Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thoughts on Father

Helen and Brent Goates
There is nothing to compare with being the father of a righteous posterity. I said "righteous," not perfect. For me the definition might be a little different than what you may have heard. "Righteous" equates to "repenting" with me.

The record of  people contained in The Book of Mormon is where I take my cue - sometimes the Lamanites were righteous because they were repenting. The Nephites were righteous too, but only when they were repenting.

This business of repenting and forgiving must be the reason we were organized into families. We get to use all that fertile lab material readily available to us in the most intense personal relationships we can imagine. We have family members. Sometimes we love each other. As we grow older we learn to loathe them, anger arises and gives vent in our hearts, and sometimes we actually have to relearn love in our old age. Whatever the case may be, we will all admit learning to love one another is often a lifetime endeavor not easily mastered, yet we long to be more like Heavenly Father and sooner or later we must learn to love just like He does.

Bishop Goates, 1954
We can learn much from the lessons of the scriptures about our own lives. In recent weeks I have been reflecting about the life of my own father, Lesley Brent Goates, who celebrated his 90th birthday. He was born on a memorable day - 2-2-22 - Groundhog Day. In their later years it was the practice of my parents to annually rent the Bill Murray movie on his birthday and watch together. Mom passed away on Easter weekend, 2000. He still misses her intensely. Life without her has not been easy, but bearable in the knowledge he will once again be with her. Theirs is a marriage that was "sealed" in the temple for time and for all eternity.

The fanciful ideal of true love is commonplace among mankind, whether they have a knowledge of the restoration of priesthood keys or not. Every so often a movie comes out to remind everyone of how eternal our spirits are by nature. "Ghost" is an example. "Sixth Sense" is another. Our spirits live on beyond the grave, awaiting the day of resurrection where they will be reunited with the bodies now entombed in the grave.

Helen Lee Goates
There is little doubt in Dad's mind that he will see Mom again, not only to be reunited in the spirit world when he dies, but also in the resurrection of the dead on the morning of the first resurrection when it comes. That is why Mormon funerals are always so full of hope. Death is never the end. In death one merely walks through a door into a different room, but there is nothing permanent about death. It is a temporary stage of progression.

As I reviewed Dad's life and put together a slideshow for the occasion, I was reminded of all his good qualities. I surveyed a life well-lived. From the moment he put his feet on the straight and narrow path leading toward eternal life, his footsteps never faltered, he never deviated, nor did his devotion to the truth and building the kingdom of God on earth ever slacken. His is a remarkable record of achievement, perseverance, hard word and unstinting discipleship. It is a life worthy of emulation, to be sure.

Helen and Brent, 1975
The thing that was impressed upon me again and again was his perpetual smile. The goodness of his soul, the strength of his eternal spirit, radiated out to me in picture after picture. It didn't matter whether he was in high school, serving as a missionary in the last group of missionaries who went to Texas during World War II, or all the years of his working life. In it all there was his radiant smile, constantly glowing and ever-present.

His was an extraordinary life of discipleship. At an early age his desire to obey God was stamped into his DNA. He had faults - he was full of them - and as his oldest son I could easily document them. I saw the best and the worst of him. It's strange, somehow, isn't it that when we grow older the faults of others seem to dim in our memories, permitting us to focus almost exclusively on their goodness. Thank the Lord for a faltering memory as you grow older, allowing us to remember the best of times and deselect the worst.

Huntsman Games Hall of Famer
So it is with Dad. He has managed to live long enough for this son to see only into his heart, the purest essence of his eternal spirit now occupying an increasing feeble physical frame. In recent years he became an inductee into the Huntsman Senior Games Tennis Hall of Fame. He hit a lot of tennis balls in his life, and now his exploits on the court are forever enshrined.

He hit a lot of those balls with me. I finally beat him when he was a mission president, and if you press me to the wall I'll tell you I "let" him beat me up until then just so I wouldn't shatter his brittle ego. He was a phenom on the courts, and from his earliest days until he just couldn't physically pick up the racket any more his twisting second serve took a wicked "up and away" hop off the court that was nearly impossible to return even at a slow pace.

