Monday, January 25, 2010

My Father Sten Hugo Swenson Jr.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank the Lord for the priceless gift of precious parents and the wonderful siblings that I was blessed with. I recognize, especially now that I'm older, what a rare thing it was to have grown up in such love and complete safety. So much of the safety I felt was because of my father. He was the rock, the protector, the provider who, until the day he died, I turned to and relied on to buffer me from the world. I could ALWAYS count on him to be there. He made me feel adored and "special". In return, he only asked to be loved. How could I not love him? He supported and served us til the day he died. Oh how I've missed my daddy.


It was Dad who was always at the center of fun in our family. I was in elementary school when Dad bought our first boat. He was a mechanic who didn't make much money so it was a real sacrifice to splurge on a boat. Our first boat was a royal blue and bright green wooden boat with a small outboard on the back. Even as young as I was I knew how hideous it was. But did we care?! It was in that boat that our family fell in love with skiing, tubing and camping. We built our family around the fun and closeness we felt out on the water all together.

It didn't take long before we had moved up to a bigger, faster boat and with it the beginning of one of our most cherished traditions. Every summer in the following years we'd head out to Bass Lake in the Sierra's of California for our family vacation.

We camped in a tent and Mom cooked on a barbecue or propane stove. This was where Dad treated us girls like we were royalty. As soon as the tent was put up and car unloaded (now that was not such a fun experience with Dad!!) you would find Dad raking a pathway down to the water. He didn't want his girls to get pine needles stuck in their feet. I remember him pounding a nail into one of the pines in our camp spot (now totally illegal) and hanging a large mirror. Under the mirror he'd put together a makeshift basin so we'd all have a spot to get ready. There were even years when he'd troll the lake to find logs or broken parts of docks and drag them to our camp site and make a dock for Mom to be able to get into the boat without getting her feet wet (Mom's fear of water). It was his love language to "do" for us. We were so pampered.

One of my favorite memories was playing with Dad in the lake. Dad always had a collection of over-sized inner tubes he brought from work. One of our favorite games was King of the Mountain (seeing who could stay on the tube, rocking it back and forth, higher and higher, until one of us was thrown off). Dad usually won. Our campfires every night was magic. Other campers must have wondered at our sanity. To this day I've never laughed as hard as I did sitting around the fire listening to Dad and my brothers crack jokes. (Heidi could hold her own with the guys!) No one could match their wit and humor. Oh what fun we had.

It was Dad who taught Jim to love boating and how to ski. It was Dad's boat safety rules that we implemented into our own family. I was never nervous in the water when Dad was at the helm, driving the boat. Dad wasn't known for his patience, except when he was driving the boat and teaching someone how to ski. I remember him out on the water for hours. He was so encouraging and would keep trying as long as the learner was willing to try. Out in the boat his patience was legendary!


After Jim and I got married we were the only ones of my siblings to move out of the area. We moved 10 times in the space of 15 years. I don't know what we would have done without my dad. He and Mom were there helping us with every move with the kids and putting together beds, appliances or whatever needed to be done. While we lived away Dad and Mom would come visit for several days at a time. I would give him a couple hours to visit and catch up, then hand him my "List". It was usually a full page of items that needed to be fixed or something put together. While Mom and I would go look at houses for fun or go shopping, Dad would cheerfully tackle the list. By the time they went home my list would all be crossed off. His language of love was doing for us. And I heard his love loud and clear!!!


The last year and half of Mom's life, she and Dad moved here to Utah. Mom was in the final stages of Alzheimer's and Dad was needing daily help with her. It was so difficult to watch Dad as he slowly lost Mom. He called it his "long goodbye". When Mom died we helped Dad buy a darling condo in a marvelous ward, hoping Dad would get back into life again. To help care for him and so he wouldn't be all alone, Jami and Greg, who were newly-weds, volunteered to move into the finished basement. Dad took the main floor. I will always be so grateful to Jami and Greg for the care and love they extended to him. Dad came to truly love them both.

We soon realized that Dad had no interest in moving on. With Mom's death, he was done. Her illness had broken both his body and his spirit. I fully realized this when Jami informed me of Dad's nightly prayers. Jami had set up a baby monitor in Dad's bedroom so they would be able to hear him upstairs at night if he ever needed anything. Every night Dad would say his prayers out loud. Then he would close his prayer by saying, "Now Joyce you just hold on. I'll be there soon." When I heard that I knew my dad would NOT be starting over.

Soon after Mom's death Dad was diagnosed with both prostate cancer and a aneurysm ready to burst at any time in his brain. Dad fell about a year after Mom's passing, breaking his wrist. Only a few weeks later, he fell again and fractured his pelvis. Then two weeks later Jami found him in the morning partially paralyzed from a stroke. The paramedics were called and Dad was taken to the hospital. They ran tests and confirmed that his aneurysm had started to leak. I stayed all that day with him at the hospital as he was put through numerous tests but that evening I had a Stake Choir rehearsal so Jim came and stayed with him until very late that evening. Jim related later that it had been a sweet and sacred time, lying with him on the bed, reminiscing about his life and the love and pride he had for his family. Dad's last request to Jim was to be sure that his children stay close and take care of one another. He was concerned about his family to the very end.

