Fatherhood With Grown Adult Children

I have been thinking a lot lately about our children and what I can do to positively affect their lives as grown adult children. Certainly, at least for me, the relationship with my children is much different now than it was when they were growing children under our roof. When they were at home, it seems more like a could keep up with their lives and that they were handy to influence whether it be directly or indirectly. My critical self says that I did not take enough time with each one of them individually to influence directly their formative years. I don’t believe that I was behind many other fathers in this respect. My adult years have been consumest several monthsd by consumerism, one of the plagues of our generation.

 

as I look back on those years, I do so with some regret. Even though I may not have been behind many other “normal” fathers of the., That’s not really a valid excuse. I have the knowledge and the ability to be light years ahead of most of them. Yet, I squandered that time. Time is as a spent arrow, very difficult or impossible to retrieve. As such, I have only the present and the future that I can make amends.

 

This has been brought to the forefront of my attention today because one of our daughters is facing some rather significant challenges in her life. She is involved in a musical play, which I am very sad to be missing as she has great talent in this area. She has prepared thoroughly over the last several months and with intensity over the last several weeks as they prepared for opening. And now, just as they open the production, she has fallen ill with some unidentifiable bug. Most likely some strain of the flu mixed with her intense emotions. During this time, she has also been applying for graduate schools and preparing to move to Ohio to attend Ohio State. So, she is finishing her “carefree season” in Washington DC which I believe she has thoroughly enjoyed.

 

She has been talking with her mother over the past few days about this illness and all of the stress that she is facing at the moment. Even though her mother has her own illness of some sort right now, seems to be some sort of stomach bug, she has patiently and lovingly talked through these challenges with our daughter. In my mind, I envision that as having direct influence with our adult child. Knowing Tawnya the way that I do, I know that she has carefully crafted a line of demarcation between her manner of direct influence with our adult children as opposed to when they were younger. She is much less directive and willing to offer words of wisdom and carefully sort through their challenges without telling them what to do. It is indeed a gift that she has and is using with all of our children.

 

I did not establish that with them when they were younger, as mentioned previously. Because of this, I am left wandering to some extent trying to figure out my role. I would love to have the same role as Tawnya, but I’m quite certain that would not work and it would not fit comfortably with each of ours’ previous histories. So, I am left pondering their challenges and circumstances. I delight in seeing them rise up to these challenges, sometimes after a great deal of tears and frustration. I know that by their challenges and their responses so shall there life blossom. I guess that’s where the rub is. I would gladly face any challenge that they are being given, but what would that leave for them. That would cut off the very nutrients that they need for a healthy blossom.

 

So what is the answer? I really don’t know. I have taken to sending them periodic and random text messages when I am thinking about them. Messages of encouragement and love. It’s not really very much, but it’s what I can do for now. I am forgetting to mention though that I spend much more time now petitioning Heavenly Father for his grace to be sufficient to sustain them in their challenges just as He sustained us in ours.

One of my good friends Bill Stewart forwarded the following to me. It’s funny and it sounds like something that I would say. Enjoy :-)

 

Yesterday I was at the Villages’ (an area north of Orlando  full of retirees) Publix (our large food chain in Florida) buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my loyal pet, Owen, the Wonder Dog and was in the check-out line when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog. What did she think I had an elephant?

So because I’m retired and have little to do, on impulse, I told her that no, I didn’t have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again.

I added that I probably shouldn’t, because I ended up in the  hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and that the way that it works is, to load your pants pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete, (certified), so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.)

Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I had stopped to pee on a fire hydrant and a car hit me. I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

Publix won’t let me shop there anymore.