State Doubles Champs (l to r),
Brent Goates and Chauncy Peterson
vs. Rick Warner and Billy Koch
When he was once a striking 6'1" (with all that youthful hair he would have looked about 6'4"), he now barely clocks in at about 5'3". In recent years he has become the amazing shrinking man due to chronic and painful arthritis and scoliosis and osteoporosis of the spine. His spine and aorta on an x-ray look more like the winding Mississippi, where once in his youth he stood ramrod straight as an arrow and excelled at basketball and tennis.

My love for Dad has grown intensely in this past month as I put together the slideshow of his life. I suppose there are few sons who really arrive at "getting" their Dad. Father and son relationships are somewhat like Mother and daughter relationships. It's complicated. On the one hand you love them for all they have done for you, on the other hand you wish they'd just butt out and let you do it yourself. When they offer a helping hand, often even money on the barrel head without a moment's hesitation when you need it most, you return thanks by your ingratitude and indifference until you need their resources again. And even then you sometimes hate them for their willingness and eagerness to rush to your help. Like I said, it's complicated.

I mentioned we could learn a lot from studying the lives of our scripture heroes. Father Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, was such a patriarch. The very name "Israel" suggests so much, a chosen people down through all the ages of the earth's existence. It was of Israel, as a people, to whom the Lord referred when He said, "Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. . . he kept him as the apple of his eye." (Deuteronomy 32:9-10). "And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh," Moses was instructed, "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn." (Exodus 4:22). Elsewhere we learn more about Israel as the Lord's people, "But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend." (Isaiah 41:8).

Despite her routine backward slides as a people, the record all through Isaiah reflects, "Yet my hand is stretched out still," reminding us all that a necessary mid-course correction in our own lives is always in order and desirable because whenever and wherever it occurs, we are immediately welcomed back into the bosom of the Father and the Son as though we had never deviated.

The innocence of Christmas Eve
Any father in mortality who is making every effort to honor his covenants with God will find his burden immediately increased when a son transgresses for a season. The innocence of youth is too frequently replaced with sin and transgression. Sometimes the path back is torturous, long and winding. When a son rebels and turns his back on the very One with whom the father has made the covenant to obey, honor, sacrifice and serve at all costs, it is painful.

There are numerous examples in the scriptures of these fathers, almost without exception most are the revered patriarchal fathers with whom we are so familiar. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and before them Noah and Adam immediately spring to mind. We learn much about parenting rebellious sons from Lehi's and Sariah's family in the early chapters of The Book of Mormon. Each has one or more sons and daughters who rebelled against God and turned away from their covenant blessings. Most blamed their parents on the way out the door. The trend continues to this very hour. Blaming others, particularly your father or mother, for every ill that besets you has never been more fashionable, and it has never been more in error than today. No matter how badly you were treated as a child, it is possible to reclaim the ground you think they stole from you. It is forever possible to forgive them, forgive yourself and get back on the path, cherishing the best your parents offered, and rejecting their worst traits while still loving them.

June 24, 1946, a new Goates/Lee generation begins
Consider Jacob's agony with his posterity. Reuben, the birthright son, his firstborn, committed adultery with one of Jacob's wives. He had received a stunning pronouncement in a blessing from his father: "My firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength. . ." (Genesis 49:3). Imagine the blow to Jacob upon learning of his son's adulterous behavior. The burdens a man must carry in life as he moves forward with his posterity in the deep roiling oceans of life are magnified considerably by the disobedience and rebelliousness of any members of his family. Often, children are burdened by the same disobedience and willful rebellion of their parents, so let's not imagine the burdens only operate in one dimension.

At various times in his life we have record that at least four of Israel's sons were deviant in their discipleship, adding sorrow to their father. All of his sons except little Benjamin were culpable in the plot to kill Joseph at one time. Reuben saved him from certain death at the hands of his brothers by suggesting they should just throw him into the pit instead, and later it was Reuben who attempted to retrieve Joseph from the pit to deliver him back to his father. (Genesis 37:21-22, 29). Even Judah had no appetite for Joseph's blood. (Genesis 37:26-27). But the nefarious plot to destroy the birthright son was hatched up in "group think" among all the brothers because like so many families today, one righteous member of the family became the scapegoat for the sins of all the rest. Jealousy, envy, pride, desire to cover one's own sin -- all qualify as motivations.

