“Muddy Feet and White Shirts,” Ensign, May 1983, 38
When I first found out that I was going to be speaking to you tonight, I was sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed, visiting with them after I had arrived home late that night. My parents’ bed now tilts downward at a 45-degree angle, and my mom still carries a bruise on her left leg. Well, now that I’ve recovered, my dad says that I’m grateful to be here.
Actually, I am very grateful to be here tonight to share a few words with you about the influence parents and the family have upon the youth of our Church. I would like to use my own family to illustrate this point. My parents and younger sister and brother show me love and give me support every day of my life. They care for my needs, both temporal and spiritual. These things are very important to me, and my family does them better than anyone else could, including the other organizations within the Church.
I love the Church’s programs very much. But there seems to be an idea among many Latter-day Saints that the Church has the responsibility for spiritually raising the youth. Parents who hold this belief are robbing their children of one of the richest experiences we can have here in mortality.
The Primary, Sunday School, and seminary have taught us all lessons we will never forget. The Aaronic Priesthood and Young Men’s programs have helped us honor our priesthood more fully. The Young Women’s programs have taught spiritual, social, and domestic skills which are very important. The Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society programs keep the older, more rebellious generation in line. But these programs will not be successful unless the same lessons are being taught in the home.
A lot will be said tonight about fathers. I would also like to mention mothers. One summer morning, in that same student apartment my dad just described, I told my mom I was going out to the playground. She said okay, but told me not to come running back in with muddy feet because she was in the middle of washing and waxing the floor. She repeated the statement again for emphasis as I scampered out the door in a pair of cutoffs, barefoot and shirtless. I must have played for an hour, and at least half of that time was spent in the mud. Then, knowing my mom would probably be finished with the floor and would read to me, I ran home full of boyish excitement and vigor. That same vigor kept me and my mud-covered feet going right up the steps, through the door, and halfway onto the nearly finished wash-and-wax job my mother was still stooped over.
Not waiting for a reaction and not wanting to leave my sin half finished, I ran across the rest of the floor, into my parents’ room, and slammed the door shut. Not knowing if I should jump out the second-story window or if just hiding under the bed would do, I burst into tears and hurled my small body onto the bed and prepared myself for the possibility of meeting my great-great-grandfather sooner than I had expected.
I heard the door open quietly and looked over. Oh, good, I thought. She wasn’t carrying a heated poker (paddle; switch; anything). Before she could say anything, I cried out, “Mom, you don’t love me.” To which she replied, “I do love you, and I’ll do anything to prove it.” She then picked up my filthy, muddy feet and kissed them. Needless to say, that experience taught me a great deal about the meaning of repentance and forgiveness, which lessons the Church would later reinforce.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a great single experience to influence a child. Alma the Younger, who had his own youthful problems, said to his son, Helaman, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6.) As fathers and sons, we should realize what great things we can accomplish by actions which might seem unimportant or insignificant at the time.
For example, my dad and I have gone for ice cream after every general priesthood meeting since I became a deacon. We are going again tonight. Now, ice cream isn’t absolutely necessary to enjoy priesthood meeting—but it helps. I also remember my father telling me a few weeks before I was ordained a deacon that he hoped whenever I prepared, blessed, or passed the sacrament I would always wear a white shirt and a tie. I’m sure I had heard the same advice from a Sunday School teacher or had read it in some manual, but it wasn’t until my father said it that I intended to do it. By responding to my father’s suggestion I have shown respect for the sacred ordinance of the sacrament. And that small word of advice also helped me understand that priesthood ordinances are not just work or assignments, but they are priceless privileges that I’m grateful to take part in.
I recently learned another significant lesson from my father about his love for me. A few weeks ago the state 3-A basketball championship was being played on a Saturday night in Ogden. I was on Provo High’s team, which was to play Mountain View High School for the championship. After the first quarter the team met for a huddle. As I got up off the nice soft chair I had become accustomed to, my eye caught sight of my mom and dad sitting on the front row. This might seem insignificant to you, but I was thrilled because in Provo that same night was one of the most important events of the year. It wasn’t my father’s inauguration or the annual commencement exercises. It was the BYU-University of Utah basketball game. But Dad left that game, as well as several General Authorities and other dignitaries he was hosting, to come to my game. That demonstration of love meant so much to me, not because my game was more important, but because I was more important. Is it any wonder I want to show that love in return? We do have a bond, not just as father to son—but friend to friend as well.
So, fathers, I plead with you not to think that the only important priesthood or spiritual lessons are taught by Church programs. Make your homes like heaven. Let them be a place where sons and daughters can learn, grow, ask, and express themselves free of criticism and to an open ear and heart.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “Home should be an anchor, a port in a storm, a refuge, a happy place in which to dwell. … Home should be where life’s greatest lessons are taught and learned. Home can be the center of one’s earthly faith where love and mutual responsibility are appropriately blended.” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ye Are My Friends, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982, p. 44.)
I want to bear my testimony of the responsibility we, the priesthood brethren of this Church, have to spiritually teach and edify our families. I would also like to publicly thank my dad for the great example he has been in my life, for the way in which he has always honored his priesthood. I love him very much. I can honestly say we are the best of friends, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that everyone can have such a father-son relationship. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.