What the Lord Requires of Fathers
September 1981

“What the Lord Requires of Fathers,” Ensign, Sept. 1981, 7

What the Lord Requires of Fathers

The Responsibility of Fathers to Teach, Set an Example, Discipline, and Love

A father and his twelve-year-old son were engaged in a heated argument. Finally the father shouted: “Why don’t you grow up?” There was a sudden silence in the room, and then the boy, his face working to control his tears, quietly replied: “That’s what I’m trying to do!”

Too many fathers have forgotten what it was like to be a youth experiencing those traumatic teen years of being a boy-man: struggling to find his identity and purpose in life; worrying about physical development; wrestling with important decisions about his future, his work, girls, and his relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and his fellowmen; full of faith, yet doubting; independent, yet dependent; anxious to try his wings, yet still in need of security; pulled by forces which bid him here and there—family, peers, teachers, leaders, everyone; and all of this compounded by the feeling so eloquently expressed by Joseph Conrad that time is limitless: “I remember my youth and the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth and all men.” (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, London: Oxford University Press, 1857, p. 161.)

Do you remember?

Our Father in Heaven has placed the eternal destiny of children in the hands of parents, but more particularly on the shoulders of the father, the patriarch of the family. That responsibility cannot be delegated!

In a beautiful revelation given through Joseph Smith, the Lord declared that little children are innocent and “that great things may be required at the hand of their fathers.” (D&C 29:48.)

What great things does the Lord require at the hand of fathers? As Young Men general president, let me speak particularly to fathers of young men.

He Requires that Fathers Teach

Fathers, how can we forget the awesome responsibility the Lord has given us to bring up our children in light and truth?

In Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 [D&C 68:25–28], the Lord gave us strict instructions concerning our patriarchal responsibility. He commanded us to—

1. See that our children understand the first principles of the gospel.

2. See that our children are baptized at eight years of age and receive the “laying on of the hands” for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

3. See that our children do certain things: pray and “walk uprightly before the Lord.”

The Lord reminded us that this is “a law unto the inhabitants of Zion.”

Isn’t it interesting that the Lord asks us to begin to teach our children to understand when they are young, before Satan has any influence on them and when parents are the most powerful force in their lives?

Note, also, that the responsibility of teaching the truth to our children is not placed on the Church, the school, the community, or peers. President Joseph F. Smith gave parents some sound counsel on this subject:

“Do not let your children out to specialists in these things, but teach them by your own precept and example, by your own fireside. Be a specialist yourself in the truth. Let our meetings, schools and organizations, instead of being our only or leading teachers, be supplements to our teachings and training in the home.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977, p. 302.)

It is our right as well as our responsibility as parents to help our children make wise choices. This is particularly true as we teach them about the facts of life couched in the sacred concepts of God’s moral code. In too many instances, youth learn whatever they learn from their friends—a case of the blind leading the blind—or in the clinical atmosphere of the classroom.

Have we abdicated our right, leaving a vacuum to be filled by inadequate substitutes?

I know a father who has a great relationship with his son. The lines of communication are wide open between them, creating a bond of trust and confidence that is beautiful to behold. Working in the garden one summer day, he could hear his son in serious conversation with a friend on the other side of a hedge. The friend was asking some of those questions we all worried about as we grew up. Instead of answering the questions, the son asked: “Why don’t you ask your dad about that?” His friend replied: “You mean you can talk to your dad about such things?”

As I interview young men who have broken God’s moral law, I ask myself how many of them could have been spared that soul-shattering experience if they had had open communication and consistent moral teaching from their fathers.

Oh, that today’s parents were like Adam and Eve, who, the scriptures tell us, “made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” (Moses 5:12.)

In some way fathers must learn to take advantage of the teaching moments that come, and even to create such moments. That takes time, meaningful association, and communication with our children.

At a recent Eagle Scout recognition dinner, I heard an outstanding Eagle Scout talk about his relationship with his devoted father who was also his Scoutmaster:

“On those trips our Scoutmaster talked of things other than merit badges. He talked about Paul when we were hiking, Nephi when we were sitting around the fire, Abraham when we were looking at the stars, and Jesus of Nazareth just before we said our prayers and went to sleep. And at one time or another, he sent us each out alone to pray as Joseph Smith had prayed.

“I listened very closely to our Scoutmaster and tried to do what he said. My Scoutmaster is my father, and I want to be like him.

