Several years ago I had just begun to realize in my career as a teacher that fathers either make or break the destinies of their children. It was a dour epiphany, because most of the men that I knew of were dropping the ball. We may be inclined to interject with inspiring exceptions, but such a vast majority falls into this simple scheme that it’s practically a rule. At that point, I had learned a truism that every teacher learns: absent (or ineffective) fathers create damaged offspring.
I remember wanting to vent about this discovery and commiserate with my colleagues. At my school at the time, our email system had a “teachers’ lounge” bulletin board feature that we used to post jokes, items for sale, and announcements. I wrote up a post lamenting my loss of rose-colored glasses on the fatherhood front. I included a link to a favorite news article of mine: a herd of elephants in Africa had lost its adult males to poaching, and the younger males went crazy and started attacking other animals. The problem wasn’t solved until the local wildlife authorities imported some adult males from another herd. After that, the “delinquency” stopped. I commented that this story could serve as a useful parable for our society’s woes.
After it went up, a female administrator in the building privately replied that she was confused and bothered by my post, and asked me to explain it further. I said that I now understood clearly that the single greatest factor determining the success or failure of our students–academically and in life–was their fathers. She quickly sent a curt reply that I was only to post professional messages from that point on, or face disciplinary action.
Other teachers responded with more sympathy.
My old supervisor’s politically correct management by planting her head firmly in the sand came back to mind as I read this wonderful essay this week about mainstream America’s war on fatherhood. Even more sobering was this amazing essayby Andrew Klavan, which included the following anecdote:
The teacher told me that she once had to explain to the class why her last name was the same as her father’s. She dusted off the whole ancient ritual of legitimacy for them—marriages, maiden names, and so on. When she was done, there was a short silence. Then one child piped up softly: “Yeah . . . I’ve heard of that.”
I’ve heard of that. It would break a heart of stone.
And thus it is. In the panorama of demographic decline, the effective, involved father may well be the most endangered species.
To end on a slightly more positive note, last year my bishop assigned me to put together a packet of recent General Conference addresses on priesthood leadership in the home, for a training we wanted to do with the men in our ward. As I looked through the archives, I was struck by how often the clearest talks on this subject came from Elder L. Tom Perry. He must have a special love for this issue. Here are a few of his that I have benefited from, and which would be of value to us all:
“Fatherhood, An Eternal Calling”
“Father–Your Role, Your Responsibility”
“Called Of God”
One of the great “forgotten” talks of General Conference is Richard G. Scott’s “First Things First,” where he emphasizes the importance of striving for an “ideal” family. I’ve been divorced before, myself, so I know that such counsel can be difficult to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Elder Scott said:
Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective. If it requires fundamental changes in your personal life, make them. When you have the required age and maturity, obtain all of the ordinances of the temple you can receive. If for the present, that does not include sealing in the temple to a righteous companion, live for it. Pray for it. Exercise faith that you will obtain it. Never do anything that would make you unworthy of it. If you have lost the vision of eternal marriage, rekindle it. If your dream requires patience, give it. As brothers, we prayed and worked for 30 years before our mother and our nonmember father were sealed in the temple. Don’t become overanxious. Do the best you can. We cannot say whether that blessing will be obtained on this side of the veil or beyond it, but the Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances.
Perhaps the strongest, clearest counsel I know on the subject is what Jeffrey R. Holland said in a talk called, “A Child’s Prayer,” where he boldly declared:
Parents simply cannot flirt with skepticism or cynicism, then be surprised when their children expand that flirtation into full-blown romance…. We can be reasonably active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints, but if we do not live lives of gospel integrity and convey to our children powerful heartfelt convictions regarding the truthfulness of the Restoration and the divine guidance of the Church from the First Vision to this very hour, then those children may, to our regret but not surprise, turn out not to be visibly active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints or sometimes anything close to it….
Live the gospel as conspicuously as you can. Keep the covenants your children know you have made. Give priesthood blessings. And bear your testimony! Don’t just assume your children will somehow get the drift of your beliefs on their own.
This is part of the gospel that we preach and live. In our efforts to draw near to God by worship, discipleship, and service, let’s make constantly improving our fatherhood an integral part of that sacred work.