“A Latter-day Father’s Guidebook,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 15
In a day of growing cultural confusion about the duties and roles of parents, Latter-day Saints have been blessed with a valuable blueprint for familial living and loving. Knowing that the Book of Mormon was written for our day, I have often turned to it for guidance. Within its pages I have found answers to questions about parenting and have discovered wonderful examples to emulate.
The Book of Mormon illustrates the powerful influence for good or evil a father can be to his children. It is full of stories of generations that became fully entrenched in wickedness because they followed after the wicked “traditions of their fathers” (Mosiah 1:5; Alma 9:16; Alma 17:15). And it contains many examples of fathers who, through righteous traditions and teachings, influenced for good their children and descendants.
These righteous fathers, many of them prophets of God, taught their children the gospel and prepared them for lives of service and righteousness. Book of Mormon prophets were powerful leaders who presided over the Church and the sacred records handed down from father to son. Their examples show the truthfulness of counsel we have received from modern prophets.
“Fatherhood is not a matter of station or wealth,” said President Ezra Taft Benson. “It is a matter of desire, diligence, and determination to see one’s family exalted in the celestial kingdom. If that prize is lost, nothing else really matters” (Ensign, May 1981, p. 36).
A theme of fatherhood weaves itself throughout the powerful drama of the Book of Mormon. The many dimensions of fatherhood delineated in the Book of Mormon provide examples of the following guidelines and ideals that can be of great worth in forging relationships with our children.
The Book of Mormon contains numerous stories of righteous fathers who set positive examples for their children. A good illustration is the life of King Benjamin. The scriptures tell us that he was a “holy man” who “did reign over his people in righteousness” (W of M 1:17) and who labored “with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul” to establish peace (W of M 1:18).
King Benjamin taught his three sons the language of his fathers so that they might “know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers” (Mosiah 1:2). And he taught them about the records engraved upon the plates of brass (see Mosiah 1:3).
King Benjamin exemplified righteousness through word and deed. Rather than burden his people with taxes, he worked to support himself (see Mosiah 2:14). He reminded his sons and people that he had spent his days in their service, and he hoped that they might learn that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
He showed how to walk with “a clear conscience before God” (Mosiah 2:27), inspiring others to charity, repentance, and covenants of obedience. The righteous reign of his son Mosiah is a testament to the power of King Benjamin’s example.
After their repentance and conversion, the sons of Mosiah asked their father for permission to go among the Lamanites to preach. Mosiah was concerned for their safety, so he “went and inquired of the Lord. …
“And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, … and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:6–7).
Fathers have an important responsibility to oversee the physical and spiritual well-being of their children. Like Book of Mormon fathers, today’s fathers are entitled to revelation—if they seek it and live worthy to receive it.
Nephi recounted the great power behind his father’s admonitions to his wayward sons, Laman and Lemuel.
“And it came to pass that my father did speak unto them in the valley of Lemuel, with power, being filled with the Spirit, until their frames did shake before him. And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him; wherefore, they did as he commanded them” (1 Ne. 2:14).
We are told in the Doctrine and Covenants, “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). The Spirit is essential to effective teaching—especially in the home.
Jacob’s relationship with his son Enos illustrates an important facet of a spiritual teacher. From Enos, we learn that Jacob must have made the gospel a regular topic of conversation. Enos wrote: “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart” (Enos 1:3; emphasis added).
Jacob’s tireless efforts to teach his son paid off, for his words moved Enos to pray fervently for a remission of his sins. Not only were Enos’s sins forgiven, but the Lord covenanted with him that a record of the Nephite people would be preserved and brought forth in due time (see Enos 1:12–13, 16). As a result of his experience, Enos “went about among the people of Nephi, prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which [he] had heard and seen” (Enos 1:19).
Some of the most moving and inspiring stories in the Book of Mormon tell of fathers who helped wayward sons. Alma, a great spiritual leader, founded the Church in his day and was loved by many. Despite Alma’s great influence among the people, one of his own sons, Alma the Younger, was “numbered among the unbelievers” and “became a very wicked and an idolatrous man” (Mosiah 27:8). He was responsible for leading away many of his father’s followers.
One day, while Alma the Younger was “going about rebelling against God” (Mosiah 27:11), an angel of the Lord declared unto him, “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” (Mosiah 27:14).
Alma never gave up on his son. He didn’t force him to do what is right, but he exercised faith in his behalf. Sometimes we may feel that the challenge of rearing children may be beyond our personal abilities, but we can always turn to our Father in Heaven for help. To give up on a wayward child is to doubt our Father’s ability to intervene and work miracles.
One of the most touching stories of fatherhood in the Book of Mormon is not about a biological father at all. Helaman was a great surrogate father to the two thousand Ammonite warriors. These young men agreed to go to battle if Helaman would lead them. We can only guess at the love and respect they had for him.
In a letter to Moroni, Helaman told of a discussion he had with these stripling warriors before their first battle: “For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; …
“And they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives” (Alma 56:46–47).
The world is full of many modern-day Helamans who, as stepfathers, grandfathers, or uncles, as Scoutmasters, bishops, or home teachers, as neighbors and youth leaders, reach out and bless the lives of those in need of a father.
We live in a day when many fathers are working at a fevered pace to build material legacies of homes, boats, and bank accounts for their children. Exemplary Book of Mormon fathers, on the other hand, show us the importance of leaving legacies that cannot be cankered by rust.
What more could we hope for than to leave our children the spiritual tools, the self-control, and the faith to become witnesses and disciples of Jesus Christ? Lehi and his sons Nephi and Jacob, Jacob and his son Enos, King Benjamin and his three sons, Mosiah and his four sons, Alma and his sons, Helaman and his sons Lehi and Nephi, and Mormon and his son Moroni all came to know the joys of discipleship and discipline.
The sons of righteous Book of Mormon fathers were grateful they had been taught in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Enos 1:1), which led them to Jesus Christ.
The first story that came to my mind as I began to study fatherhood in the Book of Mormon took place the day Nephi broke his bow in the wilderness. Faced with the prospect of starvation, even Lehi joined in murmuring “against the Lord his God” (1 Ne. 16:20).
Rather than murmur, Nephi made another bow, approached his father, and asked, “Whither shall I go to obtain food?” (1 Ne. 16:23.)
Of this incident, Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy said, “I count this one of the really significant lessons of life in the book. … A son who had strength enough, and humility enough, and manliness enough to go to his wavering superior and say, ‘You ask God, will you?’ because somehow he knew this is how you make men strong, that wise confidence in men builds them. Lehi asked God and God told him, and Lehi’s leadership was restored” (BYU Speeches of the Year, 4 May 1960, p. 7).
The greatest example of a son honoring his father is the Savior himself. From his example we learn