When my older brother returned from his mission (during the Carter administration, if I remember correctly), my dad was invited to speak at his homecoming. Dad, a man of very few words (most of them colorful), announced that he had been asked to speak on “What it is like to have a son serve a mission.” Dad announced that he felt the subject was “too personal,” and so he spoke on something entirely different. No making Dad do something he didn’t want to.
That caught my attention, and I wondered what it was about the experience of being a missionary dad that was so personal. Several years later when I served my own mission (Reagan), I gained a slightly better understanding as the relationship between myself and my dad deepened through our weekly letters. Somehow we managed to communicate much more directly and personally in those letters than we ever did in person. After my dad died, his letters became a great treasure to me and a legacy to my family.
Tonight, the oldest of my daughters will be set apart as a missionary in preparation for serving in Rome, Italy. (The Church, for some reason, goes with Yoda-speak in naming its missions, so she is going to the “Italy Rome” mission. Serve, she will). I recognize that only a about a bazillion parents have gone through this process before, but the experience is unique to me.
And I’ll be darned if it isn’t too personal to talk about.
But I’ll try. Since I spent the entire morning sobbing worse than I did when Spock died, I probably need the catharsis of writing or I might spend the next eighteen months popping Xanax like Tic-Tacs.
There is a difference between my experience now and what my dad went through. My dad joined the Church as an adult, so he did not have the opportunity to serve a mission. By contrast, I served a mission in Chicago (“Illinois Chicago”) and have at least a decent idea of what she will be going through. I’m not sure if that makes it easier or harder. I remember missing my family terribly while I was away, but I was able to survive it without too much homesickness. There was one rough Christmas, but most of my desires to go home were based less on my wanting to get back to my family than on finding a way to get away from my companions without killing them in their sleep.
In fact, my daughter leaving for her mission is much more difficult for me to handle than when I left home myself. Part of that is the wisdom and angst that come with being older. When I was 19, I was stupid enough to think that I could accomplish anything and that I was immune from danger. I assume that my daughter is also being duped in the security offered only by the stupidity of youth. Now that I’m older, I think about all that could go wrong and I fret about all that my little warrior is likely to experience.
I”m also worried about not being able to protect her. For twenty years I have had the comfort of knowing that if anyone made my daughter cry, I could resolve it by punching the person in the throat. That option will be denied to me for a year and a half, and I’m not sure that her mission president is going to be a throat-punching kind of guy. Mine wasn’t. And I don’t think the Italian consulate is going to approve a visa for me if I list the purpose of my visit as “Retribution.”
The hand-wringing I will have to deal with, and it likely will get better as I trust that the Lord will take care of the precious daughter that I am placing in His hands. Given the choice between entrusting her to God’s protection or a husband’s, I’m probably better prepared to turn her over to God. After all, He has been smiting people for 6000 years.
There is plenty of other stuff, however, that I am not worried about at all.
I have no concerns about her having a testimony strong enough to withstand some adversity. She’s spiritually tough, and I believe that she will only get tougher in the trenches.
I am not worried about her willingness to work. She might only be 5 feet tall, but I’ve seen her pull a handcart. If they actually let this girl sleep 8 hours a day she is going to feel like it’s Spring break.
I am not worried about her courage. Her resourcefulness. Her ability to understand the scriptures. Her capacity to love the people and teach with the Spirit.
In every way that is important, she is better prepared for her mission than I was for mine.
And I think that is why I am crying so much. I’m not ready to share her. I can’t resign myself to letting her do great things without me seeing it. Selfishly, I know how much I lean on her. I know how much strength her mother draws from her. I know what kind of guidance and inspiration she gives to her sisters. The real difficulty of sending her out on a mission isn’t the fear that she isn’t ready or won’t be safe. Instead, it’s the sacrifice of letting her do all of the good she does for someone else. When her strength has become such an important part of your own, sharing that with people so far away can be enormously difficult.
And immeasurably important.
So, Pops gets to suck it up. Because my wife and I did not raise this child to help us get through the world. We raised her to change the world. It’s time she got after it.