Meeting Dallin and Kristen Oaks

Okay fine, I technically didn’t MEET meet them, but in December I was at a VIP Christmas event for a place I volunteer. I went to the dessert table and was waiting behind an elderly gentleman who was filling his plate first. He moved to the right, I stepped next to him and picked up my plate, then he turned and smiled directly at me as he walked back to his table.

I blinked twice, then walked back to my husband and said, “I think Dallin H. Oaks is here.” I scanned the room and immediately saw a familiar female face at a table nearby and I whispered, “Yes, that was definitely him! I recognize his wife. She’s standing fifteen feet away from us.”

That was our exchange. He might not be blogging about it on his end like I am here, but oh well. We had a moment. 

And the moment was fine. Despite having a long and complicated one-sided relationship with him through years of tumultuous conference talks and disagreeable statements, in the moment, he actually seemed very friendly. And honestly, normal. He was smaller than I expected him to be, and apparently he likes dessert (as do I). His suit was very clean and lint free, so I don’t think he has pets. That’s what I took away from our time spent together.

The next morning I was thinking about him and his wife again, and I pulled up articles about the two of them and their courtship. (I read Kristen Oaks’ book “A Single Voice” about a decade ago, so I actually felt like I knew her life story better than his.) Most of what I read was fine. Elder Oaks lost his first wife (June) to cancer. She gave her blessing for him to remarry before passing away, even asking their daughters to ensure he found a good companion after she was gone. He carefully moved into courtship with Kristen, and as far as I can tell everyone is very happy with how it has worked out.

Then I found a 2013 interview on the Mormon Channel, with Sheri Dew interviewing them together. I listened to the interview while running errands, and honestly, most of it didn’t bother me. I’m glad they’re happy together. I’m glad they found each other. But there was this ONE PART that made me cringe. It was when they were asked to give advice to the younger generation that is courting and dating right now. I’ve transcribed the parts that bothered me the most, then added my own interpretation to explain why the advice rubbed me the wrong way. 

Elder Oaks, giving advice to young people of marriageable age: “I want to speak first from the standpoint of the men. I think we have too many men who feel they have to be established with a home, and a car, and a very secure job before they can ask someone to marry them. That was a different expectation in my generation. I can’t imagine how I could’ve gone where I went professionally without the support of a wife. I married when I was penniless, and I had a companion to help me, to challenge me and to give me a sense of responsibility about what I had to do, and I feel it’s a great sadness when a young man feels he has to acquire those material things before he acquires that eternal thing that will help him stay focused on what’s most important.”

MY INTERPRETATION: Men, the women are put here to help you, not hinder you! You will have a better career and a better life with a woman at home supporting you in everything you do. If you don’t have a wife cleaning your house, making your meals, running your errands, and taking care of your children for you – how are you going to find time to be a successful lawyer/doctor/business owner/whatever? You’re misunderstanding how it works, guys. Get a wife to HELP you skyrocket your career, not after you already have got it the hard way (without her). Her whole purpose is to be your helper, duh!

Next, Kristen Oaks speaks in the interview and says: “This is for young women right now, coming out of college…I think that women now are really worried about careers, and they feel they have to develop themselves, and I would just say to them, “Don’t get lost in that”. Because it’s awfully lonely when you’re 50, and all you have is your career – because I’ve done that.”

MY INTERPRETATION: Careers and “developing yourself” is not important for women. Spend your energy trying to get married! It’s better than anything else you can do with your life, even if you are confused and *think* you want to do something more. You’re wrong. Also, no men anywhere want a career woman for a wife.

Dallin H Oaks again, following up on what Kristen just said: “I think that as young women have been encouraged – properly, in my view, to get an education and make plans to support themselves, that many young men have seen the accomplishments of the women in such a way as to be frightened of them. And I think that a woman who has prepared herself properly needs to be careful that she can communicate to a young man the fact that she’s willing to put that career aside, to be a Latter-day Saint wife and mother, and she can take it up later. I’ve had many young men say, “I don’t think young women today are interested in being married. I can’t find anybody because they’re all committed to their careers, and that does stand in the way of marriage, and it frightens off shy young men, for whom we should feel so sorry.”

MY INTERPRETATION: Men are big babies, so women – please accommodate them. They aren’t the ones who need to change, you are. They can’t handle a woman whose educational and career accomplishments match or even exceed his own. So knock it off, women! Or at the very least, proactively reassure the men in your YSA wards that you will totally drop your job the second they get down on one knee. (Also, there’s absolutely no difference between starting a career right out of college and continuing throughout your adult life compared to picking it up 25 years after you graduated, once your youngest child has moved out. It’s easy, and it’s basically no different than what the men get to do with theirs.)

Sheri Dew now, asking about Elder Oaks’ law school days: “University of Chicago: your wife June used to talk about your schedule, which was just murderous, really – being gone from early in the morning until late at night…but it paid off! You became editor of the prestigious law review, you clerked for Chief Justice Warren, you came back and had a very distinguished law career.”

MY INTERPRETATION: Yes, it does sound like having a full time wife at home taking care of everything benefited you greatly. You literally had no other time for anything but your career, and you could focus on it 100 percent because someone else was at home packing you lunches and shopping for your toilet paper. I can understand why you are giving the advice that you just gave to the young men.

Now, was Elder Oaks just suffering and doing his part, enduring terrible long hours of drivel and hard work so that his wife could stay home and not be forced into employment? Well, Sheri Dew asked him next, “Did you like it (the law)? I mean, you obviously took to it.” He replied with emphasis, “I LOVED it. But I didn’t know I would love it. I had no experience. I just…started off as a graduate student, and I loved it, and I did well at it.”

