Topic Study: Fatherhood

(June 2003 TG Entry: Fatherhood Initial writing finished Father’s Day June 15, 2003.  Delivered as a Sacrament Meeting Talk, Woodridge II Ward)

Overview

Fathers have a different role in life than Mothers.  We should strive to understand, and value, these differences.  Although there are tremendous differences in the make up of families, the general roles of father include provider, protector, and one who presides.

I             Your Father Is Not Your Mother

Here we are on another wonderful Father’s Day.  I don’t know about many of you fathers, but I enjoyed my morning free from performing those family duties such as cooking breakfast and caring for the young children.  So whereas I normally don’t do those duties too well or too willingly, this is the one day out of the year when I don’t have to feel guilty about it.  What a blessed relief.

But this day certainly is not quite the same as Mother’s Day, is it.  Nor, I guess, should it be.  I feel very comfortable in speaking for all the men in the audience in saying that we do not feel slighted in the least that “our” day is somewhat less important than Mother’s Day.  And although I doubt it will happen, I suspect it would probably be good if a few men left the meeting this afternoon feeling a bit guiltier about their imperfections.  But that would probably be asking a bit too much.

But this small difference, the difference between Mother’s and Father’s Day highlights something we all know:  Your Father is not Your Mother.  I would like to talk to you today about these differences, and the importance of them in our Heavenly Father’s plan for his children.

II            Complementary Roles

II.A           Humor

These differences are encapsulated in one of my favorite sayings about the family:  “When Mom ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.  When Dad ain’t happy, ain’t no one cares.”

We are all aware of a great deal of humor about the role of men, and the differences from women.  But I have appreciated my wife’s care, over the years, to measure this humor, and be sure that it did not belittle.  She uses the standard that if a she would be offended if it were said about women, then she should not say it about men.

But let us speak sensitively of these differences a bit more.

II.B           Body of Christ

Paul taught very effectively that there are differences between individuals, but that God has created the differences for his own purpose.  In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, he teaches us of gift of the spirit, or, put another way, perhaps our individual talents and abilities.  He then explains that all these different gifts and abilities are necessary.  I might recommend you read this chapter with these thoughts in mind.

10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

14 For the body is not one member, but many.

1 Cor. 12:10 – 14

So can one part of the body be done without?

21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

1 Cor. 12:21 – 22

When compared to my good wife, I, for one, would readily agree to being called the “more feeble” and “uncomely parts” of my family.  Yet I do feel my place as the foot, perhaps, has importance.  Perhaps for no more reason than in our family I normally drive when we go somewhere together.

II.C          Complementary Roles

Elder Scott spoke of the complementary nature of the roles of men and women in 1996 in conference.

Our Heavenly Father endowed His sons and daughters with unique traits especially fitted for their individual responsibilities as they fulfill His plan. To follow His plan requires that you do those things He expects of you as a son or daughter, husband or wife. Those roles are different but entirely compatible. In the Lord’s plan, it takes two—a man and a woman—to form a whole. Indeed, a husband and wife are not two [page 74] identical halves, but a wondrous, divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics.

Marriage allows these different characteristics to come together in oneness—in unity—to bless a husband and wife, their children and grandchildren. For the greatest happiness and productivity in life, both husband and wife are needed. Their efforts interlock and are complementary. Each has individual traits that best fit the role the Lord has defined for happiness as a man or woman. When used as the Lord intends, those capacities allow a married couple to think, act, and rejoice as one—to face challenges together and overcome them as one, to grow in love and understanding, and through temple ordinances to be bound together as one whole, eternally. That is the plan.

Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 74

I really like that phrase, “a wondrous, divinely determined combination of complementary capacities and characteristics.”

II.D          Care In Distinguishing Roles

Well then can we say what those differences might be?  We must be careful in this area.  Although some generalizations might be made, I believe there is tremendous diversity in the complementary nature of those characteristics.  Each family is different.  A good metaphor is the friendship necklaces, usually a circle where the necklace is broken in half, and half is given to each friend.  It only fits together with one other to make a complete whole.

For example, the following quote from Elder Maxwell speaks to the experience of many families.

