something is said that is unpleasant for you, if it is not exactly and precisely accurate (as Paul says, “I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.” [2 Timothy 4:3]).
There could be a tendency to try to obtain praise and gain without earning it (Gen. 2:19) sometimes a tendency to demand both.
There could be a refusal to communicate or a refusal to let others do so (Alma 26:10). (Note that Aaron could rebuke his leader, Ammon; then note Ammon’s long defense.)
There could be a tendency to appropriate the material possessions of others and also their time by asking them to do too many favors and errands. (As Tom says, “When someone travels with you, you end up doing what they want to do instead of what you want to do.”) In other words, you can be an almost constantly hazard and irritant to others.
There could be a tendency to overindulge in anger (3 Nephi 12:21-22).
There could be a tendency to delight in revenge (D&C 98:23-26, 29, 30, 32, 41-43).
There could be a tendency to feel that you can’t be free unless it is demonstrated by breaking commandments; thus becoming less free (Mosiah 5:6; Abr. 3:25; Alma 12:11). This can finally get so bad with some people that they seem to get a perverted delight out of going against a mere suggestion.
There could be the tendency to deliberately and consciously sin with the intent of eventually straightening up not realizing, because of a lack of the spirit of prophesy, that the effort and suffering to truly straighten up, of necessity, must fully compensate for any pleasure derived from sin. This does not take into account the weakening of character which makes it difficult to generate the courage to turn around (1 Timothy 4:12). Nor does it take into account the wasted time because every stage of life seems to have its unique importance (Ecclesiastes 12:1, Alma 37:35).
An example of the latter is the story of a man I heard about who had been inactive since his youth. When he was in his seventies or eighties, after raising a large family, he took his wife to the Temple. After being sealed together he started crying uncontrollably. When asked what his trouble was he said, “I have lost my family,” as none of his children had been raised in the Church. Perhaps things were not as black as they appeared to him, but you get the point.
The most dreaded tendency of all, and perhaps the most frightful because of its devastating effect, might be on that has popped up here and there in your ancestry. This is a tendency to become bitter. On this problem an illustration might help. It is about a relative of yours. It is doubtful if any of you have ever seen him.
Several years ago, when I first met this man, the first thing I remember noticing about him was his slightly off-beat attire. He was quite a talker, another family trait, seemed somewhat uneducated but seemed to have considerable native ability. According to my memory, the first thing I remember him telling me was that he had been “kicked out” of a Sunday School class when he was twelve years old and had not been back to church in over forty years. It seemed to me that he was still angry and bitter over the incident and seemed to take delight in the person who “kicked him out” being responsible for his future lack of religious participation. He had a wife, who from the job she had, was a lady of ability. I saw her a few times later, and she always seemed to have a sad, resigned countenance—maybe party because she was the chief support of the family. He also had an attractive, capable daughter who at the time was about thirty years old. From the talk I heard, she had already made a mess of her life and was then in the midst of another different mess.
Apparently when he had found a listening ear it seemed that he waxed more eloquent telling, among other things, about what I considered was needling people and then would be very critical and bitter about them getting upset at him. He seemed to brag about one whole town being upset at him for the needling remarks he made about them in a letter to their newspaper.
On occasion when I would meet someone from the area where he lived, If I mentioned his name, I would get a sighing look or a similar type comment—sometimes an expression of embarrassment, hopelessness or, sometimes, I thought, disgust. I remember wanting to try to help him but don’t remember anything that I did. How much others tried to help, I don’t know, but I’m confident many tried or wanted to help.
My curiosity just got the best of me while writing this, and I undertook a telephone call to someone who know him better than I. From that call I learned that he died not long ago, but before that he had been attending religious services. Perhaps my observations were too harsh. It is somewhat of a relief.