What do I do with all of this? I’m 38, and I’m a stay at home mom. I followed the same advice they’re giving in this interview to not worry about a career and to do everything I could to just get married and become a mom. What if *I* had loved law school? Elder Oaks didn’t know he’d love it or be so good at it before he tried. If he had stunted his education and stopped working the minute his first child was born, his life would have been, I don’t know…like mine? Standing behind general authorities at the dessert table at a Christmas party, then writing about it on a blog?

I am much more inclined to take the advice of Kristen Oaks than Elder Oaks, because she actually is a woman, unlike him. I can understand her feelings of longing for a family and a companion at age 50, before she met him. But why did she direct her advice at the women only, telling us to be less educated and career focused so that men will want us? I wish she had said, “Men – stop being such dorks. You can marry an educated and successful woman who’s started a career already, and it won’t ruin your life. Yeesh.” Is she actually wishing she’d had a less successful career and much lower paycheck for the decades she was in the workforce as a single woman, because that might’ve given her a better chance at getting married quicker? Women should trade in an entire career worth of job satisfaction and a secure retirement fund for the hope of a man who may or may not ever appear in your future, in case he finds you too intimidating or busy? 

So while I didn’t formally “meet” Elder Oaks and his wife at the Christmas event, I feel like I know him and Kristen better than I ever did before we brushed shoulders – and man, was I ever disappointed in the relationship and life advice they gave me. Is that really the best they have to offer us? 

(You can listen to this interview in its entirety, with the section I transcribed from beginning about 27 minutes in:  https://youtu.be/iXkqqPbKiTw)

 

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6 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Wow. Great post, Abby. I’m particularly perturbed by Kristen Oaks’ comments. Do we really want women to not pursue financial security? Really? Because you might “get lost” in trying to support yourself? This seems like dangerous advice to me. If I were the one giving the advice I would tell young women to pursue their dreams, think big, look at the world and figure out how they want to contribute to it, and consider how they can earn a good income as they do so. And when women are passionately pursuing their interests, there’s a higher probability, in my mind, of meeting someone compatible. Sitting around and hoping for someone to want to marry them sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  2. Elisa says:

    Totally agree. I get that Kristen Oaks felt lonely at 50 and wanted a family, but how much worse would it have been if she had just sat around waiting for life to happen / a spouse to come along and didn’t have any kind of interesting career? I also agree it is sad that he’s an example of an LDS man who was not around for his family. I’ve read other interviews with him and his children that suggest as much. I think every family does it differently and I wouldn’t judge or condemn a particular family arrangement, but I definitely wouldn’t hold up the workaholic husband / enabling stay-at-home wife as a model for all to follow.

    I appreciate your efforts to view President Oaks in a charitable light. In past years (like in the 90’s and early 2000’s) his talks were among my favorites and there were many that were helpful and influential to me. I try to remember that and have some patience for him when listening to him now just makes me crazy (and, as I am trying to remain active in the church, I really just have to avoid his talks and statements because he makes me want to leave).

  3. Shiblon says:

    This is a wonderful post! Kristen Oaks spent time developing herself in many ways and I’m sure that her career added to her poise, self confidence and other traits that perhaps made her a suitable companion for Dallin Oaks?

    Women should not be encouraged to be less than their potential. I did not like how Dallin Oaks defined a Latter Day Saint wife and mother as one who puts her career aside.

  4. Lonicera says:

    Yes, Caroline, Ms. Oaks gave dangerous advice. I abandoned my career to be the supportive wife and it was disastrous financially. We can’t all be married to successful lawyers so our family was subjected to grinding poverty and its attendant risks: sporadic health coverage, living in a dangerous neighborhood, and having to buy the cheapest but not healthiest food. Children who grow up in poverty are at risk for health problems and lowered scholastic achievement. Religion doesn’t ameliorate those risks.

  5. Lily says:

    HEEEEELLLLLLLO, Heeelllllloooooooo?!! Anybody home? There aren’t enough LDS men to go around. A woman how doesn’t think about how to support herself is going to starve to death.

  6. SisterStacey says:

    Ugh! So this was my plan when I was young. Get married at 25. So I didn’t really focus on a career. I got my Associates degree and then took a break because I was so tired of school (plus my parents had gotten divorced and I was dealing with a lot). I got a job at McDonalds and saw this 60+ year-old women who had had financial downfalls hit them late in life and this was the only job they could do. I went back to school. I wanted to be a teacher. I got into the teaching program…I decided I no longer wanted to be a teacher. I was still trying to get married. So I graduated with a Bachelor in History and worked at the university. I eventually went back and got a second bachelors and then went abroad to get my MA).
    I got to live in the UK for three years! But marriage never seemed to come. I had crushes. I went on dates. But it’s never happened for me. Oh, it wasn’t from a lack of trying!
    And I ached. I thought I was weird and unlovable because I wasn’t married. I suddenly had to grapple with who I was without marriage and a family. Could I be a whole, complete person? What was my place in the church? In society?
    And it totally sucks to have the opinion of a 20 year-old valued over yours because she got married at 19.
    But I have a job I love. I have an apartment that is filled with my things. I have two cats that I adore. And, honestly, I don’t really want to be married. I don’t want to be a second wife. I don’t want any part of eternal polygamy.
    It’s lonely! But that’s because I’m struggling to find friends. A man… meh. That’s fine. But I don’t feel a part of a group and it hurts, but I’m glad I can make my own choices and be comfortable with myself.
    Also, still really mad about Pres. Oaks’ story in conference from the engaged woman who would be a second wife.

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