“More parents should be remembered as a prophet’s daughter, Helen Lee Goates, remembers hers: ‘A father who was gentle beneath his firmness, and a mother who was firm beneath her gentleness.”’  (Neal A. Maxwell, “Take Especial Care of Your Family,” Ensign, May 1994, 90 quoting from “That My Family Should Partake” Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974, p. 56)

But it does not speak directly to my family.  I think there was more of an understanding in my family that a Mother who was gentle beneath her firmness, and a father who was firm beneath his gentleness.  I can think of experiences from my childhood where there was unexpected gentleness from my mother, and unexpected firmness from my father.  Yet in my family in this area, I feel it was complete, and whole.

Perhaps the best guide is from the words of our prophets, in the Proclamation on the Family.

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

By divine design, fathers preside, provide and protect.  But, individual adaptation may be necessary.

Let us speak more in depth of these three key words.

  • Preside
  • Provide
  • Protect

III           Protecting

While thinking of this role of protecting, I think of Mormon, complier of the Book of Mormon, and his son Moroni.  Mormon was a captain of the army, a life long soldier.  He battled mightily to protect his family.  Yet even amid these battles, he did more than just defend the home against enemies.  He taught his son.  Listen to this tender council.

22 But behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God, and I trust in Christ that thou wilt be saved; and I pray unto God that he will spare thy life, to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction; for I know that they must perish except they repent and return unto him.

Moro. 9:22

Today, our lives require far fewer fathers to go to war to protect their families as those in times past.  But I do not believe the role of protecting is any less important today.  Perhaps this role of protecting continues in the role Mormon taught Moroni.  Perhaps the role of a father in is best described, today, as teaching and warning.

Fathers are to teach their children the truth, warn them of the dangers they may encounter.  They are to protect the home from those influences which would harm the home.

Be aware that any father that would introduce a harmful influence into his home, including inappropriate media, is failing to fulfill his responsibilities in this area.

IV          Providing

What does this “providing” mean?  Let me read to you a passage from a book written in 1995 called “Fatherless America: confronting our most urgent social problem” by David Blankenhorn.  When speaking of providing he said.

Consider the case of Xavier McDaniel, a basketball star with the Boston Celtics.  In 1993, a reporter asked him how he had acquired his unusual competitive intensity.  McDaniel talked about his father who,

“worked two jobs—one loading and unloading trucks for a food service company, the other as a janitor at the University of South Carolina—in order to support six kids.  ‘Some days our family didn’t even see our dad,’ he said.  ‘I saw him in a situation where he didn’t give up, so why should I give up?’”

Consider his words closely.  Some days he “didn’t even see” his dad.  Yet he “saw him” in a certain situation….  [Perhaps he is] proffering a philosophy about what it means to “see” a father.

He “sees” his father even when his father is away from home, out of sight, working two jobs.  He sees what his father does in the world, and why, and for whom, and at what price.  Indeed, this special way of seeing his father has shaped McDaniel’s entire life, including his capacity to travel from the wrong side of the tracks in Columbia, South Carolina, to success as a professional athlete.  Thus, McDaniel is not simply saying that he is grateful for his father’s economic support, though clearly he is grateful.  More fundamentally, McDaniel is insisting that his father, as he worked those two jobs, was being a good father.

Yes, those two jobs kept James McDaniel away from his children for much of the time, working for a boss, doing physical labor that offered little intrinsic satisfaction or chance for personal growth.  During those hours, he was unavailable to his children, unable to be a hands-on nurturer, unable to be emotionally close.

But while James McDaniel was away from home, loading trucks and cleaning floors, he was not simply a working father.  He was also working at being a father.  Indeed, as his son now sees it, James McDaniel’s work at those two jobs constituted the father’s essential, irreplaceable gift to the son.  James McDaniel was a breadwinner who gave his son more than bread.  He was a work-driven father who, from a distance, wearing work clothes, shaped the character of his son.  In the deepest meaning of the word, James McDaniel was a provider.  (“Fatherless America: confronting our most urgent social problem”, David Blackenhorn, BasicBooks:New York, NY, 1995.  p. 108 – 109)

Don’t take my quotation of this passage to mean I support absentee fathers.  Our prophets have been very clear about the need for fathers to be at home, particularly when the additional work simply provides for more wants, not needs.  And remember again that “Individual adaptation may be necessary.”  In fact, my brother announced this week that they are expecting their first child.  In their situation, I believe he will be the primary caregiver for the child.  There is great diversity in our individual situations and circumstances.

