My parents are celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary, and all 12 of their children (!) are gathered together this week. It's been great seeing everyone together for the first time in several years, and we always enjoy each other when we hang out.
As part of a presentation we're going to give, we've all prepared stories and thoughts about our parents. I decided to gather together a few memories from my childhood, and put them together as a collection of things I learned from my parents.
My Parents Taught Me Well
For Their 50th Wedding Anniversary
My parents have been the greatest teachers a child could have. They have been loving, caring, conscientious, and dedicated parents for nearly 50 years. Throughout that time, I learned many things from them that have shaped my life.
Teach Your Children to Love Each Other, and They’ll Learn to Be Good Parents
My parents worked diligently to teach us to love each other. I’m amazed that even though we have a large family, there are none of us that just can’t stand each other. My friends are amazed that there is such little strife among all of us even as we’re grown, and that we can all be so close. By teaching us to work out our problems, and to temper everything we did with love (or at least civility), we learned that no problems can’t be overcome, no fight can’t be resolved. Words I often heard from my parents are resurrected almost daily as I teach my own children. The legacy my parents created continues on with our children, and their children, and will continue “through all generations of time.”
Teach Your Children That You Love Your Spouse, and They’ll Learn How to Love Others
Over the years, I rarely remember my parents fighting. I remember the closed doors and the stolen glances (maybe even a “silent treatment” or two), but I don’t remember any verbal knock down or drag outs. What I do remember is a lot of fond affection, stalwart devotion, and kind companionship. I knew whatever else, my childhood world was stable, secure, and I never, ever questioned my place in it.
That security allowed me to venture out and do dangerous things. Having a solid home base taught me the bonds that love can create the defense against the woes of the world, the stability of knowing that no matter what, a bunch (a bunch!) of people in this world will love me no matter what else happens.
Participating in Your Children’s Lives Encourages Them to Try Anything
My parents always came to my performances, my plays, my awards ceremonies, and scouting events. Through most of my high school years, I was involved in a lot of extra curricular activities. Starting in junior high school, I was in my first play, Oklahoma. My parents never missed one of the performances I was in, but the experience for them didn’t start there, it started long before that, with the first try out. They encouraged me to try my best, to go out in front of those judging your tryout and give it my all. They consoled me when I didn’t get the part I hoped for, and congratulated me when I did. No matter how bad the performance was, they told me it was amazing. The helped with costumes, props, rehearsals, singing lessons, and made many, many trips taking me to rehearsals. And when the curtain came up, I knew my biggest fans were sitting on the front row.
Being Rich Has Nothing to Do With How Much Money You Have
Growing up in a household of fourteen on a teacher’s salary must have been extremely challenging for my parents. But as a child, I never once felt “poor.” We always had good food to eat, cars to take us where we needed to go, a warm, comfortable, beautiful home, and a big yard to play in. And we even had designer clothing, whether it was the pre-Martha Stewart “Jeanne Porcareau” line, hand me downs from our “California cousins,” or hand-embroidered OP logos on $3.99 Mervyns shorts.
How You Speak and Write Can Be As Important As What You Say
My parents worked miracles in helping us avoid lazy grammar and the “Utah twang.” Professionally, reading and writing competently helps me more than almost anything else. It must have been difficult to always speak properly, and teach all of us to do the same, but all of us have grown to be studious, professional, and good communicators. That doesn’t happen by accident.
Girlfriends and Boyfriends Come and Go, But Families Are Forever
I never had to look far to find someone who loved me, with such a close family. But even when I had psychotic, obsessive, neurotic, and compulsive girlfriends (at least two of them!), my parents both spent hours doing real-time counseling, behind-the-scenes damage control. More than anything, they offered immeasurable patience as I learned what love is (and more importantly isn’t).
Give Your Kids Enough Rope (But Not Enough to Hang Themselves)
Just the other day, I had a long talk with my seven-year-old son, Stephen. I recalled the words I’d heard dozens of times and with them the memory of the hot tears and the frustration of thinking “you don’t trust me.” “Stephen, trust is something you have to earn.”
As long as I can remember, my parents allowed us quite a lot of freedom. I hope some of it came because we had “earned it,” but I now know there was a lot of grace that was offered. The answers were more than often “yes” rather than “no,” and the gracefully offered up the keys, or a few dollars from my mom’s purse that hung in the coat closet. And because I felt trusted, I felt trustworthy, and that’s made all the difference in my life.
