When I was a little kid, I used to sit in my living room in Logan, Utah, and watch General Conference on TV. For those who remember those days in the 60s, General Conference weekends were infamous for their rainy weather. Members huddling under umbrellas, flowerbeds pelted with rain, and sidewalks wet from storms were common camera shots.
They were also famous for stoic men. Then, as now, wonderful messages were delivered by servants of God, and beautiful music emanated from our unequaled Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But few of our leaders ever teared up, revealed emotion, or cried. Men of that era were expected to be unemotional as a whole, and poker-faced, even if they never played poker.
It was a time of detached fathers and the notion that crying revealed weakness. Tender-hearted parenting was the domain of the nurturing mom, while Dad went out as the breadwinner, the warrior fighting dragons, so to speak. Books and movies came along in subsequent years, addressing the distant dad and the sadness of grown men still trying to win their fathers’ approval.
That decade, and the ensuing ones, saw an emerging trend towards dads who were able to show feelings and gentleness. Headlines touted dads who were actually helping change diapers and cook family meals-unheard of! Yes, there have always been exceptions, and I like to think LDS dads have always been more attentive, sensitive, and involved than their counterparts in the world. But the overall population of dads was slow to embrace the kindness, the heart-to-heart chats we now know benefit children so much.
People my age remember their fathers having no clue how to feed or burp a baby, utterly unable to find their way around a kitchen, and not even sure where the laundry room was located. Even great dads who helped with homework, or tossed a ball to their kids out on the lawn, steered clear of “touchy feely” moments. If they did cry, they did so in private.
And society, as a whole, did not accept the idea that a man-particularly a man giving a public speech-should reveal a tender heart. For that matter, neither should a woman break down when addressing the public. It simply wasn’t professional.
My how things have changed and for the better. Today my own eyes mist over when a General Authority has a catch in his throat, or pauses to collect himself when telling a heartfelt story. The spirit that suddenly brims in our eyes, suddenly brims in theirs as well. And it seems to connect our testimonies, as if the Holy Ghost is simultaneously sending the same signals to us both. Instead of struggling to maintain complete composure, our leaders are letting their guard down, knowing we respect and love them all the more for their humanity.
I think of this last Conference, when President Monson revealed tender emotions about the passing of his beloved wife, Frances. President Eyring and Elder Holland often tear up a little, and those are the moments when their words seem most able to penetrate our hearts.
As a public speaker and broadcaster I was trained never to get so caught up in a message that I lost control of my tear ducts. For years I couldn’t cry when bearing my testimony because my brain simply wouldn’t let go.
Today I’m the first to reach for the tissue, having finally broken free from the dictate that it’s unprofessional to show emotion publicly. My YouTube channel contains short videos that teach life skills to young adults, and I found myself tearing up, recently, in a video that touched the very core of my heart. It caught me off-guard, but I posted it anyway, because it was honest and real, not polished and packaged.
That honest glimpse into the raw feelings of our leaders is precious to many of us, today. I love to see the leaders so filled with the Spirit that, as the saying goes, “it leaks out their eyes.” And I think back to the way General Conference was in the 60s. I’m so glad we’ve traded rain for tears.
Listen to Hilton’s radio advice show at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2 pm PST.
Joni Hilton is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
She is currently serving as Relief Society President of her ward in Northern California.