Early the next morning I received a call from the hospital informing me that Dad had slipped into a coma in the night. After talking to the doctors, we realized that Dad would not be coming back. We called the family who came from Smithfield and Atascadero, California. They descended on that hospital room. For two days all the siblings and most the grandchildren kept vigil over Dad. It ended up being a party, sharing memories and events, laughing at family jokes, singing songs and saying our goodbyes. We knew Dad could hear us so we all were able to express our deep love and appreciation for the countless blessings he'd provided through the years. It is, to this day, a precious, sacred experience I shared with my brothers and sisters.

Dad died on the fourth day of his coma, October 19, 1998. I was privileged to be with him when he passed. It was the first time I'd ever experienced death first hand. I literally felt his spirit leave his body and what was left on that bed was just his earthly tabernacle of clay. My father was gone! It was in that moment that I had to ask myself the ultimate question, "OK Starla, you have always believed in the principle of eternal life. But here it is, right in front of you. Can you still testify that you know it's true? Do you KNOW you will see your father again? And in that moment I knew, because the Spirit bore witness to me, that my daddy had joined Mom, that one day I would see them again, that my relationship and undying love for them was eternal. And oh what joy and gratitude I felt for the sealing ordinances of the temple that made this possible.


I have to admit that there is still a gaping hole in my life with the passing of Dad. He was a big presence that no one can fill. When he died I felt anxiety that I no longer had my protector from the world, my fixer of all things, my greatest fan. It was and is such an empty feeling. But how grateful I am for the confirmation of the spirit that I will see both my parents once again, the hope the gospel brings!

It's been 12 years since my father died. And yet, to this day, every time I see a grey-haired man in Dickie overalls my breath catches, my heart races and I look, hoping in that instant that it's my daddy.

Someday... Oh Daddy... someday!!!


While we were living in San Luis Obispo, Ashlee was given the assignment to write about one of her heroes. She chose her Grandpa Sten. She was only in 7th grade but her essay truly captured the essence of her Grandpa. I've kept it for 17 years and include this as my final tribute to Dad.

"MY GRANDPA STEN" by Ashlee Phillips (written when she was a 13-years-old)

This past Christmas I received a basketball hoop and standard from Santa Claus. The first thing I did after opening my presents was to make a phone call to my grandpa Sten. My grandpa Sten is a short, stocky man who lives in coveralls. That's because he is always working or fixing things for one of his five kids or 25 grandkids.

Everyone in our family knows that there's nothing he can't do or fix. The amazing thing is he's always willing to do it. Night or day he's there to help. Whenever we try to pay him for his work he always says, "All I want is a kiss." I kiss my grandpa a lot!

In the last 15 months we've moved three times. There has not been one time when my grandpa has not been there putting together beds, hanging pictures and hooking up appliances. In the last month he has put up my basketball hoop, fixed hinges on doors, water-proofed our deck, hung a wood chair railing, and installed a water purifier. That's only for our family. Now do you know why he sleeps in his coveralls?

When summer comes my grandpa turns his coveralls in for a bathing suit. Then he heads straight for the lake. When my mom was a young girl my grandparents started going to Bass Lake to go camping and boating for two weeks every summer. That tradition has continued and has now grown to include all their kids and grandkids. It was my grandpa who taught my dad how to drive a ski boat. He's the only one besides my dad that I'll let pull me while skiing. The most fun times we have are when everyone goes into the water and plays on rafts and when we sit around the campfire and listen to my grandpa and uncles tell jokes. We play a lot of Uno while we are camping. It is not a funny game until you play it with my grandpa.

A few years ago my grandpa had surgery and artificial knees were put in. Every day since he lives with constant pain, but he never complains. It has never stopped him. It has just slowed him down.

As you can plainly see, my grandpa is the perfect definition of what a grandpa should be. I love him for what he does for us, but most of all I appreciate and love him for who he is.


  1. He and I always had a special connection. The night before he slipped into a coma I stopped by the hospital after work. I climbed on the bed, snuggled and really talked to my favorite grandpa one last time. We were able to express our love to eachother, laugh together and give "somethin' sweet" one last time. I cherish this memory because I cherish this man.

    After I wrote that essay I gave him a copy. Everytime I saw him, he would remind me he carried it with him in his trunk so that it would always be with him to show to people. He was proud of his family and rightfully proud of the role he played in it. I am so grateful to have had such a big, gruff, dicky wearing, softy who made me always feel like I was important. I MISS him.

  2. I LOVED this Mom. Oh the memories we have. It's seems so long ago, but reading this has bridged the gap of time. Thank you for writing this. I will cherish ALL of your blog for years and years and years. I love you Mom!

  3. Absolutely precious. You guys are so blessed to have had such a great man invest in your lives so intentionally. Uncle Jim is following in his footsteps quite well. What a legacy!

  4. Starla, I'm so excited that you have a blog. But I don't know how I'm going to get anything done now. I loved this post, and I feel like I know your dad and can love him. How amazing. I got choked up so many times throughout this blog (I've read it in two sittings this morning, and finished in my prep period. haha). Anyway, thanks for sharing your life with everyone.

  5. heart is aching for both of them. There are no words to express the gratitude i have for them starting the legacy of the lake and boat. I love traditions, and it is neat to read where they began! I love family!