Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Train Up A Child

This is a Picture of My Dad, Howard Pratt Beck

Earlier this week my Uncle Roy passed away. Because of this I have been thinking a lot about family and where they go after they die. I have very strong religious beliefs and I know there is a life after this one. I was thinking about what good friends my father and my uncle were and they are no doubt having a reunion in heaven. My father passed away eleven years ago.

Uncle Roy

Howard Pratt Beck's Mission Picture

I miss my father every day, especially the ability to call him and get his advice. He is the best person I have ever met in this life. In order to really understand what a fairy tale life I had growing up, it would take a long time to tell, but in some ways I feel that it could benefit others to know of what I learned from my father so I decided to write about him in my blog.

Now when you hear the words, fairy tale life, it sounds as if I had a pampered and perfect upbringing. As I look at my life now, and look back on the way I was raised, I am amazed at the extremes.

I grew up on a farm in Idaho. I am one of nine children. We were all raised on an income that was so low, that one person would be considered in poverty to survive on that amount, much less a family of eleven. Since I was raised with such tight financial surroundings, I have learned so much I feel I could write a book. I am trying to decide the best way to articulate everything running through my head.

The best way is to start from the beginning. I was born in 1967 in American Falls, Idaho. I was the third girl. Growing up on a farm, the usual way of thinking is, everyone needs a bunch of sons to help with the heavy farm work, so my father must have been sad when once again he had a daughter. If he was sad about it, he never let me know. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I was my daddy’s favorite. He told me that when he was a teenager, he had had a dream that was very spiritual in nature and very real to him. In that dream, he was able to see a future child that he would one day have if he lived worthily. After I was born, he recognized that I was that child. Because of this special bond that we had, I always knew that I was a very special heavenly child. We kept it a secret from my other siblings, but I always knew that I was his favorite. It wasn’t until his funeral when my brother was preparing to give a talk about my dad, he asked me to share a favorite memory and I told him the spiritual story our father had shared with me. It turns out, he had a spiritual experience for each and every one of his nine children and every single one of us believed with all of our hearts that we were his favorite. Many things can be learned from this, but the two that stick out in my mind right now are: first, our father loved us all very, very much and the second is, my father was a very spiritual man that had many experiences in his life that were so sacred and spiritual, it is no wonder he was a perfect father.

After I was born, five other brothers would come and one more sister at the very end to round out the nine children. We were very poor when it came to money, but we were rich when it came to love and learning.

My father went to college to study Psychology. He never finished because children were his first priority and he and my mother had four children in four years. He got a job working for a farmer and started providing for our fast growing family. He never gave up on learning however, and was an avid reader. Even though he didn’t have a degree in Psychology, he was brilliant at it. He only believed the Psychology teachings that were in line with his religion. All other teachings were immediately discarded.

One particular scripture that stands out to me is: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)

My father did this so well. I would like to share a simple example of this. One day when I was about 5 years old, we were getting ready for church. We never ever missed a Sunday going to church. By the time I was 5 we had six children in our family with another on the way. It was always frantic trying to get us all ready. I asked my dad what would happen if I didn’t go to church. This is a perfect example of how my father believed and exercised agency or the freedom to choose for ourselves. My father told me it was my choice and I could choose to stay home if I would like to. I have always been a person with a mind of my own, so on that day, at the ripe age of 5, I decided I would choose to stay home. Ok, it was settled, one less child to get ready for church. All the focus was put on the other kids and they were out the door.

I never thought they would actually leave, but they did. It only took about 30 seconds of silence in the house for me to realize I had made a terrible mistake. I started running around the house getting ready for church and praying frantically that my family would come back after me. I don’t know how much time went by, I’m guessing it was fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity before my father came back. He had dropped the rest of the family off at church and came back to “check on me.”  The lesson I learned that day was so powerful, I have never forgotten it. We do have agency to choose, but there are consequences to our actions. We will feel the effects of the consequences. I decided that day, that I would never again be on the wrong side of my father’s council. In a future blog I will write about a time I once again went against my father’s council and once again suffered for it.

This lesson taught me a valuable lesson that I have taken with me throughout my life. My father could have forced me to go, and told me as long as I live in this house, I will follow his rules, or something like that, but instead, he taught me agency. Never in my life since that moment have I felt like I was forced to do anything. My sense of self worth shot to the moon. I have the right to choose. Children at very young ages can choose for themselves.

I see so many examples all around me today, of parents who make every decision for their children. The desire for their children to be righteous is so strong that they go ahead and force every single decision on them. I believe a lot of agency is taken away from children.  At times it is to the point they don’t even know how to make choices on their own. Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain decisions that a five year old does not have the right to make, for instance, you are not allowed to throw a tonka truck on your newborn baby brother, but there are other choices that really could be teaching moments if done correctly. I perfect example is a story told by Elder L Tom Perry. “Sometime ago I remember reading about an experiment with chickens. I do not remember the source. Young pullets, as they grew in their life cycle, were given all of the food they needed to eat, without being required to make an effort to obtain it. Then as the pullets matured, they were turned out into the chicken coop, where they had to scratch for their food. A chicken who had never been taught how to scratch as a pullet would mature without learning this ability and would literally starve to death, even though just below the surface of the ground was all the food it needed to sustain life.

