Dads: Give 'em a Break!

Dads have been getting a bum rap. In controversial TV shows like “Married with Children,” and “The Simpsons,” long-running comic strips like “Dagwood,” and movies like “National Lampoon Summer Vacation,” dads are portrayed as bumbling, incompetent, and lazy. Even a series of children’s books – Berenstain Bears – portray the dad as a braggart who consistently makes a fool of himself. I object. Why should we ignore the larger percentage of honorable, caring, hard working dads whose very dependability is heroic?

Okay, so “Father Knows Best” dad Robert Young of the 50s was idealized and one-dimensional. Still he was a whole lot closer to the real dads I know than the ones commonly seen in the media since then. I suspect that the negative media coverage is evidence that the adversary is conducting a full-scale blitz on fatherhood as well as on motherhood.

The Adversary’s Plan to Confuse Moms and Dads

We know the adversary distracts many women from their eternally meaningful roles of wife and mother, teacher and nurturer (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World). He has increased women’s options to the point of utter confusion. He sings the siren call to draw women out of the home and tempts them to spread themselves so thin that their inner peace is destroyed. Too many women, long the anchor of the family, are now adrift themselves.

We hear less of what the adversary is doing to confuse and pull men from their God-given roles. Is it possible that the very nature of the adversary’s attack on women has also had a disastrous effect on men? Could it be that the stampede of women into the workplace and the lure of countless optional activities that pull all family members out of the home are contributing to the diminishing of true fatherhood, to the decrease of most dads’ ability to fill their most important roles?

How Society Has Diminished the Father’s Roles

The Family: A Proclamation to the World states: “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.” How can a father preside over and protect a child or a wife that he is with only minutes a day? How can he protect children who spend every waking hour in school or in a multitude of activities, lessons, sporting events, and practices of all kinds? How can he fill his God-given role if his job keeps him out of town or at least out of the home most of the time?

Granted, his prayers and righteous example can offer some measure of protection. However, the adversary’s plan is expedited when family members are pulled so many different directions that they spend little time together. It is hard for a dad to righteously lead a family he rarely sees, and it is hard for him to feel his value in a society that no longer recognizes or supports him in his primary roles.

The 3 Ps: Preside, Provide, and Protect

What does it mean to preside? Does having the father preside diminish the agency of other family members? Does having the prophet preside over the Church diminish the agency of Church members? The presiding authority is a priesthood link with God, a safeguard for order and proper priesthood functioning, a source of blessings, counsel, and healing, a help in trouble, a strength to shore us up when we are weak. A righteous father fills those roles in the home.

Either the demands of modern living or a tendency to unrighteous dominion can make it difficult for a priesthood holder to preside as the Lord intended.

Enter the “Too-Busy” Dad

Take Paul and Jenn, for example. When they had been married for eight years their children were 1, 5, and 7. Leadership in the family had fallen to Jenn by default; because of the demands of higher education, work, and church responsibilities, Paul was seldom there. When he began to be home more, he had a hard time knowing what his role was. Jenn gathered the children for morning and evening prayers, read them scripture story books at mealtimes and bedtime, and planned and carried out the family home evenings every Monday night. He was glad she was doing it, yet felt a strange sense of disquiet about the whole thing as the years went by. In fact, he felt left out, but didn’t know what to do about it.

Jenn’s position had always been: “If I don’t instigate all these activities, no one will,” and she was determined to start their family out right. In quiet moments she would admit to herself that she rather enjoyed being in charge. The pattern had started because of Paul’s absence, but now she was reluctant to consider that the way they were doing things might not be optimum. She had seen the haphazard way gospel teaching was carried out in a friend’s home where things were left to the husband. In another friend’s home the husband and father ruled with an iron hand; the wife had no say about anything and the children were afraid of their dad. Their own pattern of Paul being a casual and occasional participant in well-established traditions seemed far better than either of those situations.

The Benefits of Dad at the Helm

It took a real crisis in their lives to help them reassess and re-establish Paul as the head of the house. Jenn was surprised at the great relief she felt as he took over more of the leadership role.

There is an ever-increasing recognition of the importance of a father’s role in raising children – of the important of setting the example of a father who presides, provides, and protects. There is such a need for women to fill their own roles well and to encourage their husbands, not usurp his roles.

When Dads Share the Providing Role

Of course many women find themselves in situation where they have no choice but to take over part or all of the 3 P roles – either because the father has abdicated by choice or that circumstances – such as being “called up” for military service have taken him away. But so many times, there is a choice. Jason and Susan, for instance, face an all-too-common problem: Jason has been unable to make enough to meet the needs of the family since the children have gotten older and their activities more costly – and they all feel the need of a bigger house and another car. Susan has a degree and job skills and easily found a job that paid better than Jason’s. They bought a larger home and another car and now seem locked into a lifestyle that takes every dime of their combined incomes. Susan wears so many hats she is consistently tired; she hates not having the time to focus on her home and children. She’d like one more baby, but having another child is out of the question. Jason feels inadequate and misses the feeling of satisfaction he used to have in the early days of their marriage when Susan enjoyed being a full-time mom.

