A Baptism to Remember

McKye was excited to go to Utah. He was excited about the post-baptism party, complete with pizza, Doritos and a pi?ɬ±ata. He put on his white shirt, his Sunday pants, his new tie. We drove to the church.

Then dislodged him from his seat with the aid of a crow bar.

McKye is 90 pounds worth of boy, so I was the only one strong enough to throw him over my shoulder like a sack of overdue library books and carry him in. Once inside he calmed down a little bit, having found a convenient coat nook to wedge himself into. We got his whites from the nice people in the multi-purpose room and Noelle set off to get the meeting put together.

I got a work out.

1. Steer unwilling 90-pound boy into changing area.
2. Wrestle his clothes off (I'm his dad, I can do that without getting sued, right?)
3. Pop off a button or two on his shirt in the process.
4. Use toilet plunger to jam him into his jumpsuit.

It reminded me a lot of my mission. Hah, just kidding. The handkerchief and bottle of ether made it a lot easier back then.

It turned out that though McKye was completely unwilling to get changed, wild elephants on Dr. Pepper could not drag him out of that bathroom where people could see him in that silly white jumpsuit.

I could see his point.

But that didn't matter. What mattered was that it was his baptism. What mattered was that all his aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmas and grandpas had driven from other states to be at this event. They had prepared talks and harp solos and programs and McKye wasn't going to mess it up.

But McKye has an amazing will balanced by a teddy bear sensitivity. When one turns on, the other does too ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú full blast. I could tell by looking at his eyes that the event looming over us would have to pull up a chair and wait. My boy needed something.

Noelle and I sat with him as 20 people waited. The poor kid was nervous. He'd never done this before. He didn't want to be seen in these spaceship pajamas. He just wanted to go home. Maybe he'd get baptized in five months. Yeah, five months sounded good.

'What if,' we suggested, layering on an air of conspiracy, 'you stood outside the door where nobody could see you? What if you just listened to the program?'


Footsteps came down the hall.

'Quick, McKye!' I ducked into the gym. He darted after me. We did a quick, professional reconnaissance and tip toed in our white jumpsuits to the other end. Using maneuvers we had learned from Scooby-Doo we slipped silently out of the gym and up to the baptism room door.

And the program started. A baptism without the baptizee.

That reminded me of my mission too.

As the program progressed, McKye and I started to practice the baptism hold. And then, how to bend your knees right. McKye got into it. We practiced at least 20 times, even though I had pulled a muscle in my leg by the tenth. Then, before anyone could catch us, we snuck off to the font.

McKye tested the water and deemed it acceptable. The curtain opened, and the slickest baptism of all time took place in front of a gaggle of aghast onlookers. Yes, sir. What a hold, what knee bending. All the way under the first time!

McKye thought he looked slick in his new duds. And he did. The uncles and grandfathers all gathered around, and we welcomed him into a gang of folks who were trying to do a little good in the world.

It was a good baptism. Because it wasn't just a baptism. It was twenty minutes of solidarity with my boy. It was a McKye brand baptism. Shaken, not stirred.

'You know what I liked best about my baptism dad?

'The bubbles in my jumpsuit.'


  1. RorySwensen says:

    Brilliant writing, Stephen, I’m glad this turned out so well for you and your son. 20 minutes of solidarity for both of you to cherish for a lifetime. Could it have been any better?

  2. jana says:

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story! 🙂 So glad it went well and you’ll both have lovely memories of it!

    I have fond memories of both my kids’ baptisms. I especially liked that so many family members and well-wishers gathered just to celebrate them (we not only baptized the kids, but sort of ‘roasted’ them, too, by telling lots of family stories and enjoying the gathering of well-wishers). They felt loved, even as awkward and scary as the actual baptism moment was.

  3. Matt Thurston says:

    I echo Rory’s and Jana’s compliments on this fine piece of writing.

    A couple of questions…

    Besides embarrassment due to the baptismal clothing, how did McKye feel about the baptism itself? Did he care, or was he doing it because everyone else did it? Was he excited about it? Did he understand what it meant according to the Church? What did you tell him it meant or represented? Did you talk at all about “sin”, and its effects on his heavenly balance sheet, now that he’s accountable? What about the Holy Ghost?

    Just curious.

  4. Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen says:

    This piece seems as much about the grittiness of parenting mid family expectations as it is about baptism. Sounds like McKye knew he was the center of the event. which strikes me as just where he ought to be. You’ve got my applause Stephen.

  5. Anne Arnold says:

    What fabulous words! Through all your concerns, which you found a way to step away from, you managed to just see your son . That seems like pure gospel. Thank you for letting me step into your world.