Then the article went on to compare this example with a child who was not taught the ability to love early in its life. In all probability, according to the article, the child would not be able to develop that choice characteristic as it matured to adulthood. How tragic it would be if a child were deprived of the ability to love!”

My father was able to not only teach me agency, accountability, but he also taught me that he loved me. In fact he loved me enough to let me make my own choice. He had no ego that put anything in front of loving and caring for his children. Yes there would be people at church wondering what he did wrong that made him a half an hour late for church. Oh, if they only knew.

My father worked long hours on the farm and even though he was gone a lot, we never felt alone. We grew up with my mother in the home and the time my father was home, was a coveted time. We had his undivided attention. He would come home for lunch every day and read from the scriptures to us. After we were old enough to start school, we couldn’t wait until summer time when we would have the lunch hours once again with our father for our scripture study.

We never missed Monday night family home evening. My father would teach us every single week. I also remember my father would wake up at 4:00 a.m. so he could get an hour and a half of personal scripture study in before he went to work at 5:30. I have personally never met anyone who knew the scriptures forwards and backwards like my dad, but I guess anyone who is willing to spend an hour and a half every day of their life studying would become a scriptorian.

My father taught me that all of the problems and challenges we face in this life can be found by feasting on the word of God and then humbly listening to the Holy Ghost to lead us in the ways that we should go. The following is an article that was written many years ago but is still relevant today:

“In a nation that professes to take pride in its young, … social change is inflicting harm—physical and psychological—on millions of children. For them, growing up in America is becoming an ordeal instead of a joy."

“As their parents struggle to cope with divorce, single parenthood, dual careers, and a troublesome economy, many of the nation’s more than 47.6 million children under the age of 14 pay the price in ways that range from simple neglect to outright abuse."

“Parents are caught in a crunch of conflicting values,” the article points out, quoting Edward Weaver. “They value children, but they value other things as well, such as time for themselves, material goods, status and their careers. Given these conflicts, in a number of instances they neglect children or don’t give them a fair shake.” (U.S. News & World Report, 9 Aug. 1982, p. 54.)

One way that my father did a great job of keeping our priorities in order was by spending quality time with us. Usually our quality time consisted of some work project we did together.

It’s crazy to think, but I was about eight years old the first time I drove a tractor. My father worked for a farmer, but he also had his own piece of land that he farmed. His land was watered with a system called flood irrigating. The water would run along the ditch and he would shovel out the rows he wanted the water to go down. In the spring the ditch bank would become overgrown with weeds so every year he would burn the weeds in preparation for spring planting. The process of burning weeds was not an easy one to do alone, and since I enjoyed working with my dad so much, I was chosen to become the designated driver. The tractor was a stick shift and I wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the steering wheel and the clutch, but if there is a will there is a way. My brother Jeremy would be on the bottom running the clutch and I would handle the shifting and the steering. There was a lot of jolting and killing the motor involved, but little by little we were able to inch along the field in the tractor that held the large tank of gas used for burning. My dad would be trailing up from behind burning off the weeds. Luckily we never got out of first gear, so we never drove faster than he could run to catch us if we got off track heading towards the canal that ran along beside us. 

This Looks Like the Tractor My Brother and I Drove at the
Ages of 7 and 8 Years Old, Me running the Steering Wheel
And Jeremy Running the Clutch

Examples of the principles taught to me while I was growing up are found in an article I quote below. Since I live in Nebraska now, I thought it only fitting to include a piece from an article written by a fellow Nebraskan.

Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska gave a talk at an annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations. It was titled “Characteristics of Strong Families.” His six points were:

1. A strong family spends a significant amount of time together while playing, working, eating, or in recreation. Although family members all have outside interests, they find adequate time to spend together.

2. Strong families have a high degree of commitment to each family member, as indicated not only by the time spent together, but also by their ability to work together in a common cause.

3. Strong families have good communication patterns, as indicated by the time spent listening and speaking to each other in conversation.

4. Strong families have a high degree of religious orientation.

5. Strong families have the ability to deal with crises in a positive way because they have spent time together, are committed to each other, and have good communication patterns.

6. Strong family members frequently give compliments to each other which are genuine and not superficial. (See “In Search of Strong Families,” in Building Family Strengths: Blueprints for Action, ed. Nick Stinnett, et al., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979, pp. 23–30.)