Happy Birthday to my Friend Bill Lawrenson

I thought I would like to make a post ( read a toast) to my brother Bill Lawrenson whose birthday is today. Bill and I met when we were in high school together. I was pretty much a self-centered brat and lost in my self-centered world. Bill, on the other hand, had long outgrown that and saw something better for my future than I did. In his gentle, but determined, way he developed a friendship with me even though I was all “Jock” and he was all “choirboy”. And I mean that in the most respectful way because he has an awesome singing voice. We developed a solid friendship around the gospel of Jesus Christ which both of us were just becoming acquainted with at the time. Bill had been baptized into a church some few months earlier. We both had questions, some that he could answer and others that he introduced me to people who could answer the questions. After some time asking all the questions that I could think of in determining that it was the right time for me to be baptized, I asked Bill to baptize me and that’s how we came to call each other brothers. Well, that then, and so much more since then. Though I have not been such a good student, Bill is a great example of what it is to be a true friend. Usually my modus operandi is to acquaint myself with someone and then after a while drop away and discontinue the friendship. Bill has been one of the few people that have not let me do that. It’s hard work to keep up with a friend over a period of time if they did not reciprocate. Bill pushed through my wall and stayed in touch. He wisely settled himself in life and pursued a solid course that has served he and his family well. I’ve watched his persistent example from afar but did not follow. Certainly our lives are a good example of one of Robert Frost’s poems entitled, “Two Roads”. He took one and I took another and each has made all the difference. One of the kindest acts that Bill performed in my life was to stay with me as a friend after my accident. Very few people have and I believe that it marks the true greatness of each one of them. When I was in the hospital, Bill arranged to fly out and see me. I was in the best frame of mind for entertaining, but he stayed through it all, quietly sitting at my bedside and listening. He missed Easter with his family that year and spend it instead with me. I wish that we would have stayed in Washington so that I could be closer to him. I’m sure there’s much we would have done together. So out of deep gratitude for a friend of the best kind, I raise my words to you in a post… Happy birthday my brother and my friend!

“I’m Bored” – Happy Birthday SLYN

Today is a big day for our family in general and for our daughter Saren Lynn Atkisson specifically. It’s her 18th birthday! I can’t hardly believe it. I don’t think she ever thought herself that this day would come. She is our sweet and charming “caboose”. You know, the child that trails along at the end of a family of railroad cars. It seems that many of the families about our same age have a similar circumstance. It’s almost like having two sets of children. We bunched our older children together so that they would have siblings close to their age with the hopes that they would be friends.

So, what happened with Saren? Why didn’t we pare her up with another sibling? Well, the answer to that question is probably the same answer that you would get from many families in similar circumstances. She was born to be her mother’s little baby and companion. Tawnya was not quite ready to give up having a baby in her arms. She would see other babies, hold them, and then that look would come over her eyes that said very plainly, “I need one of these for my own.” Of course this was always preceded by an “Ahhh” on her part and followed by a “sigh” on my part.

Tawnya’s pregnancy with Saren seemed to me to be twice as long as any of the other children. Her next older sibling, Hannah, had been born with Atkisson ears. The kind that seem to stick out and could carry you away in flight at any moment. So, when Tawnya would say her prayers about the developing baby in her womb, she would always plead that her ears would lay flat. Surely Heavenly Father listens to the prayers of a pregnant mother, because Saren was born with earsthat late so flat to her  head that it seemed to me that she didn’t even have ears at all!

There’s no question that Saren is a “mother’s girl”. I am super happy for this because I don’t believe that any child or young woman could have a better role model than Tawnya! At the tender age of three, Saren started going to work with her mother. At this time, Tawnya worked as a parent trainer. With this amounted to was that Tawnya was asked to go into the homes of families where the parents were struggling with their parental responsibilities and the children were at risk of being taken out of the home by DCFS or they were already taken out of the home and Tawnya was supervising their visits. Frequently these situations contained an immense amount of contention, yelling, and often tears. Saren would usually said very quietly and a play during these visits. Often, especially as she grew up in older, she would play with the children and give Tawnya an opportunity to model effective parenting behaviors.  Saren would also go with her to parenting classes. I think it’s because of this that Saren enjoys babysitting and will one day be a wonderful mother herself.

