Two years ago today, my dad missed the most important day of my life.
He wasn’t there to act as a witness in the ceremony where I was sealed to my husband.
He wasn’t there to hug me after the most momentous step of my life.
He wasn’t there for a father-daughter picture in front of the temple where my husband and I were married.
He wasn’t there for that tender and symbolic moment–when a father leads his daughter out onto the floor to enjoy his last dance as the number one man in her life.
He missed it all. Every last second of it.
And I love him for it.
A couple of months before my wedding, Dad and Mom left their eight children and first grandchild to spend three years in Australia serving God. Dad is still serving as the Mission President of the Australia Melbourne Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was not a position he sought–in fact, it’s precisely the type of position my dad is positively unlikely to pursue. He is very much a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. At family parties, he spends his time collecting and taking out the garbage, vacuuming, and making sure things run smoothly. He never seeks recognition, and he is quick to deflect it when it comes. Many are the times that I’ve heard of his participation in an event only after the fact, through an acquaintance. “I heard your dad on the radio this morning.” “Wait, what??” It has happened often enough that it has stopped surprising me. I remember getting in our family car alone one time and finding a poster announcement of a speaking engagement at a nearby university where Dad had recently been the keynote speaker. Similarly, when Dad was asked to speak at the university-wide devotional at BYU-Idaho, Mom was the one to inform us of the fact. “He didn’t want anyone to know,” she said, “but I told him that he couldn’t hide it very well, as he has to stay there overnight.”
In short, he is the most humble person I know.
The most important thing to him has never been success by worldly standards or the praise of man; it has always been to be a good husband to his wife, a good father to his eight children, and a dedicated disciple of Christ. When I think of the kind of person my father is, I think of this quote by Phillips Brooks:
“How carefully most men creep into nameless graves, while now and again one or two forget themselves into immortality.”
My dad has always forgotten himself. Though incredibly busy working to provide for a large family, he has somehow managed to feel ever-present and ever-available in all of his children’s lives. He came to basketball, tennis, soccer, baseball, and football games; dance performances; musicals; operas; choir concerts; plays; recitals; everything. For eight children. I honestly don’t know how he managed it.
He has always been there for important moments in my life–especially moments that may not have seemed so important at the time.
My freshman year of college, he drove an hour to Provo every Friday evening to pick me up from BYU, an hour back to Salt Lake with me, and then returned me there on Sunday evening on another two hour commute. This happened every. single. weekend. He would often tear up when, after carrying my things into my building and coming up the elevator with me, it was time to say goodbye for another five days. Looking back, I’m incredibly embarrassed that I asked him to do that, but I also treasure the time we spent together in the car, talking about life and discussing topics that were important to me and, as a result, to him. I know that he treasured that time together as well, because he still brings up those drives today as a wonderful memory that he and I share.
Each time I went on an international trip (which was numerous times), Dad drove me to the airport, waited in line with me to check my bags, waited for me to get all the way through security, and would be there waiving as I went up the escalator to head to my departure gate. He didn’t leave until I was out of sight. He was always my last view of home and my first view on return. I vividly remember looking back on my weeping father as I went up the escalator in my two French braids and my oversized, blue Rotary Exchange blazer as a 17-year-old exchange student, heading off on my own to France.
When my parents informed all of us children that they had been called to serve in the Australia Melbourne Mission, it was on Google Hangout, and it was palpable how overwhelmed they felt. For anyone unfamiliar with the duties of a Mission President and his wife, my parents are essentially adopted parents to anywhere between 250 and 285 18-21 year old missionaries who serve for 18 to 24 months–it is often their first time away from home. The mission president and his wife ensure that the work of the Lord to spread His gospel over all the earth continues and grows in their specific area, and that it does so in His appointed way. This means that they witness wonderful miracles and meet amazing people. It also means a phenomenal amount of administration, counseling, phone calls, homesickness, discipline, health scares, sleepless nights, constant speaking engagements, and many other things that only they would know.
I don’t remember many specifics of the hangout our family had that day, but I do remember my parents saying that a primary reason they had accepted the call to serve was due to the great blessings promised to their family as a result of their service. My parents would never forego an opportunity to bless the lives of their children, no matter the cost to themselves–and this call would come at great cost to them, in many ways. Their faith that the call to serve came from the Lord, in combination with the blessings promised to their family are what motivated them to take such a demanding and long assignment in a foreign place. I don’t think anything short of those two elements could have pried them away from their long-awaited first grandchild and the family they love.
So my dad wasn’t there on the most important day of my life. And I’ll never forget it.
I’ll never forget it because I can think of no more powerful indicator of faith in God or pure parental love than my parents’ decision to respond to their call to serve. Each time I attend a wedding (and as a photographer, that honor is frequently mine), I can’t help but tear up during the father-daughter dance. There is, admittedly, a twinge of jealousy and longing hidden amongst those tears. But they are fundamentally and overwhelmingly tears of gratitude for a loving father who knew that his absence from my wedding would prove to be a greater blessing to me and my siblings in the grand scheme of things than would his presence. I had no doubt at all that his heart was with me on my wedding day. I knew he wanted to be there more than almost anything. But I also knew that his heart was first and foremost centered in the Lord, and that fact has made him a more incredible father in every way imaginable than he otherwise would have been. No wedding day dance can replace the lifetime of loving and selfless service Dad has demonstrated. No spoken testimony of truth and belief can amount to the active faith in God and love of family that motivated my parents’ decision to serve. There could be no more powerful indication of my father’s support for and belief in my eternal marriage than his decision to accept a call from the same God who made that marriage’s eternal nature possible.
Dad’s presence at my wedding would have undermined the very event–his absence reinforced it. He missed my wedding day precisely because he believes my temple marriage to be what it claims to be–of God, just as his call to serve.
So yes, my dad missed the most important day of my life.
And I love him for it.