I hate to launch into a major family argument, but every family battles with hurt feelings, jealousies and frustration over how the youngest child is treated. This age old dilemma has been compounded for our family because Lil D bears my name. While her siblings point to this as an obvious sign of favoritism, Lil D reminds them that being saddled with the name of a balding, middle-aged, socially awkward man who is entirely lacking an appropriate filter has been no picnic, regardless of the superior moniker with which she was blessed. For example, consider the challenges of A Boy Named Sue in Johnny Cash's blockbuster hit from 1969. Darel has borne her burden remarkably well. To be sure, her name presented challenges in school along with serious questions from friends, "Are you okay having a boy's name?" "What's it like having your dad's name? And the best of all, "What's wrong with your dad?!" One specific experience while a student at BYU illustrated this problem: Darel attempted to register for a Women's Studies class and was denied entry, supposedly because the registrar assumed she was a male student.
Despite the disadvantage of going through life with a male name, the weight of which must surely feel like a boat anchor at times, she has excelled at everything she has attempted. She is spoken to by everyone because she speaks to everyone. She counts everyone as her friend because she is friendly with everyone. And she is loved by everyone because she loves everyone. Her siblings have noticed (read here criticized) a certain naiveté quality about her that borders on ignorance; but it is this very quality that people find so endearing, and which creates an approachability that intimidates none, and attracts all. This might help explain her election victory as ASB President in high school, and her selection as Homecoming Queen. While she is beautiful and smart, this does not begin to explain why she was so popular in high school, and in life. She is unpretentious and works hard to appear prosaic, even though she has literally traveled the globe. She genuinely loves people and it shows. She is smart enough to have doors opened, and humble enough to appreciate her opportunities.
Following Shea's graduation and departure for college, Darel was left as an only child in our home for several years. While her siblings were missed, Sheila and I enjoyed the one-on-one time we had with Darel. She would meet us every Friday night for date night and have dinner with us at restaurants all over town. Thus, she is accustomed to fine food and is not intimidated by any dining establishment's environment. We can only apologize to her siblings that Darel enjoyed a remarkable three year run as toast of the town and our special guest for many intimate evenings.
One of my favorite qualities about Lil D is how much she loves being at home and chilling with her siblings. She is a remarkable aunt to her nieces and nephews, especially Keith. He loved her because she spent time with him and just loved him. I will forever cherish the image of Keith, begging Darel, "Diwol, can I ride your tail?" And then watching "Diwol" pull the grandkids around the house on the hardwood and tile floors on her blanket. They all love her because she is one of them.
She has immeasurable gifts, but sometimes finds herself anxious over whether she has the ability to succeed. I think she realized she was in for a very challenging adventure when she entered the MTC. As we approached the entrance to the MTC, she pleaded, "Dad, don't drive into the drive just yet. I'm not ready! Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?!" It was separation anxiety in overdrive. I reminded her, "Daniel walked into the lions' den and didn't fear; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked into the fiery furnace and did not doubt; and Joseph Smith accepted the challenge of translating of golden plates with complete confidence, despite not knowing anything about Reformed Egyptian! Surely, you can walk into the MTC, a place where you will be loved and welcomed. Never doubt! Never fear! Always have courage!" Her reply spoke legions to me, "Okay, I can do this!", which she kept repeating as we dropped her off. I have never been more proud of her. Well, that was until I began to receive her letters from the Philippines and it became clear that her fear was not about leaving home, but rather the very real challenge of living in a foreign country and having to speak a strange language without her parents to guide her and protect her. It's not just the deprivation of physical comforts, it's the stark cultural differences, the inability to communicate and the wild culinary adventures that have imposed on Darel the need to mature very quickly.
I think back to our first trip to Paris when Lil D was still in junior high school and I realized then her adaptability and vulnerability, all at once. Upon arrival, we immediately set out for the Arc de Triomphe. The intent was to find a restaurant and have lunch on the Champs de Elysee. We had been in Paris for less than an hour and we lost her. She simply disappeared. Sheila and were panicked. Paris is a very big and scary place. We were all combing the shops, cafes and streets where we last saw her. She casually reappeared 30 minutes later sporting a very stylish scarf. "Where have you been?" I demanded. "And where, and how, did you buy that scarf?" "Oh, its easy Dad, you just find something you like and give them some money and they give you back your change. You don't even have to speak the language!" Yes, in a word, naive! But also courageous!
Sheila and I have commented over the years what a special child Darel is. She is so natural with people and makes friends easily. I'm sure this is helping her tremendously as a missionary. We can see different, but equally special qualities in all of our children. We have been so blessed in our home life and in our family relationships. I loved going to Darcee's basketball games and seeing how tenacious she was on the court. This gift is continuing to bless her life and her family. I have loved talking politics, languages and world geography with Chelsea, and was thrilled when she had the courage to follow her dream and go to grad school in London. Sydney was a joy to watch in soccer and basketball. She has more natural talent than just about anyone I know. She makes me laugh, and her enthusiasm for life and her willingness to try everything continues to amaze and inspire me. One of my great privileges in life was to coach my son Shea in wrestling. I know it was hard for him, but I think we both learned a lot. He is smart and motivated to succeed with so many amazing opportunities on the horizon. I think it's clear that I love all of my children equally, but in different ways. I feel that I have enjoyed special relationships and experiences with each of them. And so, naturally I get defensive when they argue about whose Dad's favorite. In the end, Darel's argument is hard to refute, "It's obvious Mom and Dad saved the best for last and that's why I got Dad's name!" I don't know about that, but I do know that Darel, like her siblings, is a most remarkably talented, beautiful and gifted child, of whom we could not be more proud.
Darel's missionary picture
At the temple with Lil D.