This  time that Saren got to spend with her mother created a bond between them that will never be interrupted. They know each other’s hearts and always have each other’s backs. Accompanying her mother to work lasted until Saren started to kindergarten. Even after starting school, she would sometimes accompany her mother during the evening hours or  for evening classes.

I should explain the title of this post. The first two words, “I’m bored” is a direct quote from Saren. It is somewhat of a family joke now. I was driving along one day with at least three of the children in the backseat. I wasn’t paying any attention to the speed limit and must have been speeding. Soon I saw the lights of a police car following me. Calmly, I pulled over and came to a stop. Saren asked what was going on and one of the other children jumped in to respond, “It’s a policeman Saren be quiet or else the policeman was going to pull out his sword.”  I tried to correct this simple misunderstanding, but it turned out that it was not quite as easy as that. The explanation had set itself deeply inside Saren’s psyche.  the policeman approached the car and I’ve never seen Saren so quiet and puckered up as she was then.

The policeman took my information and headed back to his car. Oh, I do remember him asking what I was doing with “all” those children in the back seat. Profiling! Anyway, he seemed to be taking quite a while in his squad car. The kids were all sitting quietly, apprehensive I’m sure. Then Saren blurts out, “I’m bored.” All of us laughed which embarrassed Saren. We then got to explain to her the difference between being bored and being nervous or anxious.  I don’t think that Saren understood a word of our explanation. To this day, when she’s in a situation that she’s nervous or apprehensive, she grows quiet. This has become a memory that we all cherish and laugh about.

I know that Saren was born at the right time and came to our family for very special purposes. My heart breaks that she has had to endure such unique challenges, but she has come through them like a true champion and often her light has been the one that has guided us as we stumbled along in pathways of darkness.  I’m speaking of the dark years of our marriage and now my disability.

When we had our struggles in our marriage, Tawnya moved into her own house for several months. We still had Hannah and Saren at home. Hannah is very expressive and she lets others know exactly how is he feels without holding anything back. Saren, on the other hand, will never tip her hand as to what’s exactly in her heart. I don’t remember ever seeing her shed to even one tear during this time. Instead, she would consistently back her mother up. If I ever said anything disparaging about Tawnya, Saren would be quick to straighten me up with the truth. And whenever she saw her mother, she would plead with her to stay home or to come over or to let Saren come and spend the night at her house. Hannah had her own style of pulling Tawnya back into the family, but she was perfectly and diametrically complemented by Saren’s sweet and tender tugs.

Saren has always had, as long as I can remember, a very soft spot in her heart for the disabled and the downtrodden. I believe that she learned this early while accompanying her mom during her visits to broken families and brokenhearted children. Since a tender age, Saren has had the goal of adopting a down syndrome child one day. She read the book, “A Child Called It” several times before she was in the fifth grade. I could see that she was developing empathic skills. I also believe that this is one of her gifts given to her by her Heavenly Father. I marvel when I watch her tenderness with a disabled child or someone who is sick.

Saren was only 11 years old when I had my accident. I don’t pretend to know what it is like for her to have a father in a wheelchair. I don’t think that she remembers a great deal about a time in my life when I could walk and function normally. In many ways this has made me very sad. I’m heartbroken that I can’t keep up with her or go to many of her activities, because either they are inaccessible to me or I am dependent upon someone else to provide transportation and it’s not possible. This is her senior year and her second year as a cheerleader. She is a cocaptain of the cheer squad. I wasn’t able to go to many games last year so I set a goal to go to every one of her home games this year. But, I’ve been so sick and my immune system has been so compromised that I, and especially Tawnya, have feared that being around crowds like that would needlessly put me at risk. I’m sorry Saren!