All of these elements were used frequently while I was being raised. Let me give an example of how my father cemented into my heart the feeling of self worth. I remember when I was in the third grade my teacher was apparently trying to figure out the children in our classroom who had financial needs. This was a time before there were programs giving free or reduced lunches to those in need, so in order to figure out who in the school might need some help with lunches they would ask the children. She gave us three categories and asked us to raise our hands so she and a counselor could determine which families were in financial crisis. She said, “Is your family poor, middle class, or rich.” I remember without even blinking an eye knowing exactly which our family was, because we had a family home evening lesson teaching us about wealth.

During a family lesson my father had asked all of us kids to try and figure out what was the very most valuable thing in the world? We gave answers like diamond rings, fancy cars, planes, etc. Every time he told us, no, there is something more valuable than that. We guessed and guessed, but we just couldn’t figure out what was the most valuable thing ever. Finally, he told us all the things we were listing were corruptible, and had less value than human life. Our lives were the most valuable thing ever. Our lives were a gift from God and what we do with our lives is our gift to God. We would not be able to take any of those other things with us after we leave this life, but we could take our righteousness.

Although my dad was teaching us eternal principals, my take away was, I am valuable and since I am valuable, my dad is rich. I also concluded the richest man in Aberdeen, Idaho, on that day in 1977 was Howard Beck. No other man in Aberdeen had as many children as he did, so he was the richest. It goes without saying, when my teacher asked if we were rich, I eagerly raised my hand and announced to everyone that we were the richest of all.

As I think back on that day, I can’t help but think of how much free lunches might have helped our family out. My mother made homemade bread for our lunch. We didn’t have a lot to eat, but we never starved, we just got sick of the same thing day in and day out. I remember looking at other children eating their “hot school lunches,” and wishing we had enough money for me to be able to eat that wonderful food. I would hear kids complain about the food, and I couldn’t believe my ears, because it looked absolutely delicious to me. I ate my peanut butter sandwich made with homemade apricot jelly and would long for a French fry or piece of cake. But dog on it, we were rich, remember.

I can even remember wishing I had a cool store bought lunch pail, but that never happened either. We didn’t even have those awesome brown bags to put our lunches in. Our lunches would be thrown into whatever we could muster up, which was usually an oversized already used brown bag. I can even remember sitting on the step in my house and day dreaming that one day I would be rich enough that I could buy a store bought twinkie, maybe even an entire box of twinkies every single day to add to my lunch. Then I would wipe the idea out of my mind knowing that was completely ridiculous and out of reach. We never had any store bought items in our house when I was young, except on Christmas morning. My dad would get a little tiny bonus check in December and every year my parents would buy us store bought cold cereal for a celebration on Christmas morning.

We didn’t have enough money to heat our house either. Sometimes, when there were extra medical bills to be paid, our power would get shut off for a while. Luckily we had a great woodburning stove and it had a little door with an oven on the top. We were able to cook our food in there. It was sort of like reliving the Little House on the Prairie books in the early 70’s. When the weather was the coldest we would all crash out in our tiny living room where the wood stove was. It would be wall to wall bodies across the floor. When it was time to get ready for school, we would run to the bedroom change our clothes quickly and run back to the only heated room in the house.

The worst thing was when our pipes would freeze up because the house was so cold. Then we didn’t have running water either. Luckily for us, we still had an outhouse way out by the barn, so we could do our business on our way to and from doing the chores.

This Looks A Lot Like out Outhouse On Our Farm
We were particularly blessed because ours was a 2 seater

We raised our own garden, had apple, apricot, cherry, and plum trees. We also raised a few cattle, chickens and pigs and we always had a milk cow, so the food that was abundant was meat, fruit, vegetables, and lots of milk. We made our own homemade version of Grapenuts, and we always had rice. Again, you can see that we didn’t go hungry; we just had to work for our food. The eggs didn’t just appear in the fridge, there was work to be done to be able to eat.

I remember being at an activity once where someone brought Oreo cookies. I couldn’t believe my eyes, real store bought cookies, never came into our household until we were older and had jobs of our own to buy them.

Our family was a perfect example of the little chickens who learned how to work for their food. We never took anything for granted and we always appreciated the most basic simple things. Humility was not hard to come by either.

Even though it seems rather harsh when I think about it now, it really was not a bad way to grow up. We were a family filled with love and joy. I never remember a single day of being sad or depressed. There was no time for that. Yes I longed for goodies, but other than wishing for a sweet reward now and then, I really was content and filled with excitement. We made a game out of everything and laughter filled our home every single day.

Tomorrow I will write about another thing that filled my life to the brim. That is when the cousins would come and live with us during the summer to work on the farm.

To be continued...


  1. Amy:

    Your post about your dad caught my attention and I read it. It bring back a lot of memories from my childhood, also having been blessed by having great parents. What an amazing blessing it is and an awesome responsibility to provide a similar childhood for our children. We miss your family here in Salinas, it is amazing how fast the time flies. Regards to Tim and your children.

    1. Roger, I am so glad you liked it. We sure miss your family as well. Tell everyone hi for me:)