Bridges to the future

Chancellor Ritchie, President Yates, distinguished guests all across the state of Colorado. I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you. I hope I can measure up to the challenge to express a few thoughts on the mammoth undertaking of building bridges to the future.

I am an old man now. I will be 93 on my next birthday. You ask, "What future is there for you?"

I live in a downtown apartment. But I have a little hideaway, a small house in the country surrounded by trees. I planted a number of Colorado Blue Spruce last week. They are very small now. But in 20 years they will be magnificent. There is something within me that makes me plant trees each spring. That impulse has been with me since I was a boy and lived on a fruit farm in the summer. Now, I think of what someone said, "A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit" (Greek proverb).

I hope I can assist in building bridges, bridges I will likely never walk across, but which will be crossed and appreciated by many.

I lived in Denver long ago. I worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, the D&RGW. Using those initials people sometimes called it "Delayed and Rapidly Growing Worse." But it was really a great institution. We operated two lines westbound out of Denver. The first went from Denver down to Pueblo and then turned west and followed the Arkansas River. At one place where there was a deep and narrow gorge there was no room for a railroad track. The construction engineers supplied one by literally suspending a bridge from the sheer walls of the steep canyon. It was an engineering feat of great wonder. The trains stopped here to permit the passengers to get out and look at this marvel. That bridge became a bridge to the future of the railroad.

The other line, which came along later, went up through the Moffat Tunnel and from there on to Grand Junction. That, too, was an engineering marvel.

I learned some very important and meaningful lessons when I worked for the railroad. That was in the days of steam locomotives, and those great thunderous and marvelous machines pulled long trains through the night. Those engines were hard-riding giants of power whose headlights combed the canyons of the Arkansas and Colorado Rivers, permitting the engineer to see the five or six hundred feet of track that were constantly ahead of his engine all through the dark night. He did not have to worry about reaching his final destination. He had only to worry about that which lay in the light of his headlamp. There is a great lesson in that for all of us as we think of building bridges for the future. We can have great dreams, wonderful concepts. But in the actual process of achieving those dreams we are limited in our foresight. However, for every foot that we move we extend our reach another foot beyond, out into the unknown.

I learned another great lesson. One day a freight train derailed in a very narrow gorge of the Colorado River. The line was blocked. There was no room to run a track around the wreck. Loaded cars filled with valuable freight were scattered along the right of way.

There was only one solution. Push the derailed cars into the river. Sacrifice the freight. Repair the tracks and open the line. Otherwise, you simply shut down the railroad. I learned that a wreck can become a very costly thing, but it will be more costly to do nothing but wring your hands. You will soon find yourself out of business. You make the best of the situation, no matter the cost, and move forward.

One of my treasured possessions is a beautiful brass bell from a D&RG locomotive, presented to me in 1995, by the president of the railroad as an expression of appreciation.

Now the D&RG is gone. The Union Pacific has it all. It is the survivor in the history of railroads in this western country.

Events of history have always led to significant change. Such an event was the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001, which must ever be remembered as a day of infamy.

It was a mean and devilish attack on the United States. I think the people of a majority of the nations of the world sympathized with us on that occasion.

There followed the war on the terrorists, chiefly in Afghanistan. And out of that conflict grew the present conflict, war on Iraq against a tyrannical regime.

The cities of Iraq have now been occupied. But terrible problems remain. We have won the war and we now face the perplexing challenge of winning the peace.

This conflict has brought anger against America from those who have been our allies and our friends. As a nation we must build bridges to cross these rivers of bitterness. There will be a need for great statesmanship, magnanimous trust and absolute integrity on our part.

But there are bridges which we must build not only outside but also within our nation, important bridges, without which there will be increasing national decay.

I love this great land of which we are a part. My work has taken me all over this world. I have flown across the seas  south, west and east. I have worked on every continent.

