by Michael Barker
“A man may be counted a virtuous man though he have made many slips in his life…also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars.” (Miles Smith – one of the King James Bible translators)
A few months ago I was at work seeing patients. An older patient, probably in her seventies, looked down at my shoes and complimented me on them. I smiled and said, “Ya, not a lot of people wear this style of shoe anymore.”
Excerpts From A Journal Entry
January 1, 2006
“Dad has died. He was hit by a package delivery truck November 29, 2005. He was in downtown Puebla. My mom said he had driven down there to get some blankets. He was crossing the street when the truck made a left-hand turn and hit him. Mom called him on the cell phone to remind him to pick some other stuff up. When she called, someone else answered the phone. She hung up and called again. This time she heard his voice in the background calling out, “Chareine [my mom’s name], help me!” The person on the phone spoke only Spanish, so mom gave the phone to a sister who happened to be at home with mom. That’s how mom got the news….
“Paul and I flew down on Saturday (December 3, 2005). We saw dad the next day in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He looked like he was sleeping. A day or two later dad began trying to breath on his own, so Paul and I came back to the states. Dad died two days later on December 9, 2005 apparently secondary to hypotension…
“I flew into Logan on Thursday, December 15, 2005. I stayed with Paul and Ang that evening. Uncle Elven, Paul, Mom, and I went and picked a burial plot that day as well as dad’s head stone…
“Paul, Elven, Bryant [my middle brother], and I dressed dad when he arrived to the states…”
“My relationship with my father was a bit complicated…There were a lot of things I would have enjoyed discussing with him such as my job. He expected much from me and that pushed me to work hard. But because of his difficulty with telling the truth, he was never able to fully appreciate the results of his labors.
“When mom told me what had happened [dad dying], I unexpectedly cried. It was weird. I had tried so hard to somewhat demonize my father; it was easier to deal with him if I saw him as a dishonest man, rather than a man who was “not perfect.” The thought of him suffering pained me deeply…”
With the distance of time, one can sit back and try to reconstruct. This is what I have been doing with my father. Who was he? Why did he do the things he did? The following memories of my father may seem disjointed, but that represents my relationship I had with him.
When I was younger, I did not do well academically. My father re-married a third time when I was nine years old and my brother Paul was seven. Chareine (we call her mom now) helped soften some of dad’s strict and hard edges and helped me to turn my grades around. Dad also did something important. He demanded that I raise my hand in class anytime I did not understand something. He demanded that I sit at the front of the class. Man, that was embarrassing, but I did it. He said, “If you have questions, someone else probably does too.”
When I was in my medical training as a Physician Assistant, I continued to raise my hand during lectures. I remember when we were being lectured on the anatomy of the female breast, being teased because, well, apparently I had a lot of questions. That earned me the nick-name, Boob-Man.
Today I still ask questions – lots of them. But they tend to be geared towards my religious beliefs and questions of existentialism. These questions eventually led me to a crisis of faith and then into a transition of faith.
When I was thirteen, we moved from the east-side of San Jose, California to a small town in the San Joaquin Valley called Manteca. My dad was in his mid to late thirties. Shortly after our move, I noticed my dad distancing himself from the Church. I wasn’t sure why. He became angry. I remember arguments between he and my mother about our LDS faith which would leave my mother in tears.
During this same period, my father would be angry anytime we wanted to do something with the Church. He seemed to pull out the “we need to have family-time” card a lot, even though that family time mostly consisted of him being angry. One Thanksgiving in particular was very difficult. Paul and I had gotten up early to play football with some friends from church. When we got home my dad was furious. Supposedly he had told us that he wanted to spend the day with us watching the bowl games on TV; Paul and I had no recollection of such a conversation. In his anger, he hit Paul.
During this period of time I remember being confused. Things were so volatile. Why was this happening? Paul and I continued to attend church and my father eventually returned to activity. As I look back during that period of time, I remember my father reading a paper-back copy about the Mark Hoffman murders (I believe it might have been The Mormon Murders by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith). Could this have been the catalyst to what I saw as a faith crisis in my father? I asked my mom about this a few months ago and she has no recollection of this time period in our family’s history.
I also wonder if he was having a bit of an existential crisis. Dad had lived in San Jose shortly after his parent’s divorce. He had served in a bishopric, and had been the Stake Mission President (back when that existed). Now, living in Manteca, California, he was a nobody. All of us want to feel that we are contributing something important to our faith community. All of us want our hand-cart to push.
In my mid to late thirties, like my father, I found my self in a crisis of faith; angry, scared, and with no one with whom I could speak.
