Tag Archives: fatherhood

Fathers’ Day, Mom, and a Pair of Binoculars

Today is Father’s Day and I’m thinking of Mother. And this chain of thought began with a pair of binoculars.

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My widowed mother with her young son, circa 1948.

My father was taken by an accident when I was only 21 months old, so I grew up with a single mother. There were definitely times as I boy when I wished I could have a dad as my friends did. All I know of him suggests that my father would have been a great dad. But I learned—and I see this even more clearly now—that a loving Heavenly Father made up the lack for me. He strengthened my mother so she could do what two parents might normally do. He gave me two wise, loving grandfathers who were great examples of what it meant to be an honorable man. He gave me some fine uncles and others who did things for me that my father might have done if he had been there. My grandparents lived until I was in my thirties and forties, and I was privileged to learn, learn, learn from all of them. I still live by their lessons.

My mother made her way in a man’s world, doing it nobly and well. There were things she could not teach me about fathering and manhood that I have had to learn from experience. (And it was learned in part at my children’s expense. To the five of you: I’m sorry.) But from Mom I learned about moral, productive adulthood. What more could I have asked her to teach?

So what does a pair of binoculars have to do with this?

When I was 10, one of Mom’s friends let me borrow his binoculars for a short time. I quickly decided that I wanted a pair of my own. There is something about looking at the world up close that has always fascinated me. So that year I just had to have a pair of binoculars for Christmas, and I was not disappointed. On Christmas morning, there they were—a nice, new pair of 7×35 binoculars in their own leather case! I enjoyed using them wherever we traveled, or just out in the backyard studying the mountains east of town.

Later I found out from Mom that they had cost her $50. I had no way at the time to appreciate what that meant. But for perspective, she had left a well-paying job a couple of years earlier to go back to college and get a degree in something she could enjoy doing for the rest of her life. That Christmas in the mid-1950s, we were living in my grandparents’ basement apartment, paying them $20 a month rent and getting by on a little income from a small store my mother owned with her parents. The cost of those binoculars was a significant sacrifice for her.

Don's history552

On a family vacation at 15.

My father was a wonderful man, by all accounts, and I hope to have the privilege of knowing him in some far-away future beyond this life. But in this life, my mother was forced to be the provider and guide and support—everything a parent needed to be. And often I asked way to much of her. She gave—without my really realizing all the sacrifices she made.

I still have that pair of binoculars, scarred by long use. They’re tucked away in a closet, inside what remains of their leather case. Today I have two or three newer pairs, for bird watching, travel, scenery. This morning I looked at the small pair I keep on the kitchen table for watching the cardinals, orioles, jays, and woodpeckers out back, and I thought of Mom. When I think of that older pair of binoculars, it is not without some guilt. I remember how much she gave and how much I asked when I was growing up. Now I wish I had been less greedy and less needy. But can we ever really know the sacrifices of parents until we are in that role ourselves?

Mom is with Dad now. She lived as a widow for 64 years. I hope they are enjoying the opportunity finally to work as a team. And I hope that some years hence I may meet them together and thank each of them for all they provided me.

But for now—thanks, Mom, for being Dad when you had to be.




Lessons from My Grandchildren

I wish I had enjoyed my own children more when they were the age that my grandchildren are now. But I think that sometimes I was too busy being the Father to be a good dad. Some of the joy I felt at being with them was eclipsed by the weight of the responsibility I felt to be a good provider and teacher. I did OK with the provider part, but I’m not sure about the teacher.

And I’m not sure I was ever the daddy that I missed while growing up as the son of a widow.

Izzy 5Aug14_0485Lately I have been involved in writing some gospel lessons for children. Trying to see the lesson topics as my grandchildren might see them has helped with the work. It has also helped me recognize some of the lessons I have learned from my grandchildren.

From a three-year-old granddaughter: Why walk anywhere if you can run or jump or hop? Don’t take simple things for granted. Isn’t life always supposed to be new and exciting like this?

From an eight-year-old grandson who can’t conceive of a world when there were no computers: Don’t wonder if you can do something. Just go ahead!

From a nine-year-old grandson who has learned that the world can be disappointing sometimes: Just because other people are unkind or unhappy, you don’t have to be that way too.

From a 10-year-old granddaughter who has dealt with a lot of challenges in her short lifetime: Children are very resilient and often capable of more than we expect of them.

From a twelve-year-old grandson who has been designing 3D models of things in his head for half his lifetime: Creativity is inborn in all of Heavenly Father’s children, but it comes out in different ways in all of us.

AC Paul Aug15_P1040201From a 12-year-old granddaughter, her 13-year-old brother, and a couple of their 15-year-old cousins: There is a lot of talent and intelligence packaged up in those young minds and bodies. With encouragement and support, they will be able to do great things. And if you can get them to talk, they’re fun to listen to.

I could go on. Every one of our 18 grandchildren has taught me. It’s a privilege to be associated with them.

It’s a privilege to be associated also with my children. They have all grown into fine, intelligent individuals, more because of their mother’s influence than mine. I love to think of them as friends.

I just wish I had been more responsive to their joys when they were growing up.