I speak today of fathers. Fathers are fundamental in the divine plan of happiness, and I want to raise a voice of encouragement for those who are striving to fill well that calling. To praise and encourage fatherhood and fathers is not to shame or discount anyone. I simply focus today on the good that men can do in the highest of masculine roles—husband and father.
As a Church, we believe in fathers. We believe in “the ideal of the man who puts his family first.” We believe that “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.” We believe that in their complementary family duties, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” We believe that far from being superfluous, fathers are unique and irreplaceable.
The perfect, divine expression of fatherhood is our Heavenly Father. His character and attributes include abundant goodness and perfect love. His work and glory are the development, happiness, and eternal life of His children. Fathers in this fallen world can claim nothing comparable to the Majesty on High, but at their best, they are striving to emulate Him, and they indeed labor in His work. They are honored with a remarkable and sobering trust.
For men, fatherhood exposes us to our own weaknesses and our need to improve. Fatherhood requires sacrifice, but it is a source of incomparable satisfaction, even joy. Again, the ultimate model is our Heavenly Father, who so loved us, His spirit children, that He gave us His Only Begotten Son for our salvation and exaltation. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Fathers manifest that love as they lay down their lives day by day, laboring in the service and support of their families.
Perhaps the most essential of a father’s work is to turn the hearts of his children to their Heavenly Father. If by his example as well as his words a father can demonstrate what fidelity to God looks like in day-to-day living, that father will have given his children the key to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. A father who reads scripture to and with his children acquaints them with the voice of the Lord.
We find in the scriptures a repeated emphasis on the parental obligation to teach one’s children.
Certainly teaching the gospel is a shared duty between fathers and mothers, but the Lord is clear that He expects fathers to lead out in making it a high priority. (And let’s remember that informal conversations, working and playing together, and listening are important elements of teaching.) The Lord expects fathers to help shape their children, and children want and need a model.
Discipline and correction are part of teaching. As Paul said, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12 : 6) But in discipline a father must exercise particular care, lest there be anything even approaching abuse, which is never justified. When a father provides correction, his motivation must be love and his guide the Holy Spirit.
Discipline in the divine pattern is not so much about punishing as it is about helping a loved one along the path of self-mastery.
The Lord has said that “all children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83 : 4) Breadwinning is a consecrated activity. Providing for one’s family, although it generally requires time away from the family, is not inconsistent with fatherhood—it is the essence of being a good father. “Work and family are overlapping domains.” This, of course, does not justify a man who neglects his family for his career or, at the other extreme, one who will not exert himself and is content to shift his responsibility to others.
We recognize the agony of men who are unable to find ways and means adequately to sustain their families. There is no shame for those who, at a given moment, despite their best efforts, cannot fulfill all the duties and functions of fathers. “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”
Loving the mother of his children—and showing that love—are two of the best things a father can do for his children. This reaffirms and strengthens the marriage that is the foundation of their family life and security.
Some men are single fathers, foster fathers, or stepfathers. Many of them strive mightily and do their very best in an often difficult role. We honor those who do all that can be done in love, patience, and self-sacrifice to meet individual and family needs.
Regrettably, due to death, abandonment, or divorce, some children don’t have fathers living with them. Some may have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent or in other ways inattentive or nonsupportive. We call on all fathers to do better and to be better.
To children whose family situation is troubled, we say, you yourself are no less for that. Challenges are at times an indication of the Lord’s trust in you. He can help you, directly and through others, to deal with what you face. You can become the generation, perhaps the first in your family, where the divine patterns that God has ordained for families truly take shape and bless all the generations after you.
To young men, recognizing the role you will have as provider and protector, we say, prepare now by being diligent in school and planning for postsecondary training.
To all the rising generation, we say, wherever you rank your own father on the scale of good-better-best (and I predict that ranking will go higher as you grow older and wiser), make up your mind to honor him and your mother by your own life.
To my brethren, the fathers in this Church, I say, I know you wish you were a more perfect father. I know I wish I were. Even so, despite our limitations, let us press on…Surely, despite our inadequacies, our Heavenly Father will magnify us and cause our simple efforts to bear fruit.