Family, Parenting, and Courtship
When I flew to Utah for my father’s funeral service, I met with my father’s only sibling, Aunt Jill. Their relationship had become strained and they had not spoken to each other for quite some time. She shared pictures, mission letters, and stories with Paul and I. One of the stories Aunt Jill shared left quite an impression on me.
After she, grandma, and dad had moved to California (dad was about 16 years old), dad got two paper routes. He gave grandma all the money he earned to help pay rent. As a result, dad could only afford one set of clothes – a pair of corduroy jeans, a white t-shirt, and a pair of shoes. Kids at school mad fun of him because he wore the same clothes every day…but family came first.
When I was dating my wife, my father kept on pushing me to ask her to marry me. It seemed a bit rushed, even by Mormon standards. I’m glad I didn’t listen to him. My wife and I joke that my father’s approach to courtship was like President Bush’s attack on Iraq – hit them with “Shock and awe.”
My father also explained the importance of Cathy (my wife) being college educated. He said that it would put Cathy and I on a more even playing field. I put my wife through school before I graduated from my medical training.
Marriage was, and still is at times, difficult for me. Early on, I found myself naturally falling back on how I saw my father do things – manipulation. This approach was not going to work with Cathy. That became obvious very quickly. Not only did this approach become unhealthy for my marriage, but it also contributed to my faith crisis. Were my religious beliefs based on my father manipulating me? Did I only believe what I believed so as not to shame my father?
When my father married mom, he would always emphasize the need for all four of us (Dad, new mom, Paul, and me) to be one family. But, what I actually saw being played out would confuse me. Early in my father’s third marriage (the second marriage was too short to even discuss), whenever he and mom would get into a big argument, dad would take Paul and I and leave the house. “I’m taking the kids with me.” This was so confusing; why was he making a distinction between the three of us and mom?
When it came to my relationship with Cathy and parenting my two daughters, I eventually learned to do this, and it is a joke between Cathy and I: “Whatever your dad would do in a situation, do the opposite.”
“I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins” – John Mellencamp
When I flew to Provo to enter the Missionary Training Center, I spent a night with my Grandma Payne before entering. While chatting with my cigarette-smoking Mormon grandma, she recounted an interesting story to me:
For a period of time, my dad had worked for Juvenile Hall in San Jose, CA. One day he called my grandma and said, “Mom make sure to watch the evening news tonight.”
“Why?” she responded.
“Just watch it.”
Apparently my father had launched a complaint against the county because those in Juvenile Hall that smoked were allowed more time outside their cells than those teenagers that didn’t. Dad saw that as a huge injustice and had gone to television reporters about it.
I can remember, before he married mom (Chareine), being in a gas station and seeing a man with the back door of his car open beating a women. All 5’8″ of my dad stopped the car, popped our trunk, grabbed the handle of a pool cue stick, pulled the man out the back seat and hit him with it.
When I was about twelve years-old, my father came home with a young man, his wife, and their daughter. Apparently my father had known the husband from when dad taught early-morning seminary years before. Dad had been at the chapel and found them waiting outside. They had no place to live, so my dad invited them to live with us. Eventually my father would be woken up at night from the husband beating his young wife. My father would get the husband to stop. At one point, my dad gave the husband a sleeping bag and had him sleep outside. Eventually my father kicked him out of the house, but offered the wife (whom he hadn’t known previously) and their daughter a place to stay at our home.
My wife and I had been married for about five years when I finally graduated from Physician Assistant school. My wife was pregnant with our first daughter at the time and would deliver about two months later. When we made an offer on a home we wished to purchase, we found out my credit score was in shambles. What? How could this happen? Upon further investigation, I figured out it was due to my father. I asked him to correct the situation; he tried to manipulate me. It didn’t work. I threatened him that he would never see his granddaughter if things weren’t corrected. The problem was fixed, but our relationship was forever damaged.
I don’t think that he expected the authority to which I would stand up against would be him. That strength was something he had instilled in me.
Crazy Sh*% My Dad Would Say in Church
I remember my dad describing in church one Sunday, spittoons that used to be inside the Salt Lake Temple. I found it interesting, but was soon quite embarrassed when people would say, “Oh there’s Brother Barker again.” My dad had a problem with stretching history beyond the facts and with truth in general.
I remember my dad describing to me Joseph Smith’s use of the seer stones. Once again, I thought he was making stuff up.
I referred to most of his stories as “Paul H. Dunn Moments”, but with both of these instances, I later found were true. History is sometimes more interesting than fiction.
