Traditions of the Fathers

Eternal Marriage Student Manual, (2003), 337–41


God teaches us that children are to honor their parents. … What in us is noble, responsible, faithful, gracious, considerate? What is worthy of their respect and their emulation?

—Elder Marion D. Hanks

Selected Teachings

Elder Marion D. Hanks

“The first definition of ‘tradition’ in a modern dictionary is: ‘The knowledge, doctrines, customs, practices, etc., transmitted from generation to generation. …’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 116).

Maintaining Righteous Traditions

Exodus 20:12

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

1 Nephi 1:1

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.”

1 Nephi 3:19

“And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers.”

1 Nephi 5:21

“And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.”

2 Nephi 25:26

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

Enos 1:1, 3

“Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it. …

“Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.”

Doctrine and Covenants 68:25

“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.”

Doctrine and Covenants 93:40

“But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.”

Examples of False Traditions

1 Peter 1:18

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers.”

Mosiah 10:12

“They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers.”

Mosiah 26:1

“Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that … did not believe the tradition of their fathers.”

Alma 9:8

“Behold, O ye wicked and perverse generation, how have ye forgotten the tradition of your fathers; yea, how soon ye have forgotten the commandments of God.”

Alma 60:32

“It is the tradition of their fathers that has caused their hatred.”

Doctrine and Covenants 93:39

“And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.”

President Ezra Taft Benson

“The ‘tradition of their fathers’ refers, of course, to the bad examples and teachings of fathers” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 47; or Ensign, May 1981, 35).

Overcoming False Traditions

Matthew 10:37

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Mosiah 25:12

“And it came to pass that those who were the children of Amulon and his brethren, … were displeased with the conduct of their fathers, and they would no longer be called by the names of their fathers, therefore they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi.”

Alma 3:11

“And it came to pass that whosoever would not believe in the tradition of the Lamanites, but believed those records which were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and also in the tradition of their fathers, which were correct, who believed in the commandments of God and kept them, were called the Nephites.”

Alma 37:9

“Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance.”

Helaman 15:4

“But behold my brethren, the Lamanites hath he hated because their deeds have been evil continually, and this because of the iniquity of the tradition of their fathers. But behold, salvation hath come unto them through the preaching of the Nephites; and for this intent hath the Lord prolonged their days.”

Elder Boyd K. Packer

“To you adults who repeat the pattern of neglect and abuse you endured as little children, believing that you are entrapped in a cycle of behavior from which there is no escape, I say:

“It is contrary to the order of heaven for any soul to be locked into compulsive, immoral behavior with no way out!

“It is consistent with the workings of the adversary to deceive you into believing that you are.

“I gratefully acknowledge that transgressions, even those which affect little children, yield to sincere repentance. I testify with all my soul that the doctrine of repentance is true and has a miraculous, liberating effect upon behavior.

“To you innocent ones who have not transgressed, but were abused as little children and still carry an undeserved burden of guilt, I say:

“Learn true doctrine—repentance and forgiveness; lay that burden of guilt down!

“For we are all children of the same Heavenly Father. May not each of his children, of any age, claim the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and in so doing, through complete repentance, be cleansed and renewed to childlike innocence?” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 21–22; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 18).

The Tradition of Their Fathers

Elder Marion D. Hanks

Elder Marion D. Hanks

Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 115–18

The Tradition of Their Fathers

It is to the phrase “because of the tradition of their fathers” that I would give special attention in these few moments, and to the injunction to “set in order your own house.”

Previously over this pulpit I have expressed my respect for children who have improved upon the ways of negligent parents, and my compassion for choice parents who have earnestly tried to bring up their children in the way they should go, only to have those children use their agency and individuality to follow other ways. The Lord has taught us that in his sight the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. Each who is accountable must ultimately account for his own decisions.

But multitudes of us still have our children at home, or have grandchildren, or are influential in the homes or with the children of others. Great numbers of young couples are just starting their families, or soon will be. All of us should be brought to solemn thoughtfulness by the sobering word that although children are “innocent before God,” the “wicked one” is able to take away “light and truth” “through disobedience” and “because of the tradition of their fathers.”

