“How to Be a Full-time Father,” Ensign, Mar. 1978, 5
“I go out jogging, and once in a while my six-year-old son gets up early so that he can jog with me. He can’t go the distance, so he jogs to one point and waits, and I meet him there on the way back. We talk while we trot along.”
“My second-grader has a file folder that he keeps all his school things in. Sometimes in the morning we will sit down with his folder. He’ll go through it and tell me about every piece of work, what he did. It’s maybe fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, but every second is priceless.”
“I travel a lot to nearby towns—and some not so near. That time away from my family would be terrible, except that I usually take one of my children with me. When they get older, I even let them drive. In those hours together we rebuild anything that was lost while I was so busy during the intervening weeks.”
In a day when busy fathers seem to find less and less time to spend raising their children, a factor that has steadily undermined the strength of the family unit, it is encouraging to find fathers like these, who work to carve precious minutes and hours out of their lives to devote to those little people who look up to them, who love them, who need them.
And even more encouraging is the fact that these fathers are bishops—among the busiest men in the Church. They are also remarkably successful in their careers. And yet they and their wives are determined that none of those vital concerns will interfere with meeting the needs of their children.
“I guess you just have to be a father faster,” said Bishop Robert M. Pixton of Orlando Second Ward, Florida.* “And I find that things I would have done by myself a few years ago I now do with one or two of my children. I still get everything done—but the children know I love them, that they will have a chance to be with me.”
That seems to be the key to these fathers’ success with their children: they make the most of what little free time they have; and they involve their children as often as they can during the time that isn’t free.
“When I look down the calendar and see a free night shaping up,” says Bishop John F. Irwin of Detroit Second Ward, Michigan, “I try to keep it free—so I can spend it at home. My working nights would be less hectic, I suppose, if I limited them to two or three tasks. But by bunching up my work on a few nights, I get other nights at home with my wife and children.”
Scheduling time is vital. Every time I asked the question, “How do you find time for your children,” the first answer was, “Of course, family home evening is absolutely unbreakable.”
“Monday nights no one calls us,” Bishop Ara Call of the Santa Clara Second Ward, California, said. “The Sunday I became bishop I stood up and told the ward that Monday night I was not available unless there was an emergency.”
But family home evening is only the starting point. “Every week I have an interview with my children,” many of them said. And quite a few of those stressed that while some of those interviews were of a spiritual nature, others were more of a “how are you doing” type of interview. “We talk about grades, about their schoolwork, about their friends, about their hobbies—whatever they’re interested in. It gets so they ask me, ‘Daddy, when can I have an interview?’”
Bishop Todd Christofferson of Rock Creek Ward, Maryland, keeps that interview time more fluid than most: “During that weekly session we do whatever they want. Usually we end up talking—but if they want my help on building a model or just want to toss a ball around for a while, then we do that.”
“If you try hard enough,” says Bishop Richard P. Halvorsen of Overland Park Second Ward, Kansas, “you can do an awful lot in a half hour. It doesn’t take much time to be friends. Now, you stop and look at your closest friends. They didn’t have to spend hours and hours with you to demonstrate their interest. Just a few minutes, or some way to communicate to the person that he is special—though this doesn’t eliminate the need to spend longer periods together from time to time.
“Tone of voice is especially important. I try never to sound impatient or hurried—I’ve found that it takes no more time to listen to what my kids have to say than it would take to explain to them why Daddy doesn’t have time to listen right now.”
President Jack L. Green of the Sterling Park Branch, Virginia, found another problem: his teenagers didn’t have much time for him. A solution? “I make myself available as much as possible to drive them and their friends to a dance or to an activity. That way I’ve got time to be with them and get to know their friends, and to listen to them talking with their friends. Then when I talk to them later, I know who the young people are that they’re talking about.”
But with younger children, says President Green, “I find the time right after I get home from work is best. Usually dinner isn’t ready yet and the youngest ones are anxious when Dad comes home. So I’ll hold them on my lap or do something with them for just a little while.”
And Bishop Pixton has found another ideal opportunity: bedtime. His wife, Barbara, says, “When he’s home at night he’ll often take the whole evening, putting the children to bed one by one. It’s slow—he talks to each one for quite a while. I don’t often spend that much time with each one, individually. And he sometimes plays the piano for the younger ones, and they dance. They love that.”
