On a cool October evening, fathers and sons steadily filtered into the old Alpine Tabernacle for the priesthood session of general conference, even filling the cushioned choir seats. I sat on the back row of the large meeting hall—alone, as usual. It was hard not to envy the other boys whose fathers reached arms over their shoulders. There was no one to show such affection for me. I was the 16-year-old boy from the “broken home.” I was the boy whose father had abandoned his family, leaving me an embarrassing legacy of impropriety and shame.
I continued watching as the Beck brothers made their way to the top row of the soft choir seats, smiling and laughing, with their father leading the way. I knew that they would likely be going together for ice cream after the meeting. And I also knew that I would be walking home alone.
I leaned over, placing my elbows on my knees, and sat uncomfortably the edge of the wooden pew, wanting the meeting to be over before it began. I told myself, “Someday, I will be one of the fathers that puts his arm around his sons and leads them to the choir seats; someday, I will be everything that my father failed to be.” I vowed to be different in all the best ways—to form my own family, free from burdens of disgrace and embarrassment.
Then, a miracle happened: the speaker, then-Elder Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said that he wanted to discuss a topic that fathers should discuss with their sons. But, he said, he was aware that many young men didn’t have fathers who could talk to them about these sensitive subjects, so he wanted to speak to the young men himself. It was as if Elder Packer had singled me out and spoken directly to me, indicating his willingness to be the father figure that I had longed for for years.
In that very moment, I determined that I would not let my family history, my personal circumstances, or my less-than-perfect family relationships stand in the way of my Father in Heaven’s blessings resting fully upon me! That night, I sought counsel from a prophet, seer, and revelator. He would be the father that I did not have. Although I did not have an opportunity to speak to him directly, and I did not feel his arm resting upon my shoulder, from then on, I actively sought counsel from his speeches, books, and instruction in an effort to rise above all the hardship and disappointment I faced in life.
I also sought out other father figures and family influences. Enos from the Book of Mormon became my brother who taught me how to pray more fervently. My brother Nephi taught me to obey unwaveringly and to confront evil influences with spiritual strength. Alma became my mentor and gave wise counsel, helping me to be bold but not overbearing and to avoid idleness. Moroni taught me to weather some of life’s storms alone while always striving to remain faithful and believing.
My search for worthy father figures also led me to others who helped to direct my decisions, such as caring drama, debate, and football coaches. A wonderful neighbor, Brother Beal, stepped in to help me by having his wife give me regular haircuts and waiting in front of my house with an apple on Sunday mornings before accompanying me to priesthood meeting.
As I left the tabernacle that evening, instead of walking home alone or feeling sidelined and marginalized by my unique family circumstance, I felt hope and encouragement: I could claim a connection to an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Thirty-two years later, almost to the day, my wife and I were invited to meet with Elder Packer in his office. Heavenly Father had granted me the tender mercy of being able to tell Elder Packer how much he had meant to me over a lifetime. As we discussed a calling to serve as a mission president, my father figure imparted wisdom and counsel that continues to serve me even now.
Apostles continue to guide me. Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed:
“Just as joys come in families, so can sorrows. No individual is perfect, nor is any family. When those who should love, nurture, and protect us fail to do so, we feel abandoned, embarrassed, hurt. Family can become a hollow shell. Yet, with heaven’s help, we can come to understand our family and make peace with each other.
“Sometimes unwavering commitment to abiding family relationships helps us accomplish hard things. In some cases, community becomes family.”1
We read in the scriptures that it is by our “fruits” that we shall be known and recognized by our loving Heavenly Father (see Matthew 7:16–20). We will not be recognized, judged, or limited by our roots. Some of us come from backgrounds and life experiences that are less than desirable, but our life circumstances do not define us or determine our destinies. It is our omnipotent Father in Heaven that can and will lift us to His heavenly courts on high if we will simply come unto His Son, Jesus Christ, through being obedient and keeping our covenants.
Please know that whoever you are and whatever your unique personal circumstances, every blessing is available to you through your faithful journey on the covenant path.