Since my accident, Saren has been wonderful with me and has given me many tender memories. So much responsibility has fallen on her shoulders and she has shouldered them with great strength. After we moved to Utah, we lived in a small apartment that was close to a park. We felt so cramped that we would often go to the park to find some solitude. Saren did not want to go to the park by herself, and her mother was often working. She would ask me if I would like to go to the park. The park was several blocks from our apartment and Saren didn’t like to walk the distance so she figured out a way she could climb up on the back of my wheelchair. We would get many cars that would honk and wave at us as they drove by. Then we would get to the park and Saren would head for the swings. Quite often there would not be another soul there. She was 12 or 13 at the time, old enough to swing on her own. I would sit on the sidelines watching her swing with tears in my eyes because I wanted so badly to be able to push her or swing with her like her mom would do when she went with her to the park.

One day we were in the park and my wheelchair suddenly shut off as I was traveling across the large green lawn. I had no idea why my wheelchair suddenly shut off. Saren was small at the time and I knew that she would not be able to push me home. There wasn’t anyone else in the park that could help and it was getting close to darkness. I could tell that Saren was frightened by the situation. But, she courageously walked home on her own and got an aide to come back and pushed me home. Her and I have had many other similar experiences where I have been in a difficult situation, such as my chair has fallen over, or my breathing has been very shallow and I needed to go to the hospital and it was only her and I at home. Each time, she has adeptly and courageously found the resources are called 911 and literally has saved my life. Even in times where she has not been with me but I have been sick or when I fell from the tree, I can always envision Saren praying for me. I know that Heavenly Father has answered her prayers many times.

I know that my situation has been a great burden for Saren. But still, she patiently feeds me when I need to be fed, gives me my medication when it’s time, and sleeps in her mother’s bed when she’s at work so that she can help me during the night if I need help. Still, despite all of these responsibilities, she has maintained a very wonderful life of her own. She is a very talented gymnast, tumbler, cheerleader, and trampolinist. I know that she could be even better if she didn’t have to sacrifice time with me and if we had more means from my employment to give her private lessons. Saren, I want you to know that in my heart, I would give you the world. I’m so grateful for what you give me!

So, happy 18th birthday SLYN ( an adoring nickname given to her by her sister). There’s so much more I could say about you in this post, but I will leave that for years to come and future posts. You came to our family for a distinct reason and you are fulfilling that purpose so wonderfully. You are a friend to all, and to me especially. You are a positive and shining light for good. I am so proud of you. My heart breaks that I can’t give you a present, but I wonder what I would give you anyway for nothing could come close to what you deserve. I love you!

 

 

 

January 14, 1984 – A Sacred Temple Experience

Atlanta Temple sealing
January 14, 1984 – The greatest day of our 30 year marriage and the beginning of eternity!

Atlanta Temple

I can still see in my minds eye what the Atlanta Temple looked like when we stepped out of the van on January 14, 1984. It was a marvelous site, but more than the beauty that it holds, is the symbolism of what we did there.  In an effort to clarify what I mean about the symbolism and the spirituality, I need to go through some history.

First, some interesting background history on “our” Temple in Atlanta. The Temple was announced on 2 April 1980 at General Conference. It would be the first Temple in the Southeast United States.  There was a ceremonial groundbreaking on 7 March 1981.  construction was completed in April 1983 and an open house was held on the 4th through 21 May 1983. In the LDS faith, one can only enter the Temple with a “Temple recommend” that one can obtain after faithfully keeping the commandments. But at the completion of the construction of each Temple, an open house is held wherein the general public can take a tour of the Temple and they are explained the purposes of the Temple and what occurs inside the various rooms of the Temple.  Over 60,000 individuals would tour the Temple in the three weeks of the open house including clergy and members of other faiths and local and state dignitaries. Pres. Gordon B Hinckley, then the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, dedicated the Temple by prayer in several dedicatory sessions on June 1-4, 1983. This was the first Temple that Pres. Hinckley dedicated. He would go on to dedicate or rededicate 89 more temples.

