My father had come for a visit, and I stayed home from work to talk with him. After breakfast, we spoke only briefly before he tired and went to sleep on the small sofa. It was quiet except for the sounds of his breathing, and I found myself filled with thoughts and feelings that surprised me with their intensity.
I could easily recognize the signs of his advanced age. What was left of his hair was gray. His face, wrinkled at the corners of his eyes and mouth, still had the look of character and sensitivity I had often seen as his son. Then, because of a cold, he also looked tired. My father’s hands are larger than should be the case for one of moderate build. His fingers are wide and strong. One little finger is permanently bent because of a farming accident. As a small child I had spent many sacrament meetings rubbing this finger thinking it would feel better.
I sat for several minutes looking at him and reflecting about our life together. I wondered how much longer he would live. He had been very lonely since Mother died three years earlier. And, though sad for me, maybe he would be happier to go soon. I felt very protective as I watched him, much like a parent feels toward a sleeping child who requires concern because he is vulnerable. I leaned back in my chair and fell deep into the memories of long ago.
I was never told by anyone to be like my father. It just seemed natural to follow his footsteps in the snow, or to be interested in music as he was, or to compare myself with him in many other ways. One way I compared myself to him was in his work habits. He was a very hard worker. He began early and worked late on our family farm, which required him to milk cows and irrigate before breakfast. He then put in a full day’s work like other people before milking and tending the irrigation water at night. It was hard to keep up with him, but my brothers and I often tried. Once started he could keep going steadily without resting. At least he did not rest often enough for me.
I am his youngest son, so I was given increased responsibilities as I grew older and was gradually expected to do a “man’s work.” Sometimes when I was extra tired and reluctant to get my own chores done, I would finally arrive only to find he had done them for me. I was glad but ashamed.
Sometime around my 17th birthday, I had achieved my full growth with the usual bulges and ripples in the right places. Dad and I were alone together on the farm since my older brothers were married or at college. One day we were stacking bales of alfalfa hay. I was placing them from the truck on a long conveyer that carried them to where Dad was placing them in the right position on the haystack. The sound of the small motor drowned out any possibility of talk, so, lost in my own thoughts, I worked rapidly to finish the job. I was startled when Dad yelled. I looked up to see that I was sending bales of hay up to him faster than he could place them. After waving for me to stop, he sat down to rest. Dad pulled out a red bandana handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. At that moment I realized I was no longer a small child following my father’s footsteps in the snow. My father was more tired than I was.
I had never before realized that this was natural since I was 17 and he was 55. I was instead a bit shocked by the recognition that he was no longer going to be the person I compared myself to in order to see if I was doing all right. Truthfully, I felt a bit anxious as if I were suddenly without a leader and were on my own. As I sat looking at him, a wave of emotion passed through me. I could not understand all of it, but I knew something significant was taking place. He suddenly looked a bit older to me and more tired than I had been willing to notice.
As we began to work again, and I more slowly, my father seemed a bit less than he used to be. I felt a little disappointed and even resentful. Some fate had robbed me of a security I had as a child, but I gained an understanding that has been a wonderful part of my life. I understood that more than an unattainable example of manhood, my father was just a man. He was a mortal like me, and what he did I could someday do too. Knowing this was far better than trying to be like someone and never succeeding. My father became to me a real person who had feelings and ideas, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams.
My disappointment was brief, and I began to view him differently, even feeling protective of him. As the days followed, I became more responsible in doing my chores and tried in many ways to be more helpful to him. I began to tell him more things about myself, and we became closer. Though he was by nature a reserved and quiet man, we became more openly affectionate with each other. We are not equals. I am better in some areas because of an advanced education he gave me. He is wiser because of his experience.
As I returned from these thoughts of my youth, I was impressed that my father had in this way taught me about being a father. Working by his side, I came to know him well, and I could become like him. But, I wondered, what about my sons? They do not work with me every day. How are they learning about being fathers? Do they even think it is important to learn? Caught up in a whirl of sports, school, friends, and play they do not often see far into the future. Yet the years since I was 17 have seemed to pass like fleeting moments. Someday my sons will, like me now, consider fatherhood the most important of all they do.
It is a mistake to think that a boy will learn about fatherhood later after having children. It is usually too late then if a boy has not learned successfully, and his sons and daughters will receive the brunt of his inadequacies. It is much wiser to think that men are better fathers when they have learned about it when they are sons.
Most of us know that fathers should teach their sons, but most sons are not aware that they could and should learn about being fathers. As a result, boys often do not ask the very questions or participate in special experiences that could teach them. Boys may want their fathers to watch them play ball or teach them how to fish, but they forget to ask their dads how to be a good father. Sons could ask their fathers about many different aspects of family life. Some of these are listed as follows:
Financial Planning. In order to survive, fathers and mothers have had to prepare and make financial plans. Ask your parents how they organize their finances, who pays for which bills, what their biggest problems are, and what they wish they would have done differently.
Child Discipline. Ask your father about the reasons for family rules. Ask what your father learned about child discipline from his parents.
Organizing Family Activities. Successful vacations, family prayer, family home evenings, even chores, require organizational skills. You can ask your father or mother what he or she has learned about making them succeed.
What Your Parents Have Learned as Parents. Being a parent has helped, even forced, parents to learn about themselves. Ask about their experiences as parents and what they have learned since having children. Find out about what they have done that was successful and what they would do over again.
What Your Parents Think and Feel about You. Ask your parents about their feelings toward you. Note their ideas and ask about reasons for their thoughts. Each parent will have his or her individual ideas.
Teaching the Gospel. Ask your father and mother how they teach the gospel. Find out why they do what they do. Inquire about their successes and failures.
I decided not to wait for my sons to ask me to teach them because it seems too important to neglect. In their preparation for fatherhood I would like my sons to know the importance of showing genuine respect for girls and of showing courtesy and consideration in all their dating. They can begin doing this by showing regard for their mother and their sisters. I want them to develop good work habits which will enable them to provide for their family. Each of my sons has work to do and is rewarded for doing it. I believe they need to control their tempers and develop patience, which will be needed with their children. I try to set an example of this. I want them to be creative teachers of the gospel, so I assign them to teach in family home evenings. We read and discuss the scriptures and tell gospel stories to each other. I am trying to prepare them for missions.
I want them to spend time with their children, so I try to spend time with them. I ask what they plan to be like when they are fathers, and we talk about it. Even with all of this, I wish they would ask more questions about being a father.
Still they seem more interested in what they are doing right now, and I do not object too much about that because I have been their age. I would like them to ask me about fatherhood so I could tell them what I believe. Someday they will look at me when I am old and remember the time when they surpassed me. They will know me as I am, just a man, and we will be friends. Then, learning, they will recognize that just as my father continues to teach me, I will also prepare them for what is to come. I am living just a few moments ahead, and my age calls to them as if to say, “Come this way my sons.” I want them to hear, and I want to see them succeed.