  6. Thanks for asking, Matt.

    Really, I don’t think McKye thought much about his baptism at all. He hasn’t really latched onto any grand myths the way my youngest has. McKye is the scientific type. And I don’t think religion appeals to that part of him. The thing he likes about religion is the stories (at least, the way we tell them at night when we’re all tired and silly). My youngest is an entirely different sack of Mexican jumping beans. He falls for any mythology that comes his way. He doesn’t really differentiate between dragons and Deuteronomy yet. It’s all this wonderful playground where he can be an expert and (yes indeedy) exercise moral control over the real world, which is much bigger than he is.

    I didn’t really get into the sin stuff or the Jesus stuff. That’s just not the type of story that motivates McKye. His scientific approach to life makes it much more beneficial to show him the outcomes of his actions and ask what would go differently if he took a different course of action. He won’t do something because Jesus would do it. He’ll do something because it works.

    So the only thing I really talked with him about was that he was getting initiated into the world of adults where he had to take more responsibility for his actions. And also that he was entering a kind of creative pool, where people thought about how to live well, and helped each other do so. My wife is much more willing to do the doctrinal thing. I think we make a good balance.

  7. Matt Thurston says:

    Interesting insights into your two sons, Stephen. It makes me better realize that we all relate to rites of passage (like baptism) in our own unique ways. My kids are still pretty small, but I sometimes get hung up on trying to “translate” everything for them. This means this; that means that. Instead, I should just turn them loose and let them experience life in their own unique way. My role should be to help resolve concerns (as you were able to with McKye), or be an open-minded and encouraging sounding board. “Translating” an experience is one of the joys of life. My inclination to translate is ironic in that I’ve always been miffed by the Church’s attempts to translate meaning/spritiuality/etc for me. Crazy.

    Thanks for your reply.

  8. Dan says:

    Hate to always be sounding the same note (about a book that’s helped me in so many ways), but James Fowler’s Stages of Faith is wonderful in helping us understand our kids at this stage (his Stage Two) and the importance of stories and narratives (even far-fetched ones) in healthy faith development. Stephen’s reflection on the differences between his two sons and how far they go in buying into the mythologies and differentiating between the more and less literal worlds is wonderfully illustrated in the book.

    Most of all, though, I’m jealous that Stephen and Matt and Rory get to be dads with kids still in this wonderful, delightful stage. I can’t wait to get to hang with grandkids as they have these adventures down the road (well, actually, I’m happy to WAIT a while longer–do you hear that, nineteen-year-old son? No need to rush into things!)

  9. I can’t help but feel alarm. Was McKye REALLY given true freedom to choose here? I don’t think so. In fact, does he really really know inside what he chose? Again, I don’t think so. I feel bad I did the same thing to my daughter when she resisted baptism. I tried to guilt her into it: “But Grandpa is coming all the way from Utah to do it, and he bought you YOUR OWN set of scriptures!” and it wasn’t until I explained she was getting a whole party just for her, and that I’d serve whatever treat she chose, that she agreed that she’d do it. But she didn’t want to at all. It’s not hard to coerce an 8 year old to do what we want them to. Is it really right, especially when we as Mormons claim we baptize our children at age 8 vs. at birth, because we want them to be able to choose for themselves?

  10. RorySwensen says:

    Sister Mary Lisa,

    There are certainly baptisms of 8 year olds that are done with little forethought or preparation, but in this case I see Stephen’s son having performance anxiety as opposed to existential questions – it’s more akin to the nerves prior to a dance recital or first soccer game.

  11. annegb says:

    You handled it just right. I wish I’d been so wise when my kids were little. Wonderful story, it made me smile. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Stephen Carter says:

    I think you have a great point, SML. Believe me, it did cross my mind that I was, in fact, hauling my son into the church against his will. It reminded me of those polygamy horror stories.

    I would have stopped it all if I had the idea that my son had doubts or that this wasn’t a good thing for him. But he really was just nervous. That was all.

    Still, your concern that we’re foisting these lifelong committments on our sons and daughters before they’re really ready to provide their informed consent is a valid one. I wonder sometimes if these kinds of rites of passage aren’t left over from a more tirbal era. When you lived in a tribe, there weren’t any competing cultures that would accept you. It wasn’t a matter of who was right and who was wrong, it just mattered what tribe you belonged to. So going through rites of passage was a perfectly acceptable way of advancing through the community.

    But Mormonism is embedded in a much different setting. There are all kinds of choices now. People can find cultures that they’re comfortable in and go join them. However, Mormonism (and a lot of other religions) keeps on with the exclusivity thing, making us pretend like we’re in a tribe, when life is really much more complicated than that.

    For my extended family, Mormonism is very much a tribe. Most all are members, so the Mormon ethos permeates pretty much everything we do. I’m trying to find a way to enjoy the culture, participate in it with my family, but not support the exclusivity notion. Whenever my kids try to make me support an exclusivist doctrine, i always covertly blow their question open hoping they’ll learn by osmosis to think about things, rather than just accepting them.

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