“If I can remember what I learned on those hikes up and over and down and into the mountains, I believe I can make it through the journey of life. The journey will not always be easy. My Scoutmaster knows that. But perhaps some day in high school or college or on a mission or at some later time, if ever I am discouraged, if ever I begin to doubt myself or wonder if I can go on, if ever I think I can’t take another step—these words will come back:

“‘Come on now, you’ll get your second wind,’ ‘It’s just around the next corner,’ ‘Only 200 yards more,’ ‘Make your mind tell your body what to do,’ ‘Be not weary in well doing,’ ‘When you help a friend to the top of a mountain,’ ‘Tell me what you think about when you don’t have to think,’ ‘Boy, this is really livin’.’”

He Requires that Fathers Set the Example

Our Savior told us of the importance of example: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (John 5:19.)

Every Latter-day Saint family is entitled to be led by a patriarch who exercises his priesthood power in righteousness, setting the pace for his family, protecting and strengthening them through his faith and his devotion.

Home is society in miniature. It is there that gospel principles may be tested in the laboratory of life under controlled conditions.

Parents owe their children a set of lofty standards and solid values which are best transmitted by the power of example.

President David O. McKay gave parents this advice: “The most effective way to teach religion in the home is not by preaching but by living. If you would teach faith in God, show faith in him yourself; if you would teach prayer, pray yourself. Would you have them temperate? Then you yourself refrain from intemperance. If you would have your child live a life of virtue, of self-control, of good report, then set him a worthy example in all these things. A child brought up under such home environment will be fortified for the doubts, questions, and yearnings that will stir his soul when the real period of religious awakening comes at twelve or fourteen years of age.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, p. 27.)

President Spencer W. Kimball has warned us what can happen when parents do not set the proper example:

“The cycles of inactivity and indifference are recurring cycles from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. We must break that cycle at two points simultaneously. We must reach out and hold many more of our young men and women to keep them faithful, to help them to be worthy to go on missions, and to be married in the holy temples. At the same time, we must reach and hold many more of the fathers and mothers.” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 30 Sept. 1977.)

As fathers we are accountable to the Lord for our families!

How are you doing?

Does your life reflect your love of the Lord and his gospel, and your love of your wife and children? Are you exercising your patriarchal authority in your home? How recently have you given your children a father’s blessing? How recently have you interviewed them? How recently have you borne your testimony to your children? Do you have regular scripture study in your family? Are you holding regular family prayers and family home evening? Is the spirit of the gospel evident in your home? Are you setting the proper example?

Every father should be able to say to his family, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

He Requires that Fathers Set Parameters

In studying the forces which mold young people’s values and behavior, The National Board of Junior Achievement hired the Robert Johnston Co., Inc., of New York, to perform a study. In July 1979 they reported their findings: in 1960, mother and father had the greatest impact on a teen-ager’s values and behavior. But by 1980, friends and peers had supplanted parents as the most powerful force in their lives. The study also showed that the role of celebrities, heroes, and role models is vastly more significant today than previously, while the combined effectiveness of home, church, and school has declined.

Frightening, isn’t it?

If we are to return the current influence of peers and media heroes back to the parents, it is quite apparent that father and mother must take the lead in the family. In a recent series of articles written for the Associated Press, John Barbour said: “The experts agree on one thing: a clear set of rules that emanate from the home is the greatest stanchion a child can have.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 14 March 1981.)

Our youth don’t want to drift; they want security and a solid anchor, limits, rules to live by—with an opportunity to achieve. They want to know what is expected of them—they earnestly want direction.

Some of us have been so anxious to give our children what we didn’t have that we have neglected to give them what we did have—a family.

He Requires that Fathers Love

Ten thousand high school students in Kansas were asked what question they would ask their parents and want a straight answer on. Eighty percent replied: “Do you love me?”

The next most asked question: “If you had to do it all over again, would you have me?”

How vital it is for fathers to give their children a sense of personal worth, to let them know they are loved and needed.

We need to love them unconditionally as the Savior loves us, using our time, energies, abilities, understanding, and concern to help them recognize their relationship to their loving Father in Heaven and their divine potential as his children.

Fathers, we need to express our love and approval for them. Too many of us are like the father of the little boy who cried: “You always tell me when you’re disappointed in me. Why don’t you ever tell me when you’re appointed in me?”