Sometimes Satan is enabled by our self-deception to the point the truth becomes convoluted and twisted beyond recognition and a fantasy world ensues where distinguishing between truth and error becomes nearly impossible. We come to believe and defend a lie. The whole history of the Nephite and Lamanite civilization is ample evidence of what can happen.

Ute hoopster, 1942
The story of Israel's sons and their devious plot, while not completely known to him at the time, would have been enough to break the spirit of the average man and possibly even cause him to reject his family. But Israel was no ordinary man. Neither is Brent Goates. He never abandoned them, even the worst of them. Israel knew his eternal possibilities with his numerous posterity. He trusted in the promises. He also knew those promises were only going to come to pass through his posterity, so he never gave up reaching out to them, succoring them, feeling after them. In short, he was trying to become like God himself. He knew and believed in the infinite love and mercy embodied in the atonement of Christ. He knew and trusted in the limitless availability of repentance and forgiveness, and their ultimate redemption.

So he sailed on through the troubled waters of his tortured familial relationships, never wavering, never doubting and offering an example of constancy in faith. He turned neither to the right nor the left -- he charted and kept an undeviating course in righteousness, because he must certainly have known in time his sons would one day be gathered back into the family fold and they could repair together the harm that had come to them if they could find the path again he had forged for them through the "great deep." He had a clear vision of his divine destiny. Generations came through his faithfulness. We are the blessed recipients of his goodness today. He chose to endure with faith and hope, even when his father's heart was broken.

Certainly Israel would accept some blame for his children's wayward natures. After all, like all mortal men, every father passes along undesirable traits of personality. Perhaps a quick temper, an angry temperament that flashes judgmental decrees, or a tendency to meet out swift and seemingly harsh discipline without empathetic listening skills. Some intense fathers (not singling anybody out here) have even been known to lecture their children well into their adult years, so earnest and eager is their desire to correct their obvious faults. All this causes friction and tension in families.

But rest assured. God does not wander around heaven wringing His hands daily over the obvious deviations of his sons and daughters living here on earth in mortality. Instead, even He bows beneath the rod of moral agency, and gives each the maximum latitude to make choices, reminding them they alone are accountable for those choices. Blame your fathers and mothers if you like for all your sins, He would say if He were here, but realize that only when you one day come to your senses and look yourselves in the mirror can you begin to see more clearly what you need to do. That usually involves repenting, and only you can do it if you will. God leaves the decisions all up to us, and in family life we all get ample opportunities to learn how to repent and forgive. We're all family lab rats, and we all get to experiment on each other.

Bruce, Brent, Helen
Audrey, Leda, Les Goates
We all came from somewhere (someone) and we're all headed somewhere (with lots of someones). There's a reason the bridal sealing rooms are flanked on each side with mirrors on the walls to remind us life is eternal in both directions.

One can imagine a father like Israel forgiving nearly everything except something that disastrous like your firstborn birthright son having sex with your own wife, and yet even that, we learn, was forgiven. It cost Reuben losing his birthright to younger brother Joseph, but the record shows even the tribe of Reuben will one day be gathered back in with all the others to receive in time ALL the birthright blessings in full. Sometimes change takes time, and sometimes only the passage of time and the rounding out of all the sharp edges can make of each of us a polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the righteous patriarchs who followed in their wake.

Men like Lesley Brent Goates. Happy 90th Birthday to you!

Dad's fond of saying these days, "I'm the last leaf on the tree, and the wind's blowing harder." He's at the end of the path leading to the tree of life, and in not too many days hence he will partake of its fruit. At his funeral there will be no sorrow in his passing. He knows, and we all know, what will happen next when he passes through that door up ahead.

In death, for him, there is nothing but deferred rejoicing awaiting him.


  1. Great blog. Sounds like an awesome Dad.

  2. I tried very hard not to exaggerate, and those who know him best would echo my conclusions, I'm sure.

  3. Dad's mortal journey finally concluded on November 20, 2016, and as I predicted here it was a sweet parting and no doubt a joyous reunion on the other side. I will miss him, but I am so grateful for the merciful plan of salvation that is anchored in the mercy of the atonement