A curb-side ceremony made me cry so hard this week that I nearly crashed our car.
We dropped my son, Jackson, off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He is off to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I come from a family of criers. We don’t cry when people hit us with crow bars or say that we are fat and ugly. We cry at acts of human kindness and courage.
Unfortunately, we also cry at Wal-Mart openings and at the end of every TV episode of “Look What We Put Up In Place of Your Dumpy House.” We cry when people are unified for a good cause or, in the case of Wal-Mart, when they are being paid to be unified, part time.
We’re not proud of it. The bar for crying isn’t real high. I’ve started crying when the home team rallies at a basketball game, at the end of each of the Republican national presidential debates, and whenever my wife puts away the family Taser.
I think it’s harder to go on a mission today than it was back in 1976 when I went. That was back in the days when the things you taught were memorized in advance and there was only one script. If someone threatened to throw you in the lake, for example, you really had no response for that. And they had to have the last name “Brown.”
Now he is leaving behind his iPad, his iPhone, his Xbox and a tray of brownies. (Don’t tell him that I’ve been sneaking some of his brownies. Is he really going to remember exactly how many there were in the pan before he left? I don’t think so.)
I remember the adjustment I had to make when I went on my mission. Back in those days my mission president emphasized the importance of everyone speaking French. I guess you could argue that speaking French would give you an advantage in France, where I went, when it came to finding people named “Mr. Brown,” but it was a lot of work to learn a new language. Steve Martin once said something like, “You don’t appreciate your own country until you go to another country that doesn’t have the courtesy to speak English.”
I know the people in France could speak English because once I was going down a hill on my bike and the brakes went out. There were no words in the script for, “Get the heck out of my way Mr. Brown because I’ve got no brakes and I’ll run you down in your tracks if you don’t!” I shouted that anyway and they got out of the way. Clearly, they were faking it when they pretended to not speak English.
My son is going to New Mexico and he has no idea what awaits him. They didn’t even mention to him in his letter that he’d be speaking French. At least I had a heads up before I left.
There was a peaceful, kind and friendly looking missionary waiting at the curb when we arrived who was to be his “host” and help him find his way inside. I am sort of a skeptical person and I worried that as soon as his host got him inside he would give him a welcome noogie. When I thought about it, however, I realilzed that wouldn’t happen.
Through good parenting and the effective use of goal-setting, my son has grown from being about as tall as a Pop Tart box at Costco to being 6-foot-5, which is taller than Mitt Romney, even if you count his hair. Even though the “host” missionary had gotten to the MTC weeks ahead of Jackson, he was not as tall. He’d need get up on a chair just to put Jackson in a head lock.
My son won't need to worry about such things. He’s driven by an inner conviction that he is doing the right thing. I believe he is and I want to be there to support such courage. Since I’m out here in the real world, it will be my job to write him letters, update him on Herman Cain’s latest denials and let him know if anyone is proposing eliminating the state of New Mexico to cut back the size of government. If President Barack Obama wins and the Republicans are right about the world ending, I can send him a letter giving him a heads up.
When I went on my mission my family — being the jokers that they were — changed their names and moved away to another part of the country. It took me a year to find them but we all had a good laugh once I did. We would never do that to Jackson. In fact, we couldn’t. His iPad has got some sort of tracking device in it and I’m not about to relinquish my role as guardian of the iPad.
No, I’ve got his back. He can count on me.
I think I’ll go sneak another brownie.
Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. It has taken time, but the people there have become accustomed to him and it has been weeks since there have been any "incidents." He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com.
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