Closely allied with bitterness there can be a tendency to get “hurt.” This can be so bad that some people cut off all but superficial communication with others. Such people sometimes additionally, perhaps unconsciously, develop techniques to receive little in the way of suggestion and especially criticism by making it too miserable for others to take a chance on crossing them in any way—even innocently. And further, such people, oftentimes because they are so starved for attention, affections and praise, will work out techniques to “demand” and “force” such and can be so self-decieved that when they get it they can’t distinguish between the fake and the real. They then become similar to the dream of sleep; they can drink and drink and become more and more thirsty and hardly be able to figure out anything. And even further, such people oftentimes, if they have been “hurt,” or imagine they have, will go around to what associates they have, who will listen to them, telling them what a scoundrel the person is who “hurt” them. Generally, instinctively they know they shouldn’t do this, so they loose self-respect, then they seek more praise, etc. It’s a very pitiful, vicious cycle.
If the foregoing gets bad enough some “ditch” their values and most other good things and become laws unto themselves. (Matt. 13:3, 10-13, 20, 21; D&C 88:35). We need to make our mind up beforehand that we are just not going to be offended. The test is how we act under stress. We shouldn’t let others provoke us to bad action (D&C 31:9; 101:4, 5; 136:31; Alma 62:41).
I’ve had some experiences of late that may, to some degree, illustrate some of the above.
Some time ago I became acquainted with a lady who left the Church after having been a convert for may years. She told me very “sweetly” about it (Alma 24:30). I then realized she was the person who had written anti-Mormon letters to the local newspaper.
“Did someone hurt you?” I then asked because of some past such experiences I had had.
“No,” she replied; then after a pause with a wondering look on her face she said, “No” again; then the same thing again.
Then apparently without realizing what she was doing, she “turned right around” and spent considerable time telling me how she had been hurt, humiliated, and “put in her place” after moving here to St. George, partly so she could be closer to the Temple. She said that she had attended the Church for about twenty years and never heard the name of Christ mentioned once (D&C 107:4; Matt. 6:7). To list some specifics: Where was she when almost every talk and prayer was ended in His Name? Where was she during Testimony Meeting? Where was she during the Christmas and Easter programs? Where was she during the Sacrament? When the light goes out, how great is the darkness! (Matt. 6:23; D&C 76:98-100; Alma 12:11)
For reasons it would take too long to list here, I have wondered if I have ever known a more vain person—vanity in this case being defined as being more concerned about here status, lusts, appetites, and desires than about correct principles.
Some of here severe complaints against others seemed to me to be well-intentioned efforts to help her. For instance, she told me that at a Church social gathering where she was introduced after first moving here, the Bishop told her to tell everyone where she lived. Obviously the purpose was to let people know so she could be visited. She took offense because her opinion was that the Bishop wanted everyone to know that she hadn’t moved into one of the finest homes in the ward.
Some time ago when I went in to pay for some self-service gas, the middle-aged attendant and a plain-looking middle-aged lady were involved in a serious-appearing conversation. The lady looked as if she were about to burst into tears. As I left she said to the attendant, “I guess I’ll just keep running.” I have no idea who she was or what her trouble was, but it has bothered me ever since.
Another lady with a lot of troubles recently moved into this area. She still has troubles. She reportedly has said, “I guess I should have just stood and fought.”
Do you think the one lady solved here problem or problems by running? Do you thing the next lady would have solved anything by fighting? From what I know about her problems, I think not. Generally, if at all possible, we should handle our own problems and have them stop with us. Otherwise, they may cause many others many problems while the problems and their solutions become worse, even for us (D&C 128:22).
All people have troubles and weaknesses. Even all the prophets whose personal lives we know much about were not immune, but the difference between the great and the not so great was how they handled them (JST Exodus 4:24-27; Numbers 20:12; 1 Samuel 3:11-18; Jonah 1:1-3; Matt. 16:21-23; Matt. 26:34, 69-75; Gal. 2:11; 2 Cor. 12:7; D&C 5:21).
Your Mother cautioned me when writing about your good characteristics and possible bad tendencies, likely fearing paranoia, to mention more good than bad. That’s difficult because there are so many persistent, obviously apparent and nearly infinite ways to be bad in our fallen state (Moses 5:13; Alma 12:11; 2 Thess. 2:11-12; D&C 61:39; Gen. 15:16).