The first definition of “tradition” in a modern dictionary is: “The knowledge, doctrines, customs, practices, etc., transmitted from generation to generation. …”

Our Traditions

What is the tradition in your individual home and mine? What “knowledge, doctrines, customs, practices,” and so forth are being or will be transmitted from our generation to our children and their children?

God teaches us that children are to honor their parents. What in us, our lives, our character, our behavior, is worthy of their honor? What in us is noble, responsible, faithful, gracious, considerate? What is worthy of their respect and their emulation?

Do we teach honesty by being honest? I love to remember the story of the man who, while his little son was with him, stopped at an isolated cornfield on a remote country road, and after looking before and behind him, to the left and to the right, started to climb the fence to appropriate a few ears of the farmer’s corn. Said his son: “Dad, you forgot to look up.”

Integrity in the Home

What happens to the boy whose father boasts of the slick deal he has made in which others were outwitted? Years ago the late Joseph Welch said, on the occasion of his being named Father of the Year:

“If it were in my power to bestow on the youth of the land one single quality, I would not choose, I think, wit or wisdom or even that great boon, education. If I could choose but one, I would choose integrity. If one day my children and grandchildren say to one another, ‘He taught us to value integrity,’ I shall be content.

“How is the quality of integrity passed on to the children in the home? It is passed on by living a life of integrity, of sober honesty, of responsible citizenship. How can one surely fail to pass this priceless quality on to children in the home? By being a little lawless; by being a fixer; by being a cheat and a chiseler. Not so long ago one of my two boys spoke these sobering words to me. He said, ‘When the two of us were young, there were times when you and Mom would obviously set out to tell us how to live the good life. We could always recognize those moments and we would close our ears and our minds. Your most influential moments were your most inadvertent ones. We were apt to imitate what you really were—not what you said you were or even what you may have believed you were.’

“If your children are to have integrity, they must find it in the home and in you. If they live in an atmosphere of complete integrity, they will accept it as an attitude and never waver thereafter. And having integrity, they will themselves find freedom; and having found it, gladly grant it to all others.”

Ideals and Values

Every parent should ask, What ideals and values is my child learning? What is his image of himself? What is the view of others that he is developing in our home? Is his experience with his parents bringing him a growing consciousness that the “bright light of God” is over everything, and a growing confidence in the presence of his Heavenly Father?

In New Zealand we learned an old Maori proverb: “A bird must have feathers to fly.” Parents have the primary responsibility for feathering our children for flight. A child who lives in an atmosphere of disrespect, criticism, or shame will not be inclined to respect or accept himself; and of shame it has been impellingly written: “Holocausts are caused not only by atomic explosions. Holocausts are caused wherever a person is put to shame.” (Abraham J. Heschel, The Insecurities of Freedom.)

Our Treatment of Others

Our treatment of others will certainly condition a child’s attitude toward others. Children who see and sense in parents a genuine concern for others, expressed in acts of kindness and compassion and unselfishness, will themselves be inclined to think well of mankind and to do as the scriptures bid: to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.)

Young people so blessed may also be less susceptible to the bewilderment that confronts some in our generation’s paradoxical stress on man’s rights and privileges while at the same time belittling him as a creature of his environment, conditioned by sociological and psychological factors, not possessing the powers and capacities of free agency, of thinking and believing, of choosing and determining, not the unique personality that God has taught us we are. The “conditioned-reflex” version of the behaviorist cannot inspire the mystery and awe and wonder which are the glory of man. To know, instead, that every individual is an eternal person, a potential god or goddess, capable of deep love and graciousness and mercy, more than human, is to prepare us to live with courage and a sense of responsibility, to inspire self-reliance, self-respect, and genuine respect for others.

Tradition of Discipline

What is the tradition of discipline in our homes? Is our child pampered, indulged, permitted in a moment of crisis to transfer his guilt to others—his parents, peers, family, the age he lives in, society? How will he handle disappointment and failure if he is not taught to face up to his mistakes honestly? We are not talking of imposing senseless punishment. We are talking of realities, of facts to be faced, of fair rules which are understood and enforced, with sanctions consistently imposed when they are broken. “Self-respect,” someone has said, “is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say NO to one’s self.” (Heschel, op. cit.)