Amazing Family Vacations Don’t Require a Passport
Even though we didn’t once go on a family vacation to exotic lands (in fact, this is the first vacation we’ve all been on where we didn’t drive!), we always went places that every kid dreams of. I fondly remember trips to Disneyland, the beach, a cabin on the Strawberry Lake, or a campground in Southern Utah. Despite hours with us all piled in the “Mercury station wagon” in the middle of the summer (across the Nevada desert on the way to LA, with no seatbelts, I might add), we managed to go on a lot of trips that were worthy of our friends’ envy as they heard our “What I Did Last Summer” school reports.
There’s No Such Thing as Getting Rich Quick
On our road trips to California, we would almost always stop in Las Vegas. I must have just been learning the value of money, and my dad thought it would be a good time to demonstrate that gambling is a way to tax stupid people (my interpretation, not my dad’s). I vividly remember him pulling out a nickel, and calmly teaching me how slot machines take your money and never give anything back. As he pulled the handle, the wheels lined up, and the nickels began pouring out of the machine. I remember the conversation turning quickly to a different lesson, one about how temptation and immediate gratification can lead to bad things. Somewhere along the line, my dad taught me the math behind gambling, and I’ve never been tempted to throw my money away that way.
Politics Is as Much about Morality as it is about Policy
We grew up in a very conservative home: religious, professional, with a very low reliance on government. My parents proudly paid their taxes, they paid their bills, were very patriotic, and they contributed to their church unfailingly. Though I never remember them teaching me one political view or another, I was raised as a died-in-the-wool-Republican (leaning slightly to the right). Not being presented with dogmatic partisanship helps me focus on what a politician stands for, rather than what party he or she belongs to. As I get older, my voting is moving to the center, but I won’t support someone who will erode the values I’ve been taught.
Healthy Choices Amount to More Than Just Good Health
My parents taught me to avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and just about everything dangerous. Because I knew not only that I shouldn’t take those things, but why I shouldn’t, I never did. Early on, they encouraged me to make a commitment to never even try those things, and I haven’t to this day.
My mom also always made it a point to make healthy meals, and worked extra hard to make things taste great (even if they were made from powdered milk, ground whole wheat, and varying amounts of hamburger). She even taught me how to cook a mean antelope steak (hey, nobody else’d eat it!).
Any family has its weaknesses, and to this day, I can’t go a week (or as my dad would say “a weak” without a big, carb-laden plate of spaghetti drenched in tomato sauce, olive oil and parmesan (my dad made great, great pasta, but my mom’s father made a mean marinara too).
Most of Life’s Great Lessons Occurred Around the Dinner Table
We almost always had dinner together, and quite often had breakfast together. We got to know each other better by recapping our day, we learned the value of pitching in to get everything ready (and cleaned up after supper), and perhaps most important, we learned that the only way to get seconds in a family of fourteen was to eat faster than everyone else.
Sometimes a Car is Just a Car
The parking lot where I work is packed with Mercedes, Porsches, Lexuses, and the occasionally Ferrari. I drive to work in a 15 year old Nissan with 210,000 miles. Now I’m not sure my dad ever sat me down and explained the value of driving a used car, but I did learn that if a car gets you to work, it’s doing its job. I haven’t had a car payment for years, and I don’t have to worry about where I park or what kind of gas I was putting into it.
Just Being There Can Sometimes Be Enough
In my high school years, I felt like my mom and I had a special friendship. I’d come home (usually later than I was expected) from a date or night out, and my mom would usually be taking the only time she had for her own personal time to practice the piano. She wouldn’t hesitate to ask how things were, to listen, and to give some advice. Sometimes she’d stop practicing and listen intently. Other times she’d go on playing. And more often than not, I’d just sit on the couch and listen to her play. To this day, piano solos have an uncanny way of calming me down and relaxing me. And to this day, my mother is my best friend.
Kind Words Sew Kind Deeds. If That Doesn’t Work, Pick Up a Wooden Spoon
I rarely remember my mom losing her cool. But I do remember the sound of the kitchen drawer sliding open as my mom reached for the wooden spoon, followed by the sound of my mom chasing us through the kitchen and living room. She rarely caught us, but I heard more than a few times “you wait until your father gets home!”
