Dayton Harris is my younger brother and one of my best friends. He graciously agreed to be one of my first interviews, and I’m excited to share what I learned. My relationship with him means a lot to me. He’s extremely considerate of others. He doesn’t take life too seriously. What he does take seriously, however, is his school, his marriage, and his faith. Dayton’s not a father yet, but he is a son. He’s young enough to remember what it was like to be a teenager, being in the throes of sibling rivalry, choosing where to go to school, and so on. So, in addition to interviewing him as a man and a future father, I was excited to hear his perspective on what âkids these daysâ are facing.
What are teenagers facing today?
Dayton is only 24, so he was a teenager not long ago. When I asked him what he remembered most about his teenage years, he said:
- âFor a while in high school, my friends were more important to me than religion, or anything elseâ
- âImmorality is everywhere [..] Thatâs just what teenagers do, I think. You can almost make a blanket statement about itâ
- He heard a lot of lessons from parents and teachers, but he didnât internalize them until he was older. He was glad then that he had the knowledge, but acknowledges that âpreachingâ didnât do him any good as a teenager (in fact, it may have pushed him away)
- That said, he DID latch onto some key teachings from his church, especially from the sermons of the more authoritative leaders. âI was actually thinking of a quote from president Gordon B. Hinckley where he says âavoid pornography like you would the plague.â And, umm, I donât know. Those words just stick with me. I think that itâs, well, I know that itâs a very ugly and dark thingâ
- He didnât feel much sense of responsibility. âIf you look at my grades, I graduated high school with a 2.7 GPA and now I plan on graduating from college with a 4.0 GPA. The only thing between highschool and college has been my mission. That has really just been the turning point. I think that just generally, it just taught me a sense of responsibilityâ
The most important things a dad can do for his kids
I wanted to understand what a teenagerâs perception is of their relationship with their dad, so I asked Dayton about what stood out to him most. At the top of his list was the time spent. âMy closest memories that I have with my dad are the times that we had one-on-on time. Whenever we would go camping, or when he was teaching me how to drive a stick shift. Or when I would drive to school every morning and drop him off at work and then continue on to school. That time that I got to spend with him was always really special to me.â
Dayton also talked a lot about the power of his parentsâ example. âBut I think that what worked best for me was actions rather than words. I donât think any words really ever made it into my brain. I think that any time someone tells me not to do something, it just makes me want to do it. So what was most beneficial to me was seeing my parents keep the commandments, and then how they were blessed for it, or happy they were for it, or happy I was to have grown up in such a household. In that regard, I would say I ended up self-teaching a lot of lessons based on the example of my parents. But nothing that was verbally explained to me ever stuck.â
God cares about what we care about
Daytonâs favorite gospel concept is the idea that God cares about whatever we care about. As an example, he shared:
When I was first on my mission, I set a few silly goals. I guess they were just things that I wanted to accomplish. For example, where I served, there was a native language Guarani. I was taught Spanish and I thought it would be really cool if i could baptize someone who didn’t speak Spanish. So that was my goal.
[In hindsight the goal was] kind of silly. I mean, of course that would make God happy if someone’s getting baptized, but it was more for me just because I thought it would be cool and I had heard cool stories about it happening to others.
So I was about six months into my mission and we met someone who didn’t speak Spanish, but they actually didn’t speak Guarani either. They spoke a third indigenous language, called Chamacoco, which is spoken by only a small tribe in northeastern Paraguay. So we had a translator go with us to the lessons and we taught this person and they accepted the doctrine and were baptized. So that wasn’t what I was expecting when I said my goal to be able to baptize someone who doesn’t speak English or Spanish, but it certainly fit the bill.
It was, I mean, you really can’t make this stuff up. It was just such a testimony to me but God loves me, and that if it’s important to me it’s important to him. Just a silly little goal that I had set for myself. It didnât matter to him more than any other baptism, but since it was important to me, he let that happen for me. I was very impressed by that.
Itâs all about serving others
One day, Dayton and his wife were discussing what they thought was the BEST general behavior displayed by humans, as well as the WORST. They came to the conclusion that the WORST behaviors are âGreed in general – when people step on each other to get more money or to guard the money they already have. It just seems like everyone is all about hoarding their own money. Itâs just sad that money can get people to do such ugly things.â As for the BEST behavior, âcaring for each other, and serving.â It didnât take them long to recognize the relationship: the best human behaviors are at their core selfless, while the worst are fundamentally selfish.
âItâs all about service. Thatâs what makes the world a better place – when we help each other and when we think about others before ourselves,â he said. âI enjoy service. I feel good when I do it.â Dayton feels like this has been a pattern that God has been trying to teach him throughout his life. He continued, âThere have been a lot of lessons that have taught me that those people are the ones who need service. Itâs not the people who are clean and have jobs and can take care of themselves, that I would want to be aroundâ¦ They arenât the ones who need service. Itâs quite the opposite. Itâs the people who kind of scare me, or make me feel uncomfortable that I need to be out and be serving.â
Marriage is a divinely designed journey
Dayton hasnât been married very long, but he had some cool reflections on what he has learned so far. âFor me, the hardest part about being married is ironically, just learning to live with another person. Something about living with someone of the opposite sex is, I guess, divinely difficult.â Dayton and I have talked often about this topic before — how we know that marriage between a man and woman is divinely appointed because the differences between men and women are a constant source of spiritual growth.
This interview was loaded with great insights for me. Here are a few other random thoughts that came up in our lengthy discussion:
- To God, thereâs no âsecularâ growth vs âspiritualâ growth. Itâs all just growth and development to him, and he wants it all for us.
- As a parent, itâs important to let your kids fail a little. If you donât feel like youâre in just a little over your head, itâs hard to activate your agency.
- As humans, we are most vulnerable when we donât think we need the Lord. It causes us to reject his protections and become subject to the devilâs temptations, lies and harm, often without even realizing whatâs happening