Photo courtesy Egan family
When I departed for my mission to London, England, in 1972 my 91-year-old grandfather Mahonri Moriacumer White gave me a hug and exclaimed, “You have no idea what lies in store for you!”
When I returned two years later, Grandpa was no longer here. Had he been alive, he could have given me the same advice about the future prospects of getting married and becoming a father.
Raising eight sons was a little bit like running a miniature missionary training center, especially when it came to food: hundreds of gallons of milk and truckloads of dry cereal, along with thousands of grilled-cheese sandwiches served at the counter on Sunday nights over the years; beans on toast, a staple missionary meal from my days in England, was always a favorite.
When we finished the last of 24 consecutive pinewood derby cars, we had shoe boxes full of old models we had carved. The only winning car we fashioned was one that had to run down the track backwards for some reason. We drove to dozens of Scout camps and fathers-and-sons outings. We ordained our young men to 24 priesthood offices, marveled at eight patriarchal blessings and missionaries being set apart. We made the solemn drive to the Provo MTC eight times and watched each boy walk through that door on his way to becoming a man.
Nobody wants to brag about being a good father. I know many men who far surpass me in parenting skills who, through no fault of their own, have children that make unwise choices that result in a lot of sorrow.
Circumstances vary widely, and parenting is work that is done in the trenches, at ground zero, in real-time, with very little previous training. The advice I proffer on fathering is not my own, but rather the pieces of wisdom from others to whom I have tried to pay attention as I faced my parenting tasks. Here they are:
•“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” – President David O McKay.
•“If you don’t have a relationship with your child, nothing else will matter.” – from my own father, Dr. Merritt H. Egan, in a private conversation. (He would counsel me to treat my sons very well during the first 10 minutes I was with them. Then the following hour would go much more smoothly, even if some difficult issues needed to be discussed. It’s along the same lines as not talking about grades at the dinner table.)
•“Your children are not distractions, they are the very purpose.” – Richard and Linda Eyre, from a fireside address.
•“Live your life as a father so that your children will say, 'If my mission president is anything like my father, then I want to serve a mission.' ” – From my oldest brother, M. Winston Egan, in a private conversation.
•On being realistic with a son about the rigors of missionary work, I like the following: “I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
I used to remind my sons as they left for the mission field that I was the fifth son to serve in my family, and that I was surprised by how difficult the experience was, and how nobody had been able to communicate that forthcoming difficulty to me because I had to experience it for myself. Knowing that it was tough for dad and all their older brothers made it easier for each of my sons to accept the trials of being away doing hard work.
• “The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.” – President Harold B. Lee.
•“Just wait until you’re married and you have 10 kids. Then you’ll really know you’re alive!” – My mission president Milan D. Smith (who actually raised 10 children), in a private conversation.