Being good is simpler. Scripture, in large measure, directly or indirectly, talks about repenting from the bad. Think how little it tells about possibly the greatest period in mortal history in 4 Nephi (4 Nephi 7-18; Alma 12:9-10; JS Matt. 1:37; Alma 7:23).
Anyway, perhaps I should lighten up a bit and talk more about raising your children better than you were raised, or are being raised.
Except for natural, political, violence or other sin catastrophe, you should improve economically. This can give you more time which opens up a whole new world of opportunity if you are careful not to “consume it upon your lusts” (Jacob 2:18-19 [captive could relate to genealogy]).
Youth is the time to learn the social graces. This is something I always wanted to teach you children better. Of course, I knew I needed to learn them first. John Molloy of Dress for Successfame, said that the most successful men were sons of clergymen, probably, he said, because as youths they were constantly being told to “straighten up,” etc. so that when they got out in the world their conduct was automatically such that it was respected. In regard to dress, perhaps we should dress so that the poor don’t envy us and the rich don’t despise us.
One strength from your raising you older children have probably noticed is the advantage you have by not using rough and crude language (Matt. 12:36). I got this from my parents. For what reason I don’t know, you younger ones seem to be more tempted in this area.
Also, in almost all cases, youth is the time to learn to type, play the piano, dance, sing, and get a basic knowledge of the scriptures (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Proverbs 22:6), and perhaps learn to use a computer—even perhaps learn to fly an airplane. During youth the time and condition is almost always more available than at any other time (D&C 90:15—note languages) (a broken TV may help) (2 Timothy 3:15).
Another thing you could be more faithful about than I have been is to start your children out early with a better Book of Remembrance and Journal. If we do this right, it will be a great treasure. I suggest that we may want to keep it in a loose-leaf binder because as we mature, we may want to add to and change some things (Rev. 20:12; D&C 128:7).
In winding this letter down, there are a couple or so other topics I would like to mention.
First, Joseph Smith’s translation of Matt. 10:39, “He who seeketh to save his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his live… shall find it.” Many pages could be written on this principle and hardly scratch the surface; but if you will think hard and long enough on this, you can figure out much of it (Romans 9:22).
Many things take time. President Kimball said in the Solemn Assembly I attended in the St. George Temple that repentance takes time as well as suffering. We should give each other time. Sometimes it takes time to take time (Matt. 7:2).
It seems that the sins of the heart can be just as bad as the sins of action (Matt. 5:28) (To counteract this read and ponder D&C 121:45). In fact, in certain circumstances they may be worse. For example, if we will not forgive a sin, no matter how bad, the greater sin is in us (D&C 64:9). Sometimes we hear the expressions, “I cannot forgive” or “That’s unforgivable.” Or sometimes we hear the expression of defiance, “I will not forgive” or “I will never forgive.”
Another reason why sins of the heart may be worse than the sins of action is that they are likely easier to hide—for awhile—perhaps even from ourselves.
Nearly last, but not least, sufficient charity will take care of practically everything. We have talked about this considerably in the family, but I think we can do more—much more. I think we should read and thing very carefully about 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, and Moroni 7:45-48, and put forth sufficient effort to more fully do what the 48th verse suggests. Then we probably would have the “mighty change” more fully taken care of (Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:12-14; Mosiah 3:19). Paul and Mormon undoubtedly got their information from the same source, but Mormon gives us clearer instructions about how to obtain this gift (see Feb. 1984 Ensign, pg. 6, “A Change of Heart”).
One problem in obtaining more charity is that to the extent we don’t have it, we don’t particularly desire to have it. To paraphrase Brigham Young, perhaps we should get on our knees and stay there until we get it—both desire and more charity.
This is a long letter. Still there are sever other things I wanted to write about—maybe some other time.
This letter is not great literature, nor is it technically correct, nor does it make claim to infallibility; but it does contain some homely philosophy and is somewhat of a document, and I would be complimented if you would keep it for future reference—also if you would go back and look up and ponder the scripture references. Some Sunday afternoon and evening might be a good time to do the latter.
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