Some time ago a father of six children who had the sole responsibility for raising the family, beginning when the youngest was in diapers, told of the struggles of doing so alone. One night he came home from work faced with the problems of being both father and mother and felt unusually burdened with his responsibilities. One of his appreciative daughters, age 12, approached him eagerly after having laid on his dresser a rock that she had painted at school. On the flat portion of the rock, she had written, “Happiness is having a dad who cares.” This painted rock and its sublime message instantly and permanently lightened the burden of this father.
Speaking in general conference some years ago, President Stephen L. Richards (1879–1959), First Counselor in the First Presidency, quoted from an article, written by a veteran criminal court judge, titled “Nine Words That Can Stop Juvenile Delinquency.” The nine words suggested by the judge were “Put Father back at the head of the family.” President Richards concluded from the article “that the primary reason for the reduced percentages of juvenile delinquency in [certain] European countries was respect for authority … in the home, which … normally reposes in the father as head of the family.”
President Richards continued: “For generations we as a Church have been endeavoring to do just what the judge advocates—to put and keep Father at the head of the family, and with all our might we have been trying to make him fit for that high and heavy responsibility.”1 Since the primary purpose of the Church is to help the family and its members, how well the father functions in his responsibility is of utmost importance.
More recently I read in the paper: “Social scientists across the political spectrum tell us that father absence is a stronger predictor of criminal behavior than family income, education, or … race.
“And while individual youngsters can manage life without father reasonably well in many cases, few are able to come unscathed through fatherless communities.”2
In urging that fathers be put back at the head of their homes, we wish to take nothing away from mothers. In all the world there is no higher or greater honor or responsibility than motherhood. Hopefully they too will have their powerful influence extended to even a greater degree within the home and beyond the home.
In order to strengthen the father in the home, I make two simple suggestions: first, sustain and respect the father in his position; second, give him love, understanding, and some appreciation for his efforts.
There are some voices in our society who would demean some of the attributes of masculinity. A few of these are women who mistakenly believe that they build their own feminine causes by tearing down the image of manhood. This has serious social overtones because a primary problem in the insecurity of sons and daughters can be the diminution of the role of the father image.
Let every mother understand that if she does anything to diminish her children’s father or the father’s image in the eyes of the children, it may injure and do irreparable damage to the self-worth and personal security of the children themselves. How infinitely more productive and satisfying it is for a woman to build up her husband rather than tear him down. You women are so superior to men in so many ways that you demean yourselves by belittling masculinity and manhood.
In terms of giving fathers love and understanding, it should be remembered that fathers also have times of insecurity and doubt. Everyone knows fathers make mistakes—especially they themselves. Fathers need all the help they can get; mostly they need love, support, and understanding from their own.
As fathers we need to set priorities to guide us in allocating our time. Some men forget that their “first priority should be to maintain their own spiritual and physical strength. Then comes their family, then the Church, and then their professions—and all need time.”3 In giving time to his children, a father should be able to demonstrate that he has enough love for them to command as well as discipline them. Children want and need discipline. As they approach some dangers, they are silently pleading, “Don’t let me do it.” President David O. McKay (1873–1970) said that if we do not adequately discipline our children, society will discipline them in a way we may not like.4 Wise discipline reinforces the dimensions of eternal love. This reinforcement will bring great security and stability into their lives.
In a landmark address to the priesthood in October 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley focused his remarks on the role of fathers. He told us: “This is a subject which I take very seriously. It is a matter with which I am deeply concerned. I hope you will not take it lightly. It concerns the most precious asset you have. In terms of your happiness, in terms of the matters that make you proud or sad, nothing—I repeat, nothing—will have so profound an effect on you as the way your children turn out.”5 He went on to give counsel to fathers: that they are to help their children resist temptation, to listen to them, to be patient and prayerful, and to teach them the ways of the Lord.
The exalted position of a father was well stated by American general Douglas MacArthur, who said: “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder—to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’”6
It is important to remember that in this Church, the husbands and fathers, and members of the family through them, enjoy a power and influence in their lives far beyond the natural gifts of intellect and character of the father. I refer to the priesthood of God, which every worthy man and boy over 12 years of age enjoys.
A prominent Church and business leader, now healthy, was born without life. His father, exercising his priesthood, made a promise that if his firstborn could live, that he, the father, would do all in his power to provide the proper example and teachings for his son. After a few minutes his infant son began to breathe and is well and vigorous to this day.
It is through the power of the priesthood that marriage and the family unit can extend into and continue throughout all eternity. The conscientious women of this Church wish to have such a righteous influence in abundance in their homes.
One gracious mother joyously recounted in a stake conference the marvelous experience of being in one of the temples with her husband and with all of her children but one and being sealed together as husband and wife and family for time and all eternity. Her husband, newly involved in the priesthood, sat in the conference audience a few rows back. For a moment she seemed to forget all of the rest of us and spoke only to him. Over the pulpit and through the loudspeaker, with more than a thousand people in tears watching and listening, she said: “John, the children and I don’t know how to tell you what you mean to us. Until you honored the priesthood, the greatest blessings of eternity would not open up for us. Now they have. We all love you very much, and we thank you with all our hearts for what you have made possible for us.”
You may recall the story about a child trapped in a hole in the ground who could be extricated only by sending another, smaller child into the tunnel. One little fellow was approached to see if he would be willing to go down and rescue the one who was lodged. The lad said, “I am scared to go in that hole, but I will go if my father will hold the rope.”
Elder Richard L. Evans (1906–71) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the proper dimension for all fathers in this faith when he said: “First of all, fathers are giving a name and a heritage to their children—clean and honorable. Fathers are for long, hard work, mostly their own kind of work; … for trying to give their children things [their] fathers never had. Fathers are for talking with, for encouraging, for putting arms around; for understanding mistakes, but not condoning them; for disciplining when needed, then loving all the more; for being strong and forceful, and for being tender and gentle.”7
It is always appropriate in all family relationships to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Having turned to the scriptures for the answer to this question, President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, testified: “There in the Gospel as recorded by St. John, I found the clear and certain answer: Jesus would always do the will of his Father. … ‘For I do always those things that please him’ [John 8:29].”8
God bless you children to have listening ears and understanding hearts. God bless you mothers for the endless dimension of your love and for all the help you give the fathers of your children. God bless you fathers to be equal to your overwhelming responsibilities and to have a father’s special caring for each one under your protective arms. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
After prayerfully studying this message, share it using a method that encourages the participation of those you teach. Following are some examples. (As you teach from this article, be sensitive to families in which the father is not present.)
Select from the article principles you feel best apply to the families you teach. Invite family members to read from portions of the article that teach or illustrate these principles. Share testimony and experiences from your own life about these principles.
Plan ways in which family members could show love and appreciation for their father. One idea could be to prepare a piece of paper for each family member bearing the words “I love my dad because _____.” Ask each person to write a phrase in the blank and explain why that phrase was chosen. Read the first paragraph of the article, and have family members give their papers to their father.
List the priorities for fathers suggested in the article, and discuss why each is important. Drawing from the examples in the article and from personal experience, illustrate ways that fathers can fulfill these four priorities.
Read the last paragraph of the article, and discuss how children could more carefully listen to the counsel of their fathers. Talk about times when the fathers (or grandfathers perhaps) helped family members accomplish a hard or difficult task. Share how your own father helped you in your life.