Family preparation for General Conference is a little different when “Dad” is also “President.”
BYU geography professor Clark Monson is the youngest son of President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He remembers sitting in a marsh at 8 years old, listening to his dad give his talk over the radio as they waited for passing ducks on the first hunting weekend of the year.
“I can remember that it was always kind of disappointing that my dad always had to be at General Conference,” Clark Monson said. “He couldn’t ever go duck hunting on the opening day anymore.”
For him, the man called as the Church’s prophet is simply “Dad,” but his father’s ecclesiastical service is all he’s ever known. “I’ve never seen him serve in any capacity except as a General Authority,” Clark Monson said. “He got called into the Quorum of the Twelve at about my fourth birthday. That’s the only calling I’ve ever really known him serving in.”
Clark Monson recognized early the responsibilities that went beyond that of any normal father’s. “My dad was gone almost every weekend of the year,” he said. “(But) we never, growing up, really resented Dad having to be gone a lot. We knew why he had to be gone, and when he was with us, he was always a great dad.”
Jeff Bednar, the youngest of the three sons of Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve, remembers leaving the family’s hometown in Arkansas to attend General Conference with his dad, a tradition that began when the children reached ages of priesthood advancement. “As I look back, I don’t think about how uncomfortable the benches (in the Tabernacle) were. I just remember the special experience of being with my dad,” Jeff Bednar said.
Now Jeff Bednar has a different conference experience, as “Dad” speaks from the pulpit as one of the Church’s leaders. “I think Conference is an exciting time, because Dad will sometimes share parts of the talks he is working on or ask for our feedback about one of his messages,” he said. “So when we watch him deliver the final message, it is inspiring to see it come to fruition.”
The preparation for General Conference was observed by the leaders’ children, including Kenneth Packer, the curator at the BYU Monte L. Bean Museum. His father, President Boyd K. Packer, serves as the Church’s president of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“Conference time was always a time to be ready,” Kenneth Packer said. “I know Dad’s been working on his talk for weeks. And there’s quite a bit of preparation that takes place.”
Kenneth Packer watched his father prepare and deliver messages universal in their application. “Every lesson that he’s taught us as a family he’s also tried to teach to the Church in his talks,” he said. “The message to the family is exactly the same as it to the Church.”
Church history and doctrine professor Mary Jane Woodger has noted the unique position of the children of the Church’s ecclesiastical leaders in the public setting. “They are so willing to share their parents with the Church,” she said. “They realize that because of who they have become … they are different than your normal dad.”
Elizabeth Eyring is the daughter of President Henry B. Eyring, a counselor in the Church’s First Presidency. She shared her experiences with Woodger’s religion class in 2001, of when she witnessed the call of her father to serve as one of the Church’s leaders.
“The only thought that went through my head that I can remember to this day is a very mortal man is joining a very immortal realm,” Elizabeth Eyring said in a video recorded from the class.
But despite demanding Church responsibilities, Eyring’s family continued to be an important priority. “I had Henry B. Eyring as a dad all growing up,” she said. “Although I did see change when he was called; it definitely humbled him. … It became very evident when he took that mantle upon him, and (he) has become … an even more amazing father and husband.”
The admiration of Church leaders by their children is heightened as they witness the fulfillment of their callings.
“I’ve always looked at members of the Twelve with great respect and reverence,” Jeff Bednar said. With his own dad’s call, he developed a similar veneration. “He’s your father, but you watch him magnified to do something extraordinary. That’s faith-promoting to me.”