It is a joyous privilege and blessing, and a heavy responsibility, to be the father and the patriarchal head of a family, with the challenge to teach and prepare its members to go back into the presence of their Heavenly Father, where the family can continue to enjoy eternal life together.
To accomplish this, one of the most important things a young man should do is keep this in mind and prepare himself. As part of this preparation, he should be seeking for the kind of girl who has the same goals and objectives, one to whom he would like to be sealed for time and eternity and to have as the mother of his children.
After marriage, and before there are any children, the pattern of living should be established. Together the couple should determine that they will pray together regularly, that they will have and show love and respect for each other, that they will read and study the scriptures together, and that they will keep the commandments of God and the covenants they made at the time of their marriage vows. All of these things will help them to be worthy parents as they are guided by the inspiration which will come to them as they fulfill their important responsibilities.
As a man realizes that he is the earthly father of a spirit child of God, he cannot help but feel keenly his responsibility to nurture that child with all the tender loving care possible.
What a wonderful thing it is to preside over a home where these high concepts are understood and the principles of the gospel are taught and practiced! Love will abound in such a home, the members of the family will enjoy being there more than anywhere else, and the father will be in his rightful place presiding over a happy household.
Let me suggest that every father remember what President David O. McKay said on one occasion:
“When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the downgrade to soul-weakness. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and flunked in the final test of true manhood. No other success can compensate for failure in the home. The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles.” (Conference Report, April 1964, p. 5.)
Every Latter-day Saint home should be a model home, where the father is the head of the household, but presiding with love, and in complete harmony with the righteous desires of the mother. Together they should be seeking the same goals for the family, and the children should feel the love and harmony that exists. We cannot emphasize too often the part of the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants which refers to unrighteous exercise of the powers of the priesthood and which every father needs to heed:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. …
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.” (D&C 121:39, 41–43.)
I fear this unrighteous dominion extends to the area of abusing our children. This is abominable, and it is shocking indeed to learn of the extent to which child abuse has increased even in our Latter-day Saint families. I feel that the Lord will not hold guiltless a parent who is guilty of such practices. Little children are innocent and come to us from God to be cared for and trained and prepared to return to him. If a father remembers this he will never be guilty of such a sinful practice.
Instead, a father should constantly endeavor to find reasons for praising his children and encouraging them. My dad used to counsel with me about the work we were doing together, and even though I was very young I can remember the feeling of real importance it gave me to have him express his confidence in me and ask for my advice about certain things. He let me know he depended on me and that I was part of the program.
Just as I knew he expected me to be honest and to always do what was right, I could count on his being straightforward and honorable in all his dealings. He was a great example, and I know now how important it is for a child to have a good example to follow. And most important, he always took time to listen to me.
I remember President Harold B. Lee asking the wife of Dr. Russell Nelson how she felt about his being called as General Sunday School President when he was under so much pressure and so often called away in connection with his duties as a leading physician and surgeon, and with a family of ten children. She replied, “I feel all right about it because even though he is away from us so much, when he is home he is home, and his family has first priority.”
Where fathers show this love and concern for their children, teaching them to keep the commandments, we will find the condition referred to in Mosiah:
“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14–15.)
This harmonizes with the injunction in the Doctrine and Covenants, which reads:
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28.)
And we find a warning for failure to teach our children the doctrines of the kingdom. The Lord said to some of the early leaders of the Church:
“You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.” (D&C 93:42.)
It is so true that when we fail to teach our children, we as well as they suffer the consequences.
Let us consider some of the teachings which will ensure their happiness here and eternal life hereafter. First, they must understand that God is a loving Father who stands ready to hear and answer their prayers. I am grateful to my dad for the simple and direct prayers he offered in our family when I really felt that he was talking directly to the Lord as one man speaks to another. He taught us to seek for guidance and protection through the day, and then to report to the Lord each night as to what we had done. If a child stops and thinks throughout the day that he is going to report his activities to the Lord at night, it helps him to make the right decisions about his conduct.
A father should realize that the child he is teaching may be a future president of the Church, or hold a leading position in the Church or community, and should prepare him for any responsibilities which may come to him.
Our children should understand the mission of Jesus Christ, that he was literally the Son of God, and that he came to earth, established his church and kingdom, and gave his life for the sins of mankind, which makes it possible for us to enjoy immortality and eternal life.
If we truly understand what we have to gain by seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, knowing that all other things for our good will be added unto us, it will make it easier for us to keep the commandments, magnify our priesthood, accept our responsibilities in the Church, and live righteously. Fathers must always be an example of seeking first the kingdom of God.
Family home evening offers the ideal teaching opportunities. Where these are held regularly, the family cannot help but be brought closer together in love, and in a knowledge and understanding of gospel principles which will help in achieving the common goal of eternal life together.
Here we can teach the meaning of the first principles of the gospel—faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands. We need to prepare our children for temple marriage. We can do this by having pictures of temples in evidence, by mentioning the blessings of the temple in our prayers, by telling faith-promoting experiences regarding temple work.
We need to prepare our young men for missions. They should be taught what the priesthood means. Fathers should take their sons to priesthood meetings as they become old enough to be ordained, and not just send them.
I have known fathers who prefer to go hunting and fishing on the Sabbath day instead of attending to their priesthood duties. With such an example, how can a boy grasp the real importance of honoring his priesthood, and seeking first the kingdom of God? I have told the story of a father out hunting with his son on a Sunday, when the boy was accidentally shot. He asked his father to administer to him, but the father, feeling unworthy, wondered how he could call upon God for divine assistance.
Some men will take a lot of time training a hunting dog or a race horse, but can find no time for training their children or giving them the love and affection they need to help them achieve or accomplish their goals. Or a man will be very selective in finding a mate for breeding his livestock, when he is completely indifferent to the kinds of companions his children choose. There can be great disappointment from such a false sense of values.
Children are our most important assets. They need our time. President Harold B. Lee has told the story of his daughter, who was busily preparing for a Primary general board party in her home. As she was hurrying to polish the silver, her little son came to her and asked, “Mother, how do I figure my tithing?” Busy as she was, she stopped what she was doing rather than push him aside until a later moment, and sat down with him to carefully explain that out of every dime or dollar he earned, one-tenth belonged to the Lord.
One of the general board members who was assisting her with the preparations said, “My, that was wonderful for you to take that time with him when you were so busy.” The mother said, “Well, you see, all my life I can polish silver, but this may be the only teaching opportunity I will ever have to help my little boy understand the law of tithing.”
This should be our attitude. Fathers and mothers, working together, spending time with their children, training them in the way they should go, can make home a heaven on earth. The children should feel the love, respect, and unity between the parents. Paul expressed it beautifully as he spoke to the Ephesians:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
“That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
“For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (Eph. 5:25–31.)
Husbands, love your wives, honor and respect them. Praise them and hold them high in the estimate of your family. Always remember that they are not your chattels. As husband and wife honor one another, the children will honor their parents, as we are commanded, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Ex. 20:12.)
Our families should be more important to us than anything else in the world. To be complete, a family consists of father, mother, and children. The Lord established marriage for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth. Dr. Henry C. Link made the following statement which sums up what I have been saying:
“A happy family life is probably the principal factor in the security of adults, as it is in the security of children. Much has been written about marital security, yet most discussions of what makes a happy marriage place little emphasis on the necessity of having children. Wars can come, jobs can go, money can run out, but if father, mother, and children stand by each other, hope and happiness may survive.” (Quoted in Harold B. Lee, Ye Are the Light of the World, Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 6.)