But I believe this quote highlights a particular function of fathers.

IV.A         Child Development

I have marveled at this role of fathers evidenced in our Heavenly Father’s wonderful plan for the growth and development of a child.  With the recent birth of our child, I am reviewing this function again.  At birth and through perhaps the first year of development, he or she has a tremendous relationship with his or her mother.  They are one in so many ways, physically, socially, emotionally.

But clearly the Lord did not intend for us to be completely dependent upon our mothers forever, without the ability to be independent, to be individuals.  How could he create a situation where children can naturally “detach” from their relationships with their mother, without forming an equally strong relationship with someone else?

That is the role of a father.  As the child grows, he or she begins to develop a relationship with his or her father, or others acting in the role of father.  This relationship is different.  It is intense, as father comes.  It is enjoyable, loving, caring, fun.  It happens at the end of the work day in many families, or, perhaps only on weekends in others.  It is satisfying to the child and to the father.  But the interaction doesn’t last forever.  The father leaves again, physically or emotionally.  And then returns again later.  Thus, the child can develop a new relationship, apart from mother, without being pulled so tight to the new person.

Through this process, each of us becomes independent, able to stand on our own.  Perhaps we are to be, as families, like the church.

14 That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church [and our families] may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world;

D&C 78:14

I believe this is a function of fathers.

What a wonderful plan.  But this role of fatherhood it is not without risks.

V           Presiding

V.A          Fragile Relationship

One risk is that this relationship with children is particularly vulnerable to damage.  The relationship is not as intense as a mother’s and for good reasons as we have discussed.  But it is susceptible to being broken much more easily than other relationships.  The potential causes of this damage are innumerable.  And a significant portion of the benefits that come from close interaction fatherhood can be lost.

V.B          Need For Control

The second risk is how to control or influence fathers.  God created a creature that, by its nature, is meant to be independent.  It is meant to stand on its own, to preside, to protect, to be independent. I have come to regard the answer to this question as evidence of the tremendous wisdom of God.

V.C          The Answer:  The Priesthood

The answer the Lord gave, the solution to this complex problem, was to endow man with a sense of duty, of responsibility, and then give a means by which that duty can be clearly taught.  Thus, the Lord has given his sons the priesthood.

In practical terms, this gives the Lord two extra meetings each general conference to have his prophets “yell” at his sons in a sense.  Through the priesthood, brethren are challenged to know their responsibilities; they have specific duties that return them to the home often, to do those things that are their better nature.  They are warned of the consequences of not doing their duty.  They are told over, and over, and over again, that there is no righteous power except it be through principles of righteousness.

This scripture, from section 121, is a worthy goal for all men in exercising their priesthood.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

D&C 121:45 – 46

Summary

Some have asked why we can’t have a Father’s Day talk much more like a Mother’s day talk, where everyone leaves feeling wonderful about Mothers.  I don’t think that is possible, as I said, because we are fathers, not mothers.  But brothers, if you will close your ears for a minute, I would like to speak to the sisters.

Sisters, I hope you will leave today with a better appreciation for the role of men.  I hope you will find it easier to put up with their more feeble attempts to be what they should.  I hope you will not begrudge them not being you.  For their role is different than yours, but no less important.

Brethren, wake up.  This message is not to make you feel great about yourself.  In fact, I think more of us, in our lives, as we read the Book of Mormon, should identify much more with Laman and Lemuel than we do.  There really was only one “Nephi” in a sense, one that was good enough.  That was the Savior.

With that thought in mind, listen to these last words from Lehi to his sons, Laman and Lemuel.

21 And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;

23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness.  Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

2 Ne. 1:21, 23

Related Hymns

Our Father, by Whose Name

Hymn number:  (296)

Text: Bland Tucker

Music: John David Edwards

Scriptures: 3 Nephi 18:21; Alma 7:27

Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known,
Who dost in love proclaim each family thine own,
Bless thou all parents, guarding well,
With constant love as sentinel,
The homes in which thy people dwell.

As thou thy Child didst fill with wisdom, love, and might,
To know and do thy will and teach thy ways aright,
Our children bless, in ev'ry place,
That they may all behold thy face,
And, knowing thee, may grow in grace.

May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev'ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.

 

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