I love the beauties of the earth in all their diversity. I likewise love the peoples of the world. I love the grand varieties of culture with their costumes, customs and music; eyes dark and light, hair black and blonde; and the incredible range of creativity in everything from architecture to food. I believe this world and its people to be the creations of Jehovah, and I delight in their diversity.

I love them all, but most of all I love America, on whose soil I was born.

I live the people of this land and particularly the youth. I have met with them across the continent  hundreds of thousands of them. They are bright and beautiful. They have a certain vitality and strength. They have foresight and ambition. They have goals and objectives. What a wonderful generation they are, so very, very many of them.

And yet there are so many millions of others who have fallen between the cracks and whose lives are like smoking candles from which the flame has been blown. Many in this gathering tonight are scarcely aware of them. But they are out there, millions of them all about us.

They have lost their dreams. They seem to have no purpose. Their lives lead to a dead end. They are the bitter fruit of broken families and fractured homes. Most of them have no fathers of whom they know.

In my judgment the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children. Though it did not begin with 9/11, the events of that day spoke to all of us of the necessity of strong and supportive families. The strengthening of the home is of paramount importance in building bridges for the future.

The family is the primary unit of society. I believe it was designed by the Almighty. A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its families.

The children of broken homes look for identity. They want to be a part of something. In their quest so many of them turn to gangs. Here they swagger and fight. They steal and plunder. They kill and are killed. The spectacle of children killing children is an abhorrent and terrible thing. It leads inevitably either to death or the dead end of incarceration.

America now has two million of its citizens in prisons, more than any other nation on earth. The cost of building facilities, of maintaining them, of feeding and clothing and guarding the inmates is staggering.

All of those inmates are the products of homes, the place where behavior is learned, where standards are taught, where values are established.

The path that led to incarceration in so very many cases began in childhood.

My wife likes to tell of Sam Levinson, who grew up in a New York tenement. He wrote a book entitled Everything but Money, in which he speaks of his mothers efforts in rearing eight precocious children. He says: "The fight against individual corruption was part of the fight against the environment. The moral standard of the home had to be higher than that of the street." When they misbehaved she would say to her children: "You are not on the street, you are in our home. This is not a cellar, nor a poolroom. Here we act like human beings" (Pocket Books, New York, 1966, p. 123).

It isnt the place, the real estate, that determines the quality of the home. It isnt the opulence of the dwelling or the race or the brilliance of the occupants. In most cases its the parents that make the difference. Its the man and the woman who are responsible for the children. And to put it bluntly, too many of them are cop-outs.

As we contemplate the future I see only small chance of improving our values system unless we can strengthen the sense of responsibility and acceptance of the vital truth that fatherhood and motherhood carry with them tremendous and lifelong obligations. Let us begin to teach with increasing sincerity and skill the wondrous beauty of parenthood, the joy of bringing new life into the world and the imperative of guiding and sustaining that life to make it meaningful and productive. One of my great predecessors was wont to say, "No success in life can compensate for failure in the home" (President David O. McKay).

Much of what happens in life is a matter of attitude. There is no greater responsibility on this earth than that of being parents to children. It is a responsibility that comes from the God of heaven Himself. As is apparent, it can be an experience of infinite beauty.

The divorce rate in our country is alarming. Today 43 percent of all first marriages end in divorce or separation within 15 years (Matthew D. Bramlett and William D. Mosher, "First Marriage Dissolution, Divorce and Remarriage: United States," Advance Data, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, #323, 31 May 2001). The father or the mother, usually the father, simply gets tired of marriage and walks out. In all too many cases he totally abandons the family. He often does not contribute to their maintenance. I deal with the matter of divorce every week. I am convinced that some cases are justified. But many could be avoided. In most cases the problem begins with selfishness. We need to teach more effectively that happiness in marriage is not so much a matter of romance, but rather, an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of ones companion and children. When a man begins to think less about himself and more about those for whom he is responsible his entire outlook changes. No one can doubt the blessing that comes of a good father. He should stand as the provider, the defender, the teacher, the dearest friend of his wife and children.