There are as many different situations as there are families, but far too many dads today are feeling less than fulfilled in their provider roles. The media contributes to the dilemma by throwing in our faces on a daily basis images of the “good life” that the average father has no way of providing. Wants and needs are all mixed up, and children are trained to be mini-consumers and to nag their parents for a never-ending array of material goods.

What about the Father’s Role to Protect?

Let’s go back to Jason and Susan. Another thing frustrating to Jason is his role as a protector.  How can a dad in any way protect a family he rarely sees? In more family-friendly centuries, children worked alongside the father of the family and spent long winter evenings in his company.  Many studies have been done in the past couple of decades that report the time fathers spend with their children is fast disappearing.

Joseph F. Smith said, “Brethren …  If you will keep your [children] close to your heart, within the clasp of your arms; if you will make them  . feel that you love them … and keep them near to you, they will not go very far from you, and they will not commit any very great sin ….

“Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! And prove … that you do love them by your every word and act to[ward] them.” (Gospel Discourses, pp. 282, 316)

Fathers cannot keep children within the clasp of their arms, keep them near to them, or prove their love if they are rarely with them! In the last few years several movies, such as Hook, have portrayed fathers who have become so wrapped up in the corporate world that they are missing out on their children’s lives. Perhaps the theme comes up so often because it has reached epidemic proportions.

Springing the Trap

Yet I look around and see so many strong dads who are avoiding that trap, making hard decisions in favor of family, and spending every minute they can with wives and children.

James M. Paramore said,  “A busy father, businessman, and Church leader told me a few years ago that he loved his family so much that he made this commitment: he would give several nights each week and part of every Saturday to them. They were programmed into his schedule … Then, though fatigue, business, Church, and other requirements pressed him every day, he followed this commitment. For him, it was an irrevocable obligation, a looked-for pleasure to be with and nurture his family.”  (Ensign, May 1979, p. 61) I honor the many dads I know who make family time priority and find ways to provide and protect in spite of all the forces in the world working against those values. I honor the dads who have e-mailed me who are getting involved in the education of their children and showing great concern for their family responsibilities. I honor the dads in my ward that I observe setting good examples, staying close to their children and presiding in righteousness.

Last year I became acquainted with an amazing family – not members of the Church, but committed Christians. Ann and Joel are both in their early forties and have one child, Sydney, almost four. For two decades they found success in their separate careers. She was a writer, career woman and horse lover; he was a high-powered insurance executive who flew all over the world. For years they had no time or desire for church or children, but finally began to yearn for a child. Ann made it clear to Joel that she couldn’t raise a child by herself; Joel’s current schedule left him little time to be at home. He promised to alter that schedule if they had a child. Three times they looked forward to a child, but Ann miscarried. Finally on their fourth try Ann carried a child to term and delivered a beautiful red-haired baby girl with huge brown eyes and fair skin. They both felt Sydney was a gift from God.

After much deliberation, a few months after her birth Joel quit his job altogether. He wasn’t sure of that decision until he and Ann decided to go back to church for Sydney’s sake, and found out how much they needed the Savior in their own lives. The more Joel thought about the life of Jesus, the more he realized that the Lord’s focus had been on serving and loving – not on acquiring. Joel wanted to be more like Him, and his high-powered job had not been taking him in that direction. Joel also wanted to be a primary influence in his daughter’s life – possible only if he were present. Ann has been totally supportive as they have changed their focus to home and family and church.

I admire them for the courage it took to re-evaluate and make changes that included considerable financial sacrifice; they have a strong conviction that these choices have been right for them. Joel is now in a position to protect his family by his very presence. He will not provide the lavish lifestyle he could have with his old job – but you cannot put a dollar value on what he is providing.

When I had Ann check what I had written about them, she replied, “I really love what you say about Joel being in a position to protect his family with his presence. That has been so true and our marriage has benefited greatly. We have truly been blessed as a family.”

Honor Dads for All They Do

How can we let our dads know how important their presence is to us and how much we appreciate all they do? I marvel as I watch this generation of young fathers coming home from demanding jobs to willingly change diapers, help with housework, and be a fully participating partner in raising children. I marvel at older dads who stay close to their children, and spend countless hours in church service helping other people’s children. It has been my experience that the closer we stick to the guidelines given in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the better things go. Nothing but grief comes from stepping outside them. I hope we can all support dads in their roles to preside, provide, and protect.

On Father’s Day this year I hope each of us will give our dads a break – honor them for the good in their lives, recognize the obstacles in their paths and give them credit for the ones they’ve overcome. I hope we’ll admire and praise them for every effort to preside, provide, and protect in a society that makes it increasingly difficult to do so.