Feed Your Kids’ Souls with After-School Snacks
My mom always had a snack for us after school. There were always cookies or cake and a cold (albeit powdered) glass of milk. Sometimes there weren’t snacks, but growing boys needed nutrition, so my mom let us dig up something. Often, there were leftovers from dinner the night before (cold spaghetti was always a treat). And more than occasionally, there was a pan of cold Cream of Wheat left over from breakfast. Sprinkled with raisins, cinnamon, and a bit of sugar, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.
Take a Walk with Your Kids
As I grew older, my parents often took walks in the evening. I remember occasionally tagging along, enjoying their company. Once, I got to accompany my parents to the top of Timpanogus Mountain, over 12,000 feet high. I had to struggle to stay caught up, since they were (always have been) in much better shape than I.
My mom even met the ultimate challenge joining David and me as we attempted a summit climb of Mt. Rainier. She was incredible. The party was turned back 1/3 the way to the top because of freezing rain and 40 mph winds, so we didn’t make the summit. But I was as proud of my mom as I’ve ever been. Knowing the challenge of raising 12 kids and enjoying marriage for 50 years, I’m even more proud of her today.
Giving Your Life for Your Kids Might Mean Giving Your Life for Your Kids
Every year when I celebrate my birthday, I remember the story of my own birth. I was quite premature, and I know my mother nearly died giving birth to me. I don’t know if she had the option of terminating the pregnancy to save her own life, and from what I know of my mother, it never would have been an option anyway. She’s sacrificed so much for our family, and I don’t doubt she’d give the ultimate sacrifice for any of us to have the chance to live fulfilling, rich lives.
Give Your Sons (And Daughters) a Healthy Respect for the Outdoors
My dad taught me to love the outdoors. From pointing out the shape and names of cloud formations to driving us up the canyon on a Saturday afternoon, My dad always loved being outside, and loved sharing that part of his life with us. He gave me my first pocketknife when I became a boy scout, and I have it to this day. I love that he taught me to fish (though I have to admit, he ultimately failed in this respect, fish have no fear of me, and my lifetime catch total is in the single digits). He taught me to tie knots. He taught me to start a fire. And he taught me to enjoy sitting in a still meadow on a sunny afternoon. Most of all, I love that he taught me to feel closer to God by being closer to nature.
You Can’t Put a Value on Responsibility
Being the oldest boy, I always felt I had a special place with my father. From an early age, my dad set a good example of being responsible to our family. I learned how to put aside what I wanted in the moment to do the right thing for my younger brothers and sisters. And in doing so, I learned how to be a better father.
If You Can’t Do Something Right, Don’t Do It At All
This, along with a handful of sayings reverberates through my cortex on a near-daily basis. My dad always stressed the concept of doing a good job no matter what it is you were doing. More than once, he put me in charge of watering the lawn or weeding the garden on those summer days he worked in Salt Lake City. And more than once, I had the chance to hear the lecture repeated at the end of the day (since I often didn’t have the job done when I should have). But as time progressed, I learned to finish what I started, and to do a job my dad could be proud of. The amazing thing is, even though having My dad be proud of the job I did was very important, transforming that to having myself be proud of the job I did was the thing that’s stayed with me through my life, and it’s been the basis of my personal and professional success.
Work is Personal
My dad taught me the importance of balancing responsibility and duty with love and care. He taught me the power of strong personal relationships, and it’s helped me in my personal and professional life. To this day, I can write a great marketing plan, but the most meaningful work I do is with the people I work with. I’ve learned that business is personal, and relationships are the foundation of success in my personal and my professional life.
Seek Wisdom Out of the Best Books
My dad had a sense early on that I’d be involved in the marketing field. I remember when I was 12 or 13; my dad introduced the idea of working in PR or advertising. I was fascinated with the prospect that people got paid to be creative. When I was quite young, my father introduced me to “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” At about the same time, he gave me a copy of “The Greatest Salesman in the World.” When he could see that I was serious about the business world, he introduced me to “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman. These books laid the foundation that would become my career.