Jenkins Lloyd Jones observed "that the ability to beget children has nothing to do with the ability to bring them up.

"The kid who isnt loved knows it. There is no trauma so excruciating as parental rejection. No other form of human cussedness can more efficiently wreck a human life. Yet there persists the superstition that advantages are a substitute for affection. They arent.

"The finest of the advantages a family can offer cant be found in a department store, a car dealers showroom or a prep school. The only priceless one is the sense of belonging. Otherwise the family becomes a combination caf and dormitory. There is no glue in it. ...

"There is a difference between being a parent and a pal. A parent should be an object of some awe. But a parent should also be a fountainhead of wisdom and a leader into the world of men" (Jenkins Lloyd Jones, Deseret News, 13 July 1968).

I clipped the following from the Wall Street Journal some years ago. It recounts the experience of an African-American youth who became a prominent lawyer.

He says:

"One of my happiest childhood memories is of a ride with my father in our old clunker of an automobile. A shiny red Cadillac whizzed past and daddy remarked how pretty and expensive it was. Why do Cadillacs cost so much money? I asked. Is it the name?

"Well, he responded deliberately, thats part of it. But its also what that name means. Its like your name. It says that you are a [product] of the Chessies, and the Taylors and the Kings, and that you are so very, very special.

"Ever since, I have carried that praise with me. And I have never looked to another human being for my worth. My father convinced me that I didnt need to. Even in my lowest times, I believed I was special" (Michael L. King, Wall Street Journal, 6 June 1988).

Thats what makes the difference. A parent who runs away from family responsibility teaches irresponsibility to his children. A parent who stays with the family, nourishes them, loves them, teaches them pride in their name regardless of their economic circumstances, does something for the family, the community and the nation that cannot be done in any other way or by anyone else.

Then there is the man  so very, very many of them  who, only to satisfy lustful desire, impregnates a girl and then abandons her. There is so much of this. The New York Times Almanac reports that "births out of wedlock represented 31 percent of all births in 1998, and 86 percent of all births to teenagers. ... Every year in the U.S. almost 500,000 teenagers give birth" (NYT Almanac, 2002, p. 285).

Every case is a tragedy. It is a lifelong tragedy for the girl who becomes a single mother. It is a lifelong tragedy for the child who grows up without a father. It is a lifelong tragedy for society on whose ledger that child so often becomes a liability.

A writer in the Wall Street Journal observed: "Boys raised outside of intact marriages are, on average, more than twice as likely as other boys to end up jailed. ... Each year spent without a dad in the home increases the odds of future incarceration by about five percent. ...

"A child born to an unwed mother is about 2-1/2 times as likely to end up imprisoned, while a boy whose parents split during his teenage years was about 1-1/2 times as likely to be imprisoned" (Wall Street Journal, "Fatherless Boys Grow Up Into Dangerous Men," 1 Dec. 1998, A22).

This situation led one observer to conclude, "America has become the most dangerous country in the world into which a child is born  the richest and the most dangerous" (Patrick Fagan, Heritage Foundation, Washington Times, 5 May 2002).

What has brought us to this condition? It is not the result of some ruinous event such as the horror of 9/11. It has been a gradual process, the slow but corrosive abandonment of values once cherished and observed. We have lost much of a sense of civility. All of us who have watched television in recent days have wondered about the terrible looting that has taken place in Iraq. We say to ourselves, "What in the world has gone wrong with those people that they wantonly steal everything loose they can carry away?" And then I go back to the televised images of rioting in some of our own urban centers when stores were broken into by lawless mobs and looted of merchandise and fixtures. Neither subjugation nor celebration justifies such behavior no matter where it takes place.

The tragedy of gunfire in our schools bespeaks an absence of simple civility. It is seen in the phenomenon called "road rage."

If something disappoints, if there is a grudge developed, we cannot settle it by shooting or solve it by looting.

