"The Word of Wisdom is a commandment, brothers and sisters," a local LDS leader might announce. "We should never serve beer as a family home evening refreshment."
Family home evening (FHE) began as a suggestion 100 years ago, when Mormons were encouraged to set aside one evening each week to gather as a family for the purposes of, well, more church.
"More church" was probably the reason it took so long for FHE to really get going. It became relatively obligatory in 1970, when church leaders not only mandated what (more church), but also when (Monday night).
I was well into my teens when this happened. As you might expect, spending more time with my family didn't go over all that well. By then I had already spent plenty of time with my family, including four years when the only other people in our building who spoke English were my family.
My parents attempted FHE with varying degrees of success, from "not at all" to "more or less badly." It wasn't their fault. Any attempt at a reverent family meeting began and ended 30 seconds later if it involved me.
The acceptable FHE is yet one more church meeting. It begins and ends with prayer, has a gospel theme, a mind-numbing activity and — if everyone in our family behaved — a treat or snack at the end.
Like all church counsel, considerable latitude existed between the ideal FHE and the way it normally went. Ideally, it's supposed to invite the spirit of Heavenly Father into a home.
Good luck with that if the only way to have FHE is by dragging one of your kids to his room while he claws the wallpaper and speaks in tongues. Not only will the spirit leave in a hurry, it won't come back for several months.
I know what some of you are thinking: "You're lucky that you weren't my son. I would have made you behave."
Wrong. Wrong for a couple of reasons. First, it presumes that you were/are a better father than my old man. You weren't/aren't. Short of the right meds or actual filicide, you wouldn't have even been able to slow me down. Consider yourself the lucky one.
Lots of otherwise good families have kids like this — kids who resent being assigned church homework. If you can't have a reverent FHE, you might just have to settle for not having a satanic one.
My parents did. They finally tailored FHE around something other than a structured lesson, prayer and an activity. They would pile us in the car and we would get ice cream or go to a movie.
This kind of FHE generally worked. We could go several hours without a fistfight or a harsh and hideously profane word. I don't recall any of these tailored FHEs ending badly.
This was not catering to any demonic forces at work in our home, it was taking good counsel and making it work for us.
Robert Kirby can be reached, eventually, at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.