We have never lived near family. From the day I left for the Korea Pusan mission over three decades ago I never lived more than a few weeks at a time with those who raised me or who were raised with me. A product of the BYU marriage factory, my wife and I headed for Maryland seeking fame and fortune and a family of our own. All we found was our own tiny family of four; we have spent the rest of our days out here, always at least a long day’s drive away from grown brothers and sisters and their own burgeoning family tribes. Likening the scriptures unto ourselves, I identified somewhat with Book of Mormon Jacob: “the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness.”
To survive in this lonesome world on the East coast, we were forced to adopt ward families- communities of saints with shared beliefs and values, all who ably performed as stand-in brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandkids, cousins and grandparents. Just as all of us are adopted into the house of Israel, local ward members have been adopted into the house of Tait. As we grew in the gospel and served in the church, we adopted many individuals and families as our own. In particular, when I served as a bishop, I developed a fatherly love for many of the youth and young families it was my privilege to serve. (You can learn more about that here.) Through the miracle of social media, as a proud “church dad” I can track the joys and sorrows, the opportunities and challenges, and the accomplishments and setbacks of my adopted children as they raise their own families and move forward in their professions and relationships. I revel in their progress and successes, and mourn with them in their variety of trials.
I hope you are listening. Some of you have since experienced difficulties and sorrows that may have sowed the seeds of doubt in God’s love for you, especially as it is expressed through the gospel of Jesus Christ- including the commandments and the doctrines of the LDS church. You may have been led to make decisions that would traditionally disappoint and/or trouble a loving father. Perhaps you have expressed serious doubts about doctrines and beliefs your church dad raised you in and are wrestling with your testimonies; others may have turned their spiritual backs on the church and left the fold altogether, finding this to be the only path to resolve the emotional torture of spiritual dissonance that haunts your souls.
Know that the size, source, and direction of your doubts and decisions will never damage how much I will always love you as a cherished member of my church family, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a member of my church family anymore. I will always love and respect you for who you are- a beloved son or daughter of an omnipresent Heavenly Father, a divine creation with a divine destiny. Although I may not personally understand, appreciate, or approve of paths you have chosen, my whole heart, might, mind, and strength is always open to embrace you in a spirit of love and fellowship. I will always be available to tenderly and truly listen to your questions and concerns, and help you find answers and solutions, regardless of how long it takes.
Why? Because that’s what church dads do.