Mother’s Day Talk

This is a talk I gave on Mother’s Day last year.

On this mother’s day, I thought about what I could share with you that would provide meaning and proper respect for the day. As mother’s day approached, I began to think of the many lessons and skills I’ve learned from women and mother’s in my life, and that’s what I’ve decided to share with you today.

Gandhi said, “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

My skill at finding my own mother’s imperfections peaked right around the time I got my driver’s license. I loved my mother, but I felt she relied a little too much on Oprah for guidance on how to raise her five children.

I recall one evening when my mother called me upstairs to sit at the kitchen table. Every serious discussion in our family began and ended at the kitchen table. If all the kids were in trouble, my parents called it a “Family Council”. But this time it was just me and mom. She sat across the table from me and stared at me for what felt like 10 minutes.

Finally, she explain that a guest on Oprah had counseled parents to take any and all measures to make sure their children were not taking part in any illicit activities. Being this took place during mid-1980’s I knew exactly what she was referring to. I felt confident I was in the clear until she explained one measure this guest recommended was reading your child’s journal.

As you might imagine, this set off a heated discussion because I’d been keeping a journal about four years and felt anyone reading it without my permission was invading my privacy. As luck would have it, the worst bit of information my mother had gleaned from my journal was that I’d gone to see the movie, Rambo, without her permission.

Years later I sat next to my mother at the computer. She’d been given a new MP3 player but had no idea how to get music on it. So we began the painstaking process of going through folder after folder searching for her favorite songs when my mother took my hand and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made so many mistakes as your mother. You are my oldest and I often had no idea what I was doing.”

It would be a number of years later, when I had children of my own, that I’d begin to understand the importance of those words my mother spoke. She didn’t have to apologize to me, but she did and it made an impression on me. Seldom does a week go by where I don’t think, “I have no idea what I’m doing” while trying to help raise five children of my own. 

At the time, my mother was doing the best she could, with the knowledge and resources at her disposal. My father was a teacher at the local high school and he often shared stories with her about what students had gotten themselves into, some of which were life-changing.

As a 16 year old, I didn’t fully understand that, but as a father I do. When I hear that a friend of family member has acted in a manner contrary to what I would have done, I try to remind myself that person is doing the best they can and it’s likely I don’t have all the details. It’s not always easy.

Yet those two words, “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. They calm, they diffuse. They redirect the conversation towards resolution instead of feeding the conflict. If my children learn to use these words regularly, I will have succeeded at least in one area of fatherhood.

This past week, I was upset with my oldest daughter over something trivial. I’d taken a minor issue and extended throughout the morning until she was ready to leave for school. We headed outside to the car and my daughter opened the door behind me. For a moment I considered asking her to join me in the front seat, but then realized if I’d been treated by my father how I’d treated her that morning, I’d take the seat right behind him so I didn’t have to speak or look at him while he drove me to school. But the short drive through the neighborhood gave me time to put the issue into perspective and, more importantly, calm down. As my daughter opened the door, I rolled down the window and used the same words my mother said to me as a young man: “I’m sorry”.

The ability to not only know I was wrong, but to verbally express that to my children and spouse is a skill I learned from my mother.

I learned another lesson in an unusual manner shortly after I had been ordained to the office of a deacon. My mother had recently taken me to Sears where I picked out a light-blue suit to go with my first non clip-on style tie. My father was in the bishopric at the time and seldom home before church. Each Sunday morning I’d get frustrated attempting to make the tie knot look presentable without choking myself.

One Sunday I had miraculously managed to twist a knot into place that I felt gave my dad’s knots a run for their money. I couldn’t wait to show my father as we pulled into the church parking lot. I ran from the car into the church and up the unusually wide staircase leading to the chapel.

As I got to to the top of the stairs, taking them 2 or 3 at a time, I came face to stomach with Sister Jacobson. She was the wife of the bishop and a no-nonsense woman who always wore a bright red dress and intimidated me.

As I slowly took a few steps back, I expected Sister Jacobson to commence with a lecture about my lack of respect for the Lord’s house. I looked up at her and flashed a grin hoping to lessen the blow.

But it never came. Instead she put her hand on my shoulder, bent down to my eye level and said, “Your smile makes my day.”

That day I was excited to show my tie to my father,  but those kind words from Sister Jacobson brought even more joy to a young man going through an awkward stage of life. I learned that a few kind words could go a long way towards bringing joy to others.

The last mother I want to share with you is someone who lived her entire life in Utah but would only step inside a church to see her grandson’s mission farewells. She spent her career teaching third grade, but was incredibly uncomfortable around groups of people. She was well educated, but not entirely well-spoken. Her tone could be considered blunt if not entirely misunderstood.

This woman is my grandmother.

Summer days were often spent doing yard work and chores for my grandparents. I wasn’t an expert math student but I was wise enough to realize that grandparents paid significantly more than minimum wage so I spent as many days in their service as possible. My father would put me on a bus in downtown Ogden and I’d listen to my Walkman on the hour long ride up through Farmington, around Lagoon and eventually set down in Bountiful where my grandparents lived.

The bus would drop me off near this amazing candy shop in town, where I’d then run the remaining two miles to their house. My grandfather would have the lawn mower oiled and gassed and sitting in the driveway by the time I arrived. I’d mow their lawn, trim the bushes and sweep away the clippings before taking a break in the shade under their plum trees in their backyard.

That’s when my grandma would emerge from the house with a cold bottle of Coca-Cola in her hands just for me. It was the best tasting beverage on the planet made even more special because it was not allowed in our home back in Ogden. But this was grandma’s house and we’d play by her rules and that included the real thing instead of that cheap knock-off Shasta stuff my parents loved. 

My grandfather would often retreat into the home at this time in order to cool off by the air conditioner. This allowed me time to chat with my grandmother. Although she was shy around large groups of people, she opened up to me on the back porch and would ask how I was doing in school.

I couldn’t just dismiss her questions with a “I’m doing fine”. No, my grandmother would go through each of my classes and demand to know what grade I was earning. I recall one afternoon I told her I was looking at a “C” grade in keyboarding and she nearly fell off her chair. “You’ve got to do better than that” she’d tell me in her loving but firm voice.

Education was paramount to success in her mind and she wasn’t afraid to share that opinion with her grandchildren.

When I finished my Coke and was about ready to tackle mowing the the back yard, my grandmother would say, “You can be anything you want to be.”

That stuck with me on the bus ride home each day. You can be anything you want to be. Maybe that was important to my grandmother because she joined the workforce at a time when women filling full time jobs wasn’t looked upon favorably.  Whatever the reason, her words have stuck with me over the years and I’ve given thought to them recently when we decided to leave Seattle and move closer to family here in Utah.

I’ve spend the bulk of my career working for some of the largest technology companies that have helped me provide for my family. But that’s not what I wanted to be, and I often wasn’t happy in that line of work that required travel and a lot of time away from my family. For the past two years I’ve worked to find a job I could do from home. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d already found the job. All I had to do was ask.

There have been many women who have influenced my life for the better. I could tell you more stories about each of them before naming another dozen that had as profound an influence on my life.