Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jack Mormon

I was raised by an active Mormon mom and a totally inactive Mormon dad. He had been raised in the church and served an honorable and very successful full time mission and met my mom at Ricks college and they got married in the temple. I don't know the details of how his church attendance disappeared in the first part of their life together because I wasn't even born until long after he was carrying a pack of cigarettes in his pocket every day after work.

Anyone who knows my dad knows that he is a powerful guy. When he walks into a room people are compelled to turn and look just because of the energy he carries with him. They stand down. People either worship him or detest him or simultaneously worship and detest him. My friends were afraid of him and often people would check with me to see if my dad was home before accepting an offer to play at my house. This was especially odd because he had never mistreated my friends in any way and never mistreated me so there was never an actual reason to be afraid of him but people just were. He swore like a sailor and always had on his person at any given moment a wad of cash, a can of Coca Cola and a bag of candied peanuts. These happened to be my three favorite things in the world and as the youngest child and most manipulative daughter I had staked my claim on a generous portion of all three of those things early.

I always knew my dad had a testimony of the Gospel but looking back I have know idea why I thought that. Its not like he was bearing his testimony to anyone or even discussing religion with anyone but I respected his intelligence enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. The doctrines of the church have always made perfect logical sense to me and therefore I had always thought that anyone who had heard it all and didn't believe was a little bit low IQ. Whoever instilled that into me as a child is a genius and I find myself often dropping hints to my kids that will accomplish this ever so subtle yet powerful technique of inspiring obedience to commandments. Ultimately I want my kids to adhere to the tenants of our religion because they love it and know it to be true for themselves but I am also a realist that understands that often times you get to the higher level by passing through the lower level. Whatever. Maybe they will go on a mission for no other reason than to avoid being a social pariah in the Mormon culture. Great. I saw enough Elders on my mission come out for the wrong reasons. They all ended up figuring it out. Except for the ones with low IQs. "Jack, serving a mission is wonderful because you get to Preach the Gospel and help people come unto Christ which will bless your life eternally. Also I will be devastated if you don't go and you will surely only have really lame unattractive girls to choose from when you want to get married." I am not above this form of brainwashing. The ends justifies the means. Not to mention it is one hundred percent true. I would be devastated and any girl worth marrying will and should hold out for someone who has demonstrated that level of commitment to God.

My dad was always entertainingly irreverent about the church. He wanted us to be raised in it, but he loved doing things like seeing the statue of Brigham Young at Temple Square in Salt Lake and saying "There's old Brigham with his back to the temple and his hand to the bank." (which, by the way, is exactly how it is positioned). He openly declared that his favorite college sports team was any team playing BYU, and he had a penchant for walking out a room during mid lesson of a home teacher's visit.

He had a really cool sculpture of a giant jack (the toy). It was this funky touchable piece of heavy art and he loved telling people that it was his Jack Mormon award. I came across it the other day and since I did name my first born after it I had to get a photo. I'm sure he made this with his own hands. (He is awesome like that.) I officially lay claim on this when my parents are dead. I want my mom's charm bracelet and my dad's Jack Mormon Trophy. 

There were certain things that I wanted to be ignorant about. I convinced myself that he smelled like cigarette smoke because thats just what welders smelled like and his employees at the shop all smoked. When he had cigarettes in his truck or pocket it was because he was holding them for a friend. Even when I found him with a cigarette in his fingers I would immediately search the scene for whichever shop employee had his hands so full that he needed my dad to hold his cigarette for him while it was lit and while my dad was welding with his other hand. After all, everyone knows that smoking is like the worst thing a person can do, right? This is definitely one of those LDS culture things that is kind of messed up but I appreciate that I was brainwashed to disrespect smokers for a very good reason and as an adult who has never been tempted to take even one drag, I have no complaints.

As an adult I can also appreciate all of the ways my dad was totally righteous when I was growing up that I gave him no credit for at the time. I understand now how significant it is that he provided well for his family by working his ass off every single day. I realize how significant it is that he never cheated on my mom. He was honest in his dealings and he was a good person to the core who always gave generously to his fellow man and served others. He would even hold cigarettes for people without complaining.

I have seen enough train wreck marriages and worthless absent fathers and cheating husbands or lazy bastards who don't work to know now that my dad was doing a lot more right than he was doing wrong. Plus he ended up with four well adjusted children who all chose wonderful spouses, married in the temple and are currently enjoying fulfilling lives. None of us ever rebelled, he sent three missionaries into the mission field and we all love each other. You can't argue with results like that. Granted, his best parenting move was choosing my mother in the first place who tirelessly drug four kids to church all by herself and who modeled the positive fruits of following the Savior and staying active in His church every single day of her life.

As a dramatic teenager my fondest dream was to see my dad come back into the church. It was hard for me to get priesthood blessings from random ward members. As I understood the plan more I wanted my dad to be part of our eternal family. I thought it was a pipe dream but thats what I really wanted.

I wish I could give you more details of my dad's miraculous change of heart and subsequent reactivation into full activity in the church but I was not in the country when it happened. When I left on my mission I left an inactive smoking swearing Milan and by the time I got back we all went to the temple together and he was serving as the High Priest group leader. I don't take any credit for the change but I'm sure that between supporting a missionary, the death of his parents, a heart condition that was threatening to end his life and the general softening that comes when a person becomes a grandpa, there was a perfect storm of events that brought him back. In a style that I understand completely he went the extreme route. He stopped carrying people's cigarettes cold turkey, put his garments back on and by the time I was back he would follow me around trying to engage in spiritual discussions and spend hours a day studying the scriptures and immersing himself in the teachings of the prophets. It was great but I will admit I had an unexpected grieving period when I realized that the guy who raised me was gone forever. He had been replaced by this spiritual giant who would not only sit through an entire home teaching message, he was home teaching. Shortly after that he was called to be the freaking bishop. Yes. Thats right . Staci Haws was a bishop's daughter.

Not only did I have to grieve the loss of Old Milan but it took a while to get used to New Milan. One time I remember putting a mix CD I had made into the car stereo while on a road trip shortly after my mission. One song had a bad word in it and this apparently offended New Milan. He started lecturing me about the influences we choose to introduce into our lives and why it is so destructive to choose worldly music etc. I could have taken the advice from anyone else but I wasn't about to have Milan Haws tell me that I needed to be more churchy. "Hey Dad, I am sorry but I am not offended by swearing. Remind me sometime to tell you about the asshole I learned that from. In the mean time turn the music back on."

Nowadays I just appreciate every detail of my dad. Even the contradictions. He does whatever he does with passion including being my biggest cheerleader since I was born. Our family was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I did receive perfect unconditional love from my parents and to not take myself too seriously which I am finding is actually pretty rare and that skill makes life more bearable than just about anything. Turns out I had the best dad in the world and I still do. 


jymmebe said...

Amen, sister! The best feature about Milan Haws is that you always get him undiluted, and never ever filtered!

Carli said...

I stumbled upon your blog and really liked this post. I thought some of your readers might also enjoy this post about "How to be a Jack Mormon." Maybe I should add: hold other people's lit cigarettes for them. http://www.theculturalhallpodcast.com/2012/06/how-to-be-a-jack-mormon/

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