“Honoring My Father,” Ensign, June 2002, 68–69
For many years I struggled to honor my father, although I knew it was a commandment for me to do so. He was an alcoholic, abusive, and critical of the Church. More than once I said to myself, “If only I could learn to love my father, I could surely love my enemy.”
One Sunday many years after I had left home, the ward family history teacher gave a talk on the importance of families and temple work. As I listened to her talk, I felt prompted to repent. I knew I needed to find some way to honor my father, so I turned to Heavenly Father in prayer.
After I prayed, I felt impressed that to truly honor my father I must first learn to accept him as a child of God. I thought, “My father, a child of God?” As I continued to pray about the matter, I was inspired to write to him. I didn’t have to tell him I loved him, just that I was thinking of him.
The first letter was hard to write. As I wrote more letters, it became easier for me. My father never answers letters, so I did not know what effect my letters were having on him. But it was something I needed to do, and soon I could feel my attitude changing.
During this time I received a telephone call from Los Angeles telling me my father was in the hospital in critical condition. He was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, the result of many years of heavy drinking. He was also in need of a serious operation that could not be immediately performed because of the poor condition of his body.
When I received the call, panic swept over me. I cared more about my father than I had realized. I could not bear the thought of him dying without knowing that I cared. I now prayed that he would live long enough for me to see him again. As I prayed that I might know the right things to say and do to help him the most, I felt prompted to ask him to tell his personal history.
Eventually, I was able to fly from my home in Idaho to Los Angeles to be with him. A few days before I arrived, he was released from a five-week hospital stay. Upon my arrival, family members warned me that my father’s memory was very poor because of his illness. In prayer I questioned the advisability of asking for his history, considering the condition of his health. The answer was still the same. I was to ask him for it. After being with my father for a few days, I knew the time to ask had come. So I did. He thought for a while and then began to talk. It was hard to believe. His mind suddenly became clear. He was like a different person as he spoke in detail about his life.
He recounted his high school and college years, describing his love for sports and the thrill of nearly qualifying for the Olympics. He talked about being a bomber pilot instructor for the Canadian Air Force and the sorrow that came when he learned that only three of the 21 men he enlisted with survived the war. He spoke of being a young father living on a Canadian homestead in a small house with seven children, the oldest being six years old. He related how fortunate he felt for conveniences such as a well “only” 200 feet from the house.
My father shared his personal history in two sessions, totaling about 16 hours. I became acquainted with the man I had grown up with but never really known. The love and honor that I had prayed for became a reality. I was proud to record 14 notebook pages of his personal history.
After returning home, I continued to write my father letters. His condition improved until he was able to have the much-needed operation. Then, just before Christmas, I received a beautiful Christmas card from him—the first card I’d ever received from my father. Enclosed was a letter. In part he wrote, “Thank you for your letters and prayers. I think someone up there likes me.” The day before Christmas he called and again thanked me for my letters and prayers. “I couldn’t have made it without them,” he said.
The commandment to honor our fathers and mothers does not apply only to those children whose parents have the same beliefs and values. Although it required considerable effort, I learned that honoring parents can bring great blessings to a family.