“I’m lucky,” said Bishop Milo LeBaron, Jr., Mesa Fifteenth Ward, Arizona. “I’ve had the kind of job where I could hire my own children to work for me part time. That has made those ten minutes driving home after work very precious—just them and me in the car, and we talk for those few minutes.”
And then there are vacations. Whether it’s camping, cross-country trips, building an addition to the house, or just puttering around the house together, vacation time is usually family time. Bishop Lloyd D. Wilson of the Pacifica Ward in California is a dedicated camper and fisherman—but he also found a unique way to spend a vacation. “A few years ago I took my oldest son, who was a senior in high school, my second son, and a friend of theirs, and we bicycled from Ely, Nevada, to Colorado. We took it a day at a time—when we got tired, we quit. But there were some days when we made more than 140 miles. We had planned it together, and it meant a lot to all of us.”
There are times, however, when even the most careful scheduling gets thrown off. The eight-day business trip; the sudden rush of jobs at the shop that necessitates night work; harvest time; shift work—all can keep a father away from home for days and weeks on end. And, short of quitting his job, there’s nothing that father can do!
“What did you do right?” I asked President Robert C. Witt of the Midland Michigan Stake.
“Chose a good wife,” he answered. And that is often the key to a busy father’s success with his family. Nothing can take the place of the father in the home—but when the demands of job or calling keep the father away from the children for a time, their mother’s attitude can make all the difference.
One bishop’s wife commented, “When my husband became bishop I had a hard time, suddenly realizing I had all the yard work to do—plus all the house work. He wasn’t around and I had to do it.” Her husband agreed. “It puts a lot of strain on my wife. But that also puts an important responsibility on me. I’ve got to remember that when I get home and the dishes from last night’s dinner are still in the sink and the living room is a mess and the lawn needs mowing I can never, never complain. Instead, I must pitch in and help—and draft some of the children, too. My wife never complains at me; why should I complain at her?”
Bishop Halvorsen believes that the children’s attitudes toward their father’s absences must be carefully influenced. “I’m very careful never to say, ‘Daddy can’t play with you because I’ve got to go to a meeting.’ I don’t want them ever to resent the Church for keeping their father away from home. So what I try to do in that situation is spend a few minutes, get started in a game, and then tell them I have to leave. And I don’t just tell them I’m going to a meeting—I tell them what the meeting is about, and why it’s important.
“Because I tell them some details about why I’m leaving, they understand better. And because I take the time to play with them for a few minutes, they realize that I really want to be with them. They don’t feel slighted or brushed off.”
The wife’s attitude and the attitude of the children are important factors in making up for a busy father’s frequent absences. But just as important is the father’s own attitude.
“There are men where I work,” said a university professor who is also bishop of a California ward, “who pride themselves on how much overtime they put in. Their office lights are burning far into the night. They haunt the library. They publish regularly. They are getting ahead in their profession.” But they pay a price. “They tell me that they’re doing it for their families—and yet I see many things that appear to invalidate this claim.”
The Latter-day Saint father, no matter how busy he is in Church callings and the demands of a profession, must know where his priorities lie. Of course it is desirable to excel in a profession. And the Lord expects us to do well in the callings we are given in the Church. “But nothing comes before my family,” says Bishop Robert E. Sorensen, Jr., of Linda Mar Ward, California. “There are people who want me to set my work as first priority. But work comes third place, after my family and the Church. And the people at work now understand this. I take care of my obligations to them, and I don’t shun my work, or put anything off—I’ve received no bad reports. But they understand that on Saturdays they won’t see me at the office—I’ll be with my family and my ward. And that’s even more true of Sunday.”
Many of these busy men mentioned the surprise that co-workers felt when they realized that something was more important than “getting ahead.” But they reported little hostility. “After all,” said one bishop, “my boss and my associates have families, too. And after a while I started noticing that they were home more often, too. And oddly enough, the world didn’t end when they stopped putting in sixty-hour weeks! In fact, that’s when the world begins—when you’re home with the family.”