Embrace new truths, even if it requires a shift in paradigms.
If it was ever my or Paul’s word against someone else, dad always believed us. This provided some interesting situations as teenage boys.
When Paul was about ten years old, he was doing miserably in school. He would tell my dad that it was because the teacher didn’t control her class and he couldn’t hear the teacher. My father complained to the principle of the school about this. The principle didn’t believe Paul. So, my dad wired Paul with a hidden tape recorder and told Paul to record whatever was going on during class. Sure enough, the class was out of control.
Truth was important to him, as long as it wasn’t him that needed to tell the truth!! Ha! Paul and I knew he would defend us.
Oh, How Dad Loved the People of Lehi
My dad served his mission in Mexico. Paul, Dad, and I would visit his mission quite frequently before he married for the third time. I can remember dad providing an all expense paid trip to Mexico for one of his seminary students (Jeff Smith) who had memorized all the Book of Mormon mastery scriptures and read the Book of Mormon all the way through. It was a fun trip. I remember being in the Yucatan and visiting the pyramids. Paul got yelled at my a man for sliding down the nose of one of the Quetzalcoatl monuments.
After dad’s funeral, Jeff Smith came up to me and told me a story from his Mexico trip with the Barker clan. I can remember there being issues with us getting on the plane back home to the U.S. and I can remember Paul and I not sitting with our dad on the plane. Jeff filled in an important gap.
Apparently, the airline was on strike, and it didn’t look like we were all going to make it back on the plane. Jeff said,
” Your dad managed to get three tickets and gave them to Joni (a student that paid her own way), Paul, and you. His plan was to rent a car and drive back with me (Jeff Smith). Your dad had a very animated conversation with the ticket person at the front of the line. Finally your dad went behind the ticket counter and entered a room with an airline employee. After several minutes, he came out and told me that he had two tickets, not to ask questions and we ran to the plane; we were the last ones to board.”
Dad loved Latin Americans. He loved them more than most people do that have served their missions south of the border. In fact, he loved them so much that his first and second wife were of Latin American descent. Paul and I come from his first marriage.
In our many visits to Mexico, dad instilled in Paul and me an appreciation of the uniqueness of our heritage – especially within the Mormon paradigm. He would call us his “Little Lamanites”. Paul and I never saw it as a derogatory term, but one of which we were proud.
Dad kept his shoes from his mission. I remember how heavy they were and when the soles would wear out, he would get them resoled. They were a winged tip shoe.
I regret that dad and I didn’t make amends before he died. It still hurts. I wish he would have known my daughters. Many people only saw one side of dad – that of a joker, a man that would give the shirt off his back to help someone. Others knew mostly of his darker side – the manipulation; his difficulty telling the truth; his short temper. But neither fully describe Jeff Barker.
When my patient complimented me on my shoes, they were my brown wing tipped shoes. I smiled. Those shoes remind me of dad. They remind me that none of us are binary; all good or all bad. They remind me of what he has given me; an intense love of family; a questioning mind; the strength to stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences. They remind me of what I should have had; a more stable home; more patience; love without the manipulation.
At the beginning of this post, I quoted Miles Smith, one of the King James Bible translators. It is the quote with which I ended my father’s eulogy over seven years ago and is the quote with which I will end this post:
“A man may be counted a virtuous man though he have made many slips in his life…also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars.”
This is my dad. This is all of us really, isn’t it?
This photograph was taken in 1911 by Prussian convert Gisbert Bossard, who after becoming disaffected from Church leaders, was convinced by a man named Max Florence to sneak inside the temple at night to take photographs. Bossard and Florence attempted to blackmail the Church, demanding the First Presidency pay them $100,000, or they’d publish the pictures. Joseph F. Smith responded, saying “I will make no bargain with thieves or traffickers in stolen goods. I prefer to let the law deal with them.” Thus, James E. Talmage was commissioned to write The House of the Lord, which the Church promised would contain full color photographs, and more information about temple worship. This was calculated, it seems, to eliminate interest in the photographs elsewhere. It has been claimed the photo depicts white spittoons at the foot of several chairs. As today’s post explains, compliance to the Word of Wisdom in order to enter the Temple was not required until 1921. For more on the photograph episode, see “Explaining the Temple to the World: James E. Talmage’s Monumental Book, The House of the Lord,” by David R. Seely. See also, Kent Walgren,“Inside the Salt Lake Temple: Gisbert Bossard’s 1911 Photographs,” Dialogue 29 (3) Fall 1996: 1-43. Foot note courtesy of: http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2007/09/development-of-word-of-wisdom.html