Do What I Say, Not What I Do
Just a few years out of high school, I decided I wanted to do what my father did, become a full-time school teacher. Now I’m as proud of my dad as I can be. He has hundreds of students whose lives have been changed by my father’s skill (and caring) in his profession. And I know my father is proud of the work he’s done too. But I vividly recall my surprise at his reaction to my career choice: he talked me out of it. I have to give my dad a ton of credit for knowing me better than I knew myself (who else but a father could have that kind of insight?). Every now and then, when I’m most connected to my job, and feeling the passion that comes from really being engaged, I thank my lucky stars I didn’t choose to be a full-time teacher.
Sometimes You Just Have to Get Away
My father rarely watches TV. To him, it was a way to waste a lot of time that could be better spent in other ways, and it can occasionally allow bad influence to enter into the home. But I do recall a few late nights, after all the younger kids had gone to bed, he turned the channel to one of the four channels we got, and watched Mannix after the 10:00 news. I can still hear the theme song playing as the night grew late.
Keeping an Eye on Your Kids Might Mean Running A Late-night Taxi Service
From the time I was 12, I had a job after school. Many of those years were spent in the food service industry. And for someone under 16, it meant late nights and no car. My dad probably still knows how to sleep walk to The Fun Spot, Hamburger World, Arthur Treacher’s, or Two Guys From Italy.
Build Strong Bonds
My dad always had a way with mechanical things. Even though he had a hard time keeping a tool box stocked (we’d lose any tool he collected within days), he freely shared as long as he knew we were learning. We always had amazing places to play as kids, whether it was a huge sandbox in the back yard in Taylorsville, climbing stumps and a custom “fort” in our house in Springville, or a tree house and a path to it with a bridge and a waterfall in our house in Orem.
Early on, he taught me how to fix a bike. Because of that, I was able to ride to the mall, to the grocery store, to the fruit stand, to the library, or to the junior high school. He taught me how to work with electronics, with wood, with yard tools, and with our car. I love sharing my tools, and my love for “the way things work” with my own kids, just like my dad did with me.
A Little Lead, And a Little Graphite Can Get Things Moving
My dad had a special skill for building pinewood derby cars. I remember the hours he’d spend carving the wood blocks, carefully painting the car bodies, attaching the wheels, weighting the cars just right, and brushing graphite on the axles. Some years our cars came in first place. And other years my dad would let me do more of the work (resulting in just as many last place efforts). But no matter how we placed, I was always proud of the work we did together, and the time my dad spent with me.
My dad had a special love for electronics that I still share. He introduced me to my first short wave radio when he set up a ham set in my bedroom. I remember the smell of the radio tubes warming up. I remember him turning the big black dial and watching the needle move across the glowing face. I remember hearing voices in languages I’d never heard. And the world opened up to me in a way it never had. We built a crystal radio together. And Santa brought me an electronic experiment kit with working buzzers and LEDs and wires and buttons. I still spend too much money on gadgets and gizmos, but my love for science and technology has been a source of personal joy, and has broadened my career.
Love Your Kids No Matter How Much Personal Pain They Might Cause
Thinking back on it now, I probably couldn’t have been more obnoxious. I always wondered why it was so easy to skip out on seminary, but only later realized that when I skipped class, the teachers wouldn’t report me because of who my dad was to them. Being in charge of “in-service” meant that he taught the other teachers how to be better teachers. And how to deal with problem kids. And how to keep those that didn’t want to be there coming to class. So when I didn’t show up (day after day, at some points), the teachers didn’t report me as absent, and didn’t bring it up to my dad. I remember one morning my dad reporting that a teacher I had asked him if I was sick, because he hadn’t seen me in several days. My dad explained he had dropped me off directly in front of the seminary building on his way to Prove High every morning. Somehow, I found a way to get another hour of sleep by skipping seminary. And somehow, it didn’t register that it probably caused my father great personal embarrassment that his own kids would skip the very subject he devoted his career to teaching.
Teach Your Children the Secrets of the Universe
My dad was the one that took time to teach me about God. He was kind and wise, and always has just the right answer at just the right time. He never expects more than I’m capable of, and never punishes when teaching is more effective. He opens my eyes to what’s possible, what’s important, and what’s eternal. He’s taught me that I’m a child of God. Just as important, I know that I’m my father’s child.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Mom and Dad for all you’ve taught me.