In April 2015, a religious leader addressed fathers with these words,
“Every day you are teaching your children what it means to be a father. You are laying a foundation for the next generation.” (Larry W. Gibson, “Fatherhood–Our Eternal Destiny”, April 2015).
He then posed two questions as a way for father’s to gauge their effectiveness in their children’s lives.
- Do they know how much you love being their father?
- Do your children see you striving to do what Heavenly Father would have them do?
As I contemplated my answer to these questions, I found myself asking them this way:
- How do I show my children how much I love being their father?
- What can I do to show my children what Heavenly Father would have them do?
I’ve determined that every Father must answer these questions his own way. Before I answer, I need to provide some context. I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. I believe that when you marry someone, you are entering into a covenant relationship. The decision about whom to marry is the most important decision you will ever make and has eternal significance. That union forms a family unit that continues to flourish as children come along. Under these circumstances, the family is the most basic unit of society. Fathers and mothers each have unique roles to play in the family. Together, they operate as equal partners and are responsible for the strength and vitality of family relationships.
How do I show my children how much I love being their father?
Respect their mother. This applies to fathers in all circumstances. For fathers who are married, this means investing the best of yourself into your relationship with your wife every day. For divorced fathers, this is sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes marital partners cannot agree. One partner wants to stay together, the other wants to break up. In this scenario, every effort must be made to shield the children from bitterness and hostility that may exist between the parents. Though each parent cannot agree on the course of their relationship, they can at least be joint and unanimous in decisions regarding child-rearing going forward. There must be compromise, sacrifice, civility and fairness for all parties involved.
Teach them correct principles. To be a father is to be a leader. Children look to a leader to teach them. Research has shown that when fathers are absent in the home, the likelihood of future problems in the lives of their children increases. Allan Schore, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine, was quoted in a recent New York Times Article. He described the father’s role as critical, particularly for an 18-24-month-old male toddler.
“This period (18–24 months) involves the initiation of a critical period of growth in the left hemisphere, and so the ‘paternal attachment system’ of father-son interactions would presumably forge an androgenic imprint in the toddler’s evolving left-brain circuits, including the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, allowing for his regulation of the male toddler’s testosterone-induced aggression (‘terrible twos’).” (Thomas B. Edsall, “The Increasing Significance of the Decline of Men”, March 2017)
The underlying meaning of Schore’s statement expresses the unique and irreplaceable role of fathers in society and families. Fathers who provide leadership, who give direction and encouragement, give children a sense of strength. Children will grow up feeling more secure in their well-being. In this way, fathers are an anchor to their kids.
Live a family-centered life. This means planning and making sacrifices on their behalf, providing the necessities of life, and being current on child-support payments. One religious leader put it this way,
“Plan your day as guided by the spirit, earnestly seeking your welfare and the welfare of your family before other cares blind you to this first responsibility.” (L. Tom Perry, “Fatherhood, An Eternal Calling”, April 2004)
Spend time working and playing with them. Children judge your love for them by the amount of time you spend with them. Buying them presents cannot replace quality, one-on-one time together. In this environment, share with them how you feel, your dreams, your fears, and your love. Hug them. Don’t be afraid to cry. Be vulnerable. They will more likely reciprocate those feelings from these actions. Time spent laughing and playing together will create cherished memories for the rest of their life.
Pray with them. The act of kneeling in prayer together as a family somehow creates a bond between parents and children. Qualities of faith and humility are manifested through communion with Deity. Children who hear their father plead for God’s blessings upon them will get the truest sense of how their dad feels about them. Prayer also makes families more charitable, with a desire to serve others. Fathers and children who serve others together only increases the bond of love between them.
What can I do to show my children what Heavenly Father would have them do?
Christ’s words add deeper meaning to this question.
“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever things He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (John 5:19)
He was speaking of his relationship to God, but his words are also applicable when speaking of the relationship between fathers and their children. To me, this question is best answered through the following story about a father who participated in a 50/20 competition with his two sons. As he explains, a 50/20 competition consists of walking 50 miles in less than 20 hours.
“We started at 9:00 p.m. and walked all that night and most of the next day. It was an excruciating 19 hours, but we succeeded.
Upon returning home, we literally crawled into the house, where a wonderful wife and mother had prepared a lovely dinner, which we didn’t touch. My younger son collapsed, totally exhausted, on the couch, while my older son crawled downstairs to his bedroom.
After some painful rest of my own, I went to my younger son to make sure he was still alive.
‘Are you OK?’ I asked.
‘Dad, that was the hardest thing I have ever done, and I never want to do it again.’
I wasn’t about to tell him that I would never do it again either. Instead, I told him how proud I was that he had accomplished such a hard thing. I knew it would prepare him for other hard things he would face in his future.
I then went downstairs to my oldest son. I lay by him—then touched him. ‘Son, are you all right?’
‘Dad, that was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, and I will never, ever do it again.’ His eyes closed—then opened—and he said, ‘Unless my son wants me to.’
Tears came as I expressed how grateful I was for him. I told him I knew he was going to be a much better father than I was. My heart was full because at his young and tender age he already recognized that one of his most sacred duties was to be a father. He had no fear of that role and title—the very title that God Himself wants us to use when we speak to Him. I knew I had the responsibility to nurture the embers of fatherhood that were burning within my son.”
In order for fathers to show their children the things God would have them do, fathers must rise up and be the man God intended them to be. Study God’s word, express gratitude for blessings and humbly accept the challenges God places in your life. A father’s quiet example of faith and endurance will speak volumes to them, and will have more of a lasting impact than anything else you could say or do.
Ultimately, it boils down to these words, as expressed by another religious leader,
“We call on fathers to do better and to be better. We call on media and entertainment outlets to portray devoted and capable fathers who truly love their wives and intelligently guide their children, instead of the bumblers and buffoons or ‘the guys who cause problems,’ as fathers are all too frequently depicted.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Fathers”, April 2016).