Bad Dads, Good Dads

Over the past few weeks, one of the things that the Come Follow Me curriculum has shown us is the unpredictability of fatherhood. The Book of Mormon tells of how bad dads and good dads can wind up with good kids and bad kids, and vice versa. For example, one of the most interesting father/son lines was Zeniff>Noah>Limhi

Zeniff had his good moments and his bad moments. He was mostly famous for two things: 1) being repeatedly outplayed by King Laman and causing his renegade group of Nephites to fall into captivity. 2) Being Wicked King Noah’s dad.

I’m sure that King and Queen Zeniff had their share of sleepless nights, lying awake, talking about what they should do about their son, Wicked Prince Noah.

Zeniff: “I don’t like the direction that boy is heading.”
Queen: “And I don’t think much of his friends. I wish he’d spend more time with that Alma boy, he seems nice.”
Zeniff: “All he seems to care about is money and girls.”
Queen: “And the girls he chases! It’s so embarrassing.”
Zennif: “Every time he does something wrong and says, ‘That’s riotous!’, I wanna strangle him.”
Queen: “I think it’s gotten worse since you let him keep those pet leopards. I told you that was a bad idea.”

Of course, I’m just speculating – I have no idea what he was like as a kid. But I do know that as a grown-up, he excelled at wickedness, and took his people down with him.

Obviously, Noah was a Bad Dad, but wouldn’t you know, he had a good kid: Limhi.

I imagine the late-night conversations King Noah had with one of his concubines:

Noah: I don’t know what to do about that boy of mine.
Concubine: Which one? I can’t keep track, with of all those wives and their kids.
Noah: He’s the one that is always hanging back when we are living riotously.
Concubine: Oh, Limhi! He’s a nice boy.
Noah: That’s exactly what I’m worried about!

Limhi was a good man who tried to undo the damage that his father created. He eventually helped his people return to following God and escape the clutches of the Lamanites. They eventually found their way to Zarahemla.

Sometimes the sons were a ‘chip off the old righteous block,’ like Mormon and Moroni. Sometimes the same good dad can have a range within his own family: Lehi had Nephi, Sam and the two late additions, but he also had Laman and Lemuel.

President Nelson reminds us, “No mortal father is perfect. I am not; neither was my father, nor his father before him. The scriptures are filled with true accounts of imperfect yet devoted and loving fathers who tried to do their very best, including Adam, Moses, Abraham, and others of the finest men who ever lived.

Even Heavenly Father had a 66% success rate before He even pushed the start button on mortality for this earth, and it has only gotten worse.

Fatherhood, coupled with agency, is a highly unpredictable endeavor. Nothing is guaranteed.

• I have observed that some of the best people I have ever known have a kid – or kids – go off the rails.

• I have observed that some of the most spiritual, consecrated people I have ever known have a kid – or kids – veer off the Covenant Path.

• I have observed how some of those kids have wandered off, only to return to the fold and become valiant, like Alma the Younger.

• I have observed that some of the best men I have ever known became wonderful fathers, even though they didn’t have one themselves, or the one they had was not the kind of father to emulate.

I was blessed to grow up with a terrific father. He wasn’t so fortunate. When my dad was five years old, my grampa essentially bailed on him. The grandfather I never met was essentially an absentee father. (I talked about his life in more detail in this post.)

What’s the point I’m getting at? Simply that you can’t guarantee how your kids will turn out. It is a sad truth, but the reality is that the only way to guarantee any result is to strip agency out of the equation. Even if that were possible (which it isn’t) we would be joining the ranks of the great deceiver who already tried to work that con game.

What can we do as fathers? The best we can. If we are doing that, beating ourselves up serves no worthwhile purpose, no matter how things play out.

To help us try and do the best we can,
• We have wonderful wives, full of insight and wisdom – who are often a few steps ahead of us.
• We have the Holy Ghost to prompt us and guide us.
• We have the scriptures. D&C 121 has more wisdom than all the parenting books available on Amazon.
• We have the living prophets and their words. Just try a search for “Fatherhood” in Conference addresses. You will be inundated with wisdom.
• We have young social media influencers who have small children and already know everything there is to know about parenting. (Just kidding – checking to see if you are paying attention.)

I did some searching for specific tips, and was impressed by what Elder Christofferson considers to be the single most important thing we can do as fathers:

“Perhaps the most essential of a father’s work is to turn the hearts of his children to their Heavenly Father. If by his example as well as his words a father can demonstrate what fidelity to God looks like in day-to-day living, that father will have given his children the key to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.  A father who reads scripture to and with his children acquaints them with the voice of the Lord.” (link)

He went on to say, “To my brethren, the fathers in this Church, I say, I know you wish you were a more perfect father. I know I wish I were. Even so, despite our limitations, let us press on. Let us lay aside the exaggerated notions of individualism and autonomy in today’s culture and think first of the happiness and well-being of others. Surely, despite our inadequacies, our Heavenly Father will magnify us and cause our simple efforts to bear fruit.”

I’m not a perfect father. You probably aren’t either. But we can feel good knowing that we are probably doing a better job than King Noah.

Happy Father’s Day!


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  1. If that line about the leopards was inspired by the Arnold Friberg painting of Abinadi, those big cats are jaguars. Leopards come from Africa, not the Americas.

  2. I have a theory or perhaps a philosophy, maybe it’s just a belief: Some children will be good no matter who their parents are; some children will be bad no matter who their parents are; and some children can go either way depending on who their parents are. Each child comes to earth a unique spirit with a distinct personality and character. In our family my hope has been that I taught my children well and didn’t mess them up too much.

    (Can we please use the terms child and children, instead of kid and kids, they are not baby goats! President Benson taught me that.)

    1. Great comment!
      Regarding “kids”. President Benon was born in 1899. The lexicon has changed since then. Most people have never seen a baby goat. I’m still going to call kids kids.

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