Two Memories of My Father
28 September 2008 (updated 6 September 2023)
Several memories of my father have, over the years, grown in importance to me. I’ll share a couple that come to mind with particular force.
I imagine I’ve embellished them to suit the situations of my life. And my retelling of events will reveal at least as much about me as it will of him. I think, though, that the memories yet retain an authentic mark from this person, Layne Cannon, who I respect and love – and miss.
Trust in the Desert
Once while backpacking somewhere in southern Utah, our scout troop arrived at a point where the trail ended abruptly at a cliff, overlooking a slot canyon. My father, our scout master, studied some maps as we looked around for an easy way to descend. He determined we were on the right trail. And we found there was no easier way to descend than to lower backpacks and scouts, one by one, over the edge of the cliff to the floor of the canyon below.
This was daunting for several scouts, particularly some of the newer ones. But we proceeded without encountering any problems. Soon, everyone was down except my father, another adult leader and me.
My father turned to me and asked if I would test another way down, since the last person wouldn’t be able to lower himself, and added that he was only asking because he was confident in me. I accepted the request.
With help from the scouts already below, we rigged a rope between a scraggly tree near the edge of the cliff and another in the bottom of the canyon. With persons anchoring both ends of the rope, just in case the trees didn’t hold, I crawled down. The trees held firm, and the adults promptly followed.
My father’s trust meant a lot to me in that moment, and continues to mean a lot to me now.
Faith from a Driveway
Occasionally, while growing up, I would open up to my father about my religious thoughts, hopes, and doubts. He was generally a good listener, as well as a concerned and helpful friend. I remember discussing subjects as fantastical as whether or not we might be the thoughts of God, and leaving with the impression that my father was not disturbed or disappointed by my unorthodox imagination.
One evening upon return home, while still sitting together in the car parked in the driveway, I asked him about something that had been bothering me. So many Mormons claimed to know so much about so many things. But I was skeptical.
I wanted to hear from my father what he thought about their claims, and what he claimed to know. He responded that, if he knew anything, it was that there is a God. I’m sure the conversation continued. But that’s where the memory ends.
It’s a moment that has repeated itself in my mind countless times. While it may seem a simple thing, as I’ve matured and become better familiar with the complexities of theology and human psychology, I’ve felt increasingly that I didn’t understand him as well as I would now like to have understood. That statement of faith, although in syntax not remotely unique to him, means something unique to me because of the individual he was.
I can still see his feet rubbing together with characteristic nervous energy while he prayed silently beside his bed. I can still hear him committing to memory the words of a scriptural text about compassionate leadership. I feel, still, his sincerity as he stood to teach Jesus’ gospel to a congregation of students, while a machine pumped fluids into his cancer-wracked body.
God doesn’t mean the same thing to each of us. For me, it’s impossible to separate cleanly my memories of my father from my thoughts about God.