I’ve been a father for over 31 years already. My own Father has been gone for over half of that. As I was thinking about Father’s Day, my thoughts kept shifting from my father to the newest fathers in our family.
We have five kids, one daughter, followed by a quartet of boys. Two of them are married, with children. Fathers.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that life was full of soccer/t-ball/basketball/volleyball games which I attended as either “Coach,” or an overly-boisterous spectator. Pinewood derbies, father-and-son outings, vacations, yard work, school projects, Priesthood ordinations and countless other memories make this a tender topic.
It has been a wonderful, satisfying experience watching Taylor and Alex embrace the role of Fatherhood. I love watching them learn, and love, and teach their kids. They are so good and trying so hard to raise their kids the way they feel is right. (I also enjoy seeing the occasional flashes of exasperation and/or fatigue that comes from being a father of young-uns.)
It has also been a bit terrifying.
It is satisfying and fulfilling watching them emulate things I did right as a father “back in the day.” It is equal terrifying that they will emulate some of the less than stellar qualities I demonstrate(d) as a father myself. I am self-aware enough to know that my example has not always been perfect.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “For men, fatherhood exposes us to our own weaknesses and our need to improve. Fatherhood requires sacrifice, but it is a source of incomparable satisfaction, even joy.” (link)
It is true, and the fear that those weaknesses will appear in your sons is a very real prospect. Following in the footsteps of our dads is mostly inevitable. This is okay if the example was good, but more challenging on the other side of the equation. But whatever the example, it is our responsibility to embrace the things that we watched our dads do well, and jettison those things that maybe didn’t measure up.
One of my great hopes for my sons is that they will be the kind of father I tried to be…but better.
“To all the rising generation, we say, wherever you rank your own father on the scale of good-better-best (and I predict that ranking will go higher as you grow older and wiser), make up your mind to honor him and your mother by your own life. Remember the yearning hope of a father as expressed by John: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Your righteousness is the greatest honor any father can receive.” Elder Christofferson. (link)
There are two things that I’m confident I got right: 1) I love their Mom, and 2) I try to live my testimony.
“Loving the mother of his children—and showing that love—are two of the best things a father can do for his children. This reaffirms and strengthens the marriage that is the foundation of their family life and security.” (link)
If my kids weren’t aware that I love their mom, they weren’t paying attention – but I can tell they know, because I see it in them. I see the way my boys treat their wives/fiancée/women in general, I am proud of the gentlemen they have become. I am also quite sure that they knew that Mom and I were on the same page, and that trying to play us against each other was a fool’s errand.
Thankfully, I find joy in watching how they treat their wonderful wives, and feel the reassurance that their marriage foundations are secure – in a very unstable world.
I recall one story from my years in Church service that helps me breathe a tiny bit easier. One day I came rushing in the house, late for dinner. I apologized and explained to the family that I was at a Church meeting that ran long. My then maybe-five-year-old son, Alex chimed in:
“When I’m a dad…”
I thought, oh no…here it comes.
“…I’m gonna have lots of meetings, too.” he said with a smile. Phew!
I remember taking my sons on service projects, and teaching them the fine art of chair folding, in the hopes that they would understand that service is part of who we are, and what we do. I think that stuck. Now, as I watch them serve in Young Mens, Bishoprics and Primary, I know that service is part of their core values.
As I watch my boys learn to be fathers, I am impressed by their patience, their affection, and their willingness to spend the time necessary to truly raise their children. They are light years ahead of where I was at that stage in life.
“Every father should remember one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.” ―Charles Kettering. (You gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk.)
A final quote from Elder Christofferson:
“The perfect, divine expression of fatherhood is our Heavenly Father. His character and attributes include abundant goodness and perfect love. His work and glory are the development, happiness, and eternal life of His children.Fathers in this fallen world can claim nothing comparable to the Majesty on High, but at their best, they are striving to emulate Him, and they indeed labor in His work. They are honored with a remarkable and sobering trust.” (link)
As I watch my sons grow, it gives me joy, and as they raise MY grandchildren, it grows exponentially, just like our family.
“Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.” Daniel Burnham
It is true. And it is already happening.
Happy Father’s Day!