“Becoming a Better Father,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 26
“If I were asked to name the world’s greatest need, I should say unhesitatingly; wise mothers and … exemplary fathers.” (David O. McKay, Richard L. Evans’ Quote Book, Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971, p. 20.)
Being a parent is one of the most influential roles you will ever have. Yet, too often some assume “parenthood” means “motherhood.” Mothers are important to the happiness and well-being of the family, but the influence of a righteous father is just as valuable. Professional research has found that a child’s intellectual, emotional, and social development, masculinity and femininity, even the ability to function effectively in a future marriage, appear to be influenced by the father’s personal relationship with the child and with the child’s mother. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “[One of] the most important positions in time and eternity is that of the father.” (He That Receiveth My Servants Receiveth Me, Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide, 1979, p. 104.)
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiverfull of them.” (Ps. 127:3–5.)
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the four-year-old who fed your favorite tie to the dog or the seventeen-year-old who came home from a date at 2:00 A.M. and could only say, “I forgot what time it was,” are blessings from heaven.
Children are a great challenge as well as a great blessing. As fathers, our responsibility to them is great. (See Matt. 18:10; Mark 9:37; Eph. 6:4; D&C 68:25–28; Mosiah 4:14.) As with all important responsibilities, to be successful with our children requires making them an important priority.
Elder Richard L. Evans said: “In all things there is a priority of importance … and one of our urgent opportunities is to respond to a child when he earnestly asks—remembering they don’t always ask, that they aren’t always teachable, that they won’t always listen. And often we have to take them on their terms and at their times. But if we respond to them with sincere attention and sincere concern they will likely continue to come to us and ask. And if they find they can trust us with their trivial questions, they may later trust us with the more weighty ones.” (The Spoken Word, KSL broadcast, 31 Jan. 1970.)
“Fathers, draw close to your children. … This means giving a father’s most valuable commodity—time!” (Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 67.)
When over two thousand children of all ages and backgrounds were asked, “What makes a wonderful dad?” the essence of their replies was, “He takes time for me.” If you were to add up the time you actually spend with your children, the total may not be as much as you think. In one study of three-month-old infants, it was found that fathers spent only thirty-eight seconds a day with their young children! When sufficient time isn’t given to a child, not only is he being deprived of a father’s important positive influence, but in some instances he may even be harmed. Evidence has shown that a child who is always shunned or ignored will begin to think of himself as worthless. Giving time to your children, the kind of time that will help them feel good about themselves, life, and others—including you—is the first major step in becoming a better father.
“How long has it been since you took your children, whatever their size, in your arms and told them that you love them and are glad that they can be yours forever?” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov. 1974, pp. 112–13.)
Because time is so crucial, many problems arise in father-child relationships. Some of the challenges you may be having as a father could resemble one of the following:
Lack of Time
You never seem to have enough time. You work long hours, and you’re constantly involved in church and civic responsibilities. Home is just a stopping place between other obligations. The few conversations you do have with your children usually center around the theme, “I’m busy.”
Preoccupied with Other Matters
You give time to your children, but you are so preoccupied with your own thoughts or activities you may as well not even be there. You try to watch the game on TV while reading your children a bedtime story. You think about how you’re going to fix the car while helping your child with some homework. You’re physically present, but mentally and emotionally absent.
You give time to your children, but what a burden you feel it is! You take them to the zoo, but wish you hadn’t. Each moment you’re involved with them you’re thinking of the time being taken away from something else you’d rather be doing. You feel frustrated about responsibilities as a father and may even resent being one.
Almost every father, on occasion, becomes too busy, too preoccupied, or too frustrated to relate well with his children. The danger occurs when these problems arise frequently or in ways that become harmful to children.
“Children are our most important assets. They need our time.” (N. Eldon Tanner, Ensign, June 1977, p. 5.)
How do you avoid these common time problems? Once you understand the importance of your influence on your children and correct your priorities, there are three steps you can take:
You pay attention to your child by responding to his presence, particularly when he is speaking. Paying attention means looking at the child instead of the newspaper or television set, listening carefully to feelings as well as words, asking him for an opinion about what you’re discussing, showing genuine interest instead of annoyance. Just as much is said with facial expressions and the tone of voice as with words. Let your actions tell your children you’re paying attention.
Share Your Experiences
Sharing takes place when you and your child talk and listen. It happens when you exchange ideas, experiences and concerns, interests and ambitions, likes and dislikes. Tell your younger child about an airplane ride you once had. Tell your older child about a good book you’ve recently read. Let your children be a part of your life’s experiences. While there are personal and intimate experiences which should not be shared, most fathers could be much more open with their children.
Do Things with Your Children
A child needs to enjoy family activities and traditions. But he also needs moments when he can be alone with his father on a one-to-one basis. Participating in planned activities (such as camping, building a tree house, going to the museum or library) as well as enjoying spur-of-the-moment activities (such as going for a walk, working in the yard, going to the store together) are important ways to spend time with your child.
Doing things together is especially significant to the child if the activity is something he or she wants to do. But the activity is secondary. What’s important is that you’re there, dad, focusing all your time and attention on the child. And remember, that means with your daughter as well as your son.
“There are reasons for your commitment to be made now, for as the rush of hours, days, and months grows stronger, the will to commit grows weaker.” (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 12.)
Fathers often have a “later” attitude toward their children. “I’ll help you later. I’m busy now.” Or, “Don’t bother me now. Maybe later.” The challenge as a father is to make “later” now. Start right now to take those precious moments of time to respond to the needs of your children in positive ways. Your children will grow up, but they’ll never outgrow the need to spend time with their father.
Review your schedule for the coming week and set aside individual time for each of your children, even if it’s only fifteen minutes a week before bedtime. If it will help, fill in the accompanying time chart. Begin by marking out all the times you have commitments that can’t be changed. Ask each of your children to do the same. Then schedule a time from the remaining hours or minutes that you and your child can be together. Remember, what your child really needs is YOU.
“Can you find in all the holy scriptures where the Lord Jesus Christ failed his Church? Can you find any scripture where he was untrue to his people, to his neighbors, friends or associates? Was he faithful? Was he true? Could you ask anything good and worthy that he did not give? …
“When the husband is ready to treat his household in that manner, that means his wife and his children, in that manner, not only the wife but all the family will respond to his loving and exemplary leadership. It will be automatic. You won’t need to demand it. …” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Men of Example,” unpublished address to religious educators, Church Educational System, 12 Sept. 1978, pp. 4–5.)