No, there can and must be some discipline in our lives. That discipline can be taught and it can be learned, and that process happens best in the home.

There are many factors that have brought us to this point. You are familiar with them.

Pornography is one. It is rampant. It has become a huge industry whose producers grow rich while those who constitute its market sink lower and lower in a slough of debauchery.

We are all familiar with the problem of illegal drugs. It is a problem that seems to be impossible to control. We have an army of enforcement agents. But the traffic continues. I am satisfied that only education will turn the tide. I was amazed to read that in many instances parents were responsible for the introduction of their children to the use of drugs. How could a parent see any good in introducing illegal drugs to his or her child?

The fruits of unbridled sex we have already mentioned. The attitude that results in this comes in a very substantial measure from the entertainment world. I think none of us would wish to return to a code of extreme puritanism. But I honestly believe that most people would welcome an uplift, a great improvement in the products of Hollywood. I am told that the motion picture which recently won the top award is laden with sex and filled with profanity.

I believe that you cannot build an attitude of love for God in an environment where His name is constantly profaned  profaned and gagged over.

I heard Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, say, "You use the name of Deity in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution of the United States, and yet you cannot use it in the schoolroom." Her words are a rebuke and an indictment.

And so I might go on. Do I sound like someone out of the Old Testament? I suppose so. But I do know this. You cannot destroy the family, with the values on which it must be based, without undermining the strength of the nation. There is no more important foundation stone on which to build a bridge for the future than the family  that simple, but wonderful organization that the God of heaven put together where there is a father who loves and takes responsibility, where there is a mother who nurtures and rears her children with pride, and where there are children who look to parents with love and respect and appreciation.

The Church, which I am pleased to represent, has for nearly 90 years encouraged families  mother, father and children  to set aside one night a week in what we call family home evening. Here we talk and laugh, sing and learn, led by caring parents.

Let me tell of one such family in whose home I have been. They live in a small town in Wyoming. It is a large family, with seven children.

At the head of that household stands a good father and a loving mother. A prominent lawyer in this city of Denver had as a client the father of that family. They worked together for months in a large international lawsuit. Of that father the Denver lawyer told me, "I have never met an individual with higher moral or ethical standards than [this man[" (Letter from William R. Fishman, Feb. 2000).

That father practices in his house what he exemplifies in his career. As the children have grown there has been no day that has passed without family prayer, without kneeling before the Almighty in reverence. There has been no week in which that father and mother have not gathered their children around them to read together, to plan together, to talk of the things of life together, to sing and pray together.

Those now grown occupy positions of responsibility, and the younger ones are well on their way. Knowing that family, I believe I can predict that they will never become a liability to the society of which they are a part.

I submit that if we will work to turn the families of America to God, if they will recognize Him as our divine Father, as the Ruler of the universe, as the Giver of all good, something wonderful will happen. Think of what it means to know that each of us is actually a child of God and that He is our Father to whom we may go in prayer. If we will use our energies to bring about a practice in the homes of America of good reading, including the reading of scripture, of a desire for education, of an attitude of civility one to another; then, and only then, will our nation truly become not only the military leader but also the moral light of the entire world.

I have seen such homes, very many of them. They are represented in large numbers in this audience. The children of your homes are growing up to be responsible, contributing citizens.

But there is a great underworld out there, a jungle if you please, that needs our attention. We can and must do something.

Since 9/11 we have established in America a large agency entitled Homeland Security to deal with any present or future threat. May I say that it is likewise urgent that we work at home and family security.

As we do so America will be strong not only in her arms and military affairs, she will be invincible in her moral values and in the integrity of her citizens.

I urge each of you to work at it, to become involved, to reach out to lift those who stand in need of help. We will not entirely solve the problem, but we can reduce it.

If we do this, we shall in very deed begin to build bridges that will endure and carry this nation forward to better and nobler heights among the people of the earth.

"God Bless America." And may she be worthy of His blessing.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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