As a mission president, I was concerned with the number of missionaries who admitted to me that they and their fathers had never been able to express love to each other. One of those missionaries serving as my assistant asked for permission to call his father to wish him a happy birthday. Sensing a teaching opportunity, I gave him permission to make the call on condition he tell his father he loved him. He made the telephone call from the mission office where I could hear his conversation. He greeted his father, wished him a happy birthday, exchanged news from home and the mission field. Time was running out without his saying the magic words. I gave him a reassuring nod. Hurriedly, he blurted out, “Dad, I love you!” There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Then his father said, “We like you, too, son!” That was the best he could do.

President Joseph F. Smith gave us this advice: “Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by every word or act to them. For your own sake, for the love that should exist between you and your boys—however wayward they might be, or one or the other might be, when you speak or talk to them, do it not in anger, do it not harshly, in a condemning spirit. Speak to them kindly; get them down and weep with them if necessary and get them to shed tears with you if possible. Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly towards you. Use no lash and no violence, … approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. With these means, if you cannot gain your boys and your girls, … there will be no means left in the world by which you can win them to yourselves.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 316.)

He Requires that Fathers Be Heroes

In general priesthood meeting, April 1976, President Spencer W. Kimball quoted Walter MacPeek:

“Boys need lots of heroes like Lincoln and Washington. But they also need to have some heroes close by. They need to know some man of towering strength and basic integrity, personally. They need to meet them on the street, to hike and camp with them, to see them in close-to-home, everyday, down-to-earth situations; to feel close enough to them to ask questions and to talk things over man-to-man with them.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 47.)

In the gospel setting those heroes should be fathers.

In the past, boys worked side by side with their fathers as helpers on the farm, or they associated with other men as apprentices in the trades. But today in our urban society our boys have generally been removed from the farm and from the world of men. Instead, fathers leave for the factory or office early in the morning, returning late in the evening. Many of our boys are left for much of the day without a male role model.

Senator S. I. Hayakawa, a noted educator, stated:

“Never has it been so difficult for boys to grow up into men. Becoming a man is not a matter of chronology, it is a matter of proof. Throughout the history of mankind, boys have had to prove themselves men. …

“Boys need challenges. If the affluent society does not provide boys with challenges, they are compelled by inner necessity to improvise their own.

“That’s what the generation gap is about. Fathers away from home, for whatever reason, and therefore, unavailable to their sons as models of male adulthood. The boys are forced to improvise their own subculture, unguided by adult knowledge or experience. That’s the problem for fathers. … How can we bring our sons into our lives?

“It takes men to develop men. Mothers cannot do it by themselves. Neither can high schools; nor colleges.” (Saturday Evening Post, Spring 1972, pp. 48–50.)

Of course, in some situations a father is no longer present in the home. Mothers who must fill both roles need not despair; love and personal attention, counsel in those areas of specific concern to boys, and opportunities to work and play with adult male family or ward members can all help prepare a son for the role he will play as a man. Let no one underestimate the influence for good a mother can have on her children.

But where fathers are available, the primary challenge is theirs to give their children quality time, showing them the way to a rich, fulfilling life. Fathers, get involved with them! Help them set worthwhile goals—a testimony of the gospel, self-improvement awards, a mission, temple marriage, an interesting trade or profession. Then help them achieve those goals. Encourage them, prod them, goad them, guide them, be at their side, support their activities, serve on their committees, go camping with them, be interested in what they are doing.

Pray for them. As they build their faith in God and in themselves through their own “Sacred Grove” experiences, they should know of their fathers’ prayers in their behalf.

The tremendous power of a father’s prayer is well exemplified by Alma’s petitions to God in behalf of his rebellious son:

“And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14.)

May our fatherly prayers be as fervent as David’s when he prayed for his son Solomon: “And give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes, and to do all these things.” (1 Chr. 29:19.)

Father is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend, and, ultimately, a perfect being.

The Lord requires great things at the hand of fathers, but there are great rewards. As our children grow to maturity, possessing solid testimonies of the gospel, enjoying a temple marriage, responding to the calls of the Lord, rearing their own children in light and truth, leaving their positive imprint on society through their devoted service, then we can experience the supernal joy of knowing we have met our responsibility. In some small measure we will appreciate the words of our Father in Heaven as he introduced his Son: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17.)

Photography by Gerald Bybee

Photography by Michael Schoenfeld