The Temple is located on 9.6 acres on the north side of the Atlanta metro area. The Temple is 32,400 ft.² on the interior with four endowment rooms, one baptistery, one celestial room, four sealing rooms, one chapel, and several offices, restrooms, and other meeting rooms.

Now, a few words about our history leading up to this most spectacular day. Tawnya and I met in the fall of 1982. Unbeknownst to me, she was a senior in high school ( that’s why I can honestly refer to her as my “high school sweetheart”) and I had just returned from a LDS mission in Colombia, South America. We dated regularly through her senior year and decided that we would be married in August 1983. Because neither of our families belonged to the LDS church, and, therefore, could not attend a marriage sealing in an LDS Temple and, also, Tawnya had only been baptized the previous January, she was only a member of the LDS church for less than a year. This is important because one has to be, as an adult, a member of the LDS church for at least one year before they can enter the Temple. For these two reasons, and because we were anxious to be married before college started back up in the fall, we chose to be married on August 5, 1983 in a Methodist Chapel in Willow Springs, Missouri. We were married by a local Methodist preacher in conjunction with a local LDS branch president. There’s plenty more to be said about the day of our marriage and the days leading up to the marriage which are best left for another post.

Neither of us had any savings, per se, and probably just had enough to get through a month or two of a very low budget household expenses. We both enrolled in the University of Missouri at Rolla. By the end of September, we were ecstatic with the news that Tawnya was pregnant.  If it were not for our small apartment being furnished, we would not have had any furniture. We did not have a telephone, nor did we have a car. We lived several blocks from the University, so when both of us needed to go to the University we rode together on an old 10 speed bike that we had somehow acquired. I worked as often as I could in a graveyard shift at Zeno’s Motel and Steak House. Sometimes, we would ride the bike together and Tawnya would spend the night on the couch in the motel lobby as I performed my various work duties.

We had talked many times about some “future” date when we could go to the Temple and to be sealed. This is a process wherein faithful LDS married couples make additional covenants and promises with each other that act to “seal” their marriage for not only time on this earth, but also for the eternities. Great prominence is placed upon this rite of passage for all LDS couples. We were excited about the possibility that we could one day go to the temple together to be sealed. There were only a couple of challenges that stood in our way. One was that we did not have “two nickels to rub together”, much less the needed funds for a trip to the closest temple, which by then was the Atlanta Temple some 18 hours driving distance away. The other challenge we faced was that we did not have a vehicle to travel this distance and I cannot stand the thought of Tawnya writing that long-distance on the handlebars of our bicycle!

In December 1983, a young couple in our Ward announced that there Temple sealing in the upcoming January. January 14 to be exact. The couples family plan to attend the sealing. They also planned to drive their deluxe passenger van to the ceremony. Not really knowing much about our situation, the family felt like they had extra room in the van and asked us if we would like to go. It was truly an answer to prayers and faith!  We had never expected to be able to go to the Temple so soon. We scheduled our interviews and began to make preparations to go. I don’t remember what we had for that Christmas, but I doubt that it was much, except for our gratitude which was full.

The process of getting our recommendations and paperwork prepared to go seem to be going smoothly, despite the intervention of the holidays. But then when we went for our interview with the Stake President, he noticed that we had planned to go to the Temple on January 14 which was one day before Tawnya’s one-year anniversary of her baptism, which was on January 15 of 1983. At that time, we did not know that there was such a rule, nor apparently did many others as they were shocked as well. We Asked the Stake President what we should do and his reply was that only the President of the Church, Pres. Kimball could make allowances for our particular situation. It seems to me that total church membership at that time would have been somewhere between eight and 10 million members. We were definitely a worldwide church and Pres. Kimball was one of the first Church Presidents to travel the world tirelessly in an effort to encourage and uplift the Saints world wide. Neither of us, nor our state president had met him nor knew him personally. Still, we expect that our state president to call Pres. Kimball on behalf of our petition. This was not the case though. He quietly slipped as a piece of paper with a telephone number on it to the church Gen. office building and said that it would be best if we made the call. At this point, we had less than a week before we were to leave to Atlanta. I don’t remember, but I’m not even sure that we had our own telephone line at the time.

I made a call to the number that was given us and after several transfers, the phone call arrived at the church presidents office. For some naïve reason, I believed that the president himself would just pick up the phone. Not so! A secretary answered the phone and took our message and said that someone would be getting back to us within the next day or two. I think that we literally put our lives on hold as we awaited that phone call. It came on a Friday, just six days before we were to go to Atlanta. The person on the other end of the line introduced himself as Brother Arthur Haycock, the personal secretary to Pres. Kimball. I seem to remember that we held the phone receiver between the two of us so that we both could hear. Brother Haycock asked us a few general questions having to do with our intention to be sealed and our particular situation which went to have put as at the Temple on a Saturday with the other family planning to leave on Sunday morning for the long drive back. As we were explaining our circumstance, we could hear tapping in the background, like the tapping on a computer keyboard. I asked Brother Haycock what the tapping was and he explained to me that he was recording the information in the computer for the agenda on Monday morning were in our situation would be discussed and decided upon by Pres. Kimball. At this point in time, I didn’t know a soul who had their own personal computer. In fact, there were no desktops at the University at all only a mainframe computer run by punchcards.

We then asked Brother Haycock if he would get back to us and let us know the outcome. He chuckled and said that he would not and that we should have faith and go to the Temple. Pres. Kimball would call the Temple President who would then meet as at the front door and let us know the decision. You can imagine how many hours we spent praying that weekend. This is not to forget that at this point Tawnya was some 16+ weeks pregnant. Although the pregnancy was advancing quite normally, it seemed to us that Tawnya was sick frequently. This concern was also on our minds and in our prayers that Tawnya could be spared sickness over the long trip to Atlanta and back.

So, not knowing if we would be able to enter the temple are not, we set off for Atlanta with the other family on either Thursday the 12th or Friday the 13th, I don’t remember which. On Saturday morning, we went along with the other family up to temple. I personally don’t remember the weather of that day, but in my mind, it looked just like the picture you saw above.

True to the word of Brother Haycock, we were met at the front door by the Temple president and his wife. He invited us into his office and there gave us perhaps some of the best news we have ever received – Pres. Kimball had approved our request and we would be allowed to be sealed that day. Oh, what joy filled our hearts. The family with which we had traveled had already gone ahead to prepare for their own temple sealing. We had no one to accompany us which is not usually the case. There is a wonderful and beautiful, I understand, dressing room and dressing process for the brides who are normally accompanied by their mother and future mother-in-law. Likewise, the groom is accompanied by his father and future father-in-law. As mentioned previously, none of these were members of the church and therefore could not attend with us the temple sealing. That left us alone, but not for long. The Temple president and his wife, known as the Temple matron took us each to our separate dressing rooms and accompanied us through the whole process. Under the direction of the Temple president, we made eternal covenants and promises to each other in a room similar to the one below.

Atlanta-5

Our Temple sealing of 30 years ago today set in place a firm and solid foundation upon which we have built a loving marriage and wonderful family. Sure, as within any marriage, ours has faced the inevitable arguments and challenges. But when the times have become tough, we remember the faith, prayers, and blessings we received from the very beginning so that we could be sealed in the Temple before the birth of our first child.

“By small means are great things brought to pass.” “By faith even a small as this mustard seed, you will move mountains if that’s what is required.” Surely and gladly we did not have to move any mountains to go to the Temple, but I believe that our faith measured up for us to make that trip to Atlanta. And it was like that choice, faith, and blessing that we have endured the trials and found joy in the small and simple things that build an eternal marriage.

Atlanta-p