Other Traditions to Pass On

What shall we give to the children? Pray for a sense of humor. “Laughter leavens life” and brings a sunny spirit.

Pray also to be able to pass on the will to work, and the urge for excellence; the capacity for moral indignation, and the courage to stand alone; disdain for evil, and love of justice; the ability to love without condition or question. Do you know the story of the eight-year-old girl in an orphanage, unattractive, with annoying mannerisms, disliked by the teachers and administrators? One afternoon it was reported that she had broken a rule that would justify her expulsion from the institution. Against regulations she had been seen depositing a note in a branch of a tree overreaching the fence. The note was retrieved. It read: “To whoever finds this: I love you.”

How in Your Home and Mine Is the Tradition of Patriotism?

On the Saturday evening just before Christmas last year, two clean, handsome young men—boys, really—their battle gear stacked nearby, stood before a large group of their comrades at China Beach near DaNang, South Vietnam, and sang “Silent Night.” They had no accompaniment, and the sweet, clear ring of their voices will always be remembered, and the emotion we all felt. The next morning, before dawn, one of those young men came to my sleeping quarters to say good-bye and shake hands once more as he joined his outfit to head out into the bush on a search-and-destroy mission. It was not the Sabbath activity he would have chosen—he was disappointed not to be able to worship with fellow servicemen in our scheduled meeting—but he went his way to do his job. There is no question as to the tradition transmitted in this boy’s home.

Self-Control in Homes

Fathers, mothers, what tradition are we planting in another generation, in our homes, as to self-control—control of our tongues and tempers and appetites? In 1884 Henry Drummond made a statement on this theme that could be read regularly with profit by each of us:

“We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet … the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature.

“The peculiarity of ill-temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. … This compatibility of ill-temper with the high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is, there are two great classes of sins—sins of the Body and sins of the Disposition. … No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to unChristianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood; in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone.” (Henry Drummond: The Greatest Thing in the World, pp. 43–46.)

Traditions for Future Homes

What traditions are we passing on for other homes in future times that are worthy of the memories we ourselves have? On occasion through the years I have enjoyed the blessing of asking large groups of adult leaders to meditate for a moment on their conclusion to an unfinished sentence, and then share their thoughts. The sentence reads: “The thing I remember best about my childhood at home with my parents and family is __________.”

I suspect your answers would be about the same as those that I have heard. Never once has anyone mentioned a high standard of living, or material possessions. Always they have spoken, as I would speak, of attention from mom or dad; of family associations, traditions, sacrifices, adventures together; of books read aloud, songs sung, work accomplished; of family prayers and family councils; of small presents lovingly and unselfishly prepared; of homey and wholesome and happy memories. My single question to them has always been, and I ask it today, “What are we giving our own children that they will remember with equal joy and appreciation?”

Tradition of Children’s Song

Since our last conference my wife and I were privileged to visit Samoa and other islands in the far seas. One afternoon in the mountain tops of Upolu, in American Samoa, in the village of Sauniatu, we had a remarkable experience pertinent to this moment. The village was deserted except for a few very young children and one or two who had stayed home with them. The rest were working in the fields or at other tasks. As we walked the single lane of Sauniatu, between the rows of falés, from the monument toward the new chapel and school, we heard children singing. There were perhaps half a dozen of them, none more than four years old, and they were singing with the sweetness of childhood a song we instantly recognized, and stood entranced, in tears, to hear: “I Am a Child of God.”

In that high mountain fastness, at the end of a long, tortuous road, on an island of the sea, we found tiny dark-skinned children, none of them having seen more of the world than their small village, singing what they had learned through the tradition of their fathers, the greatest truth in existence, save one: I am a child of God.

That other truth? That there is a God who hears the voices of his children.

God bless us so to live and to teach that we may bring about a restoration of the home, the resurrection of parenthood, that the “wicked one” can never take away “light and truth” from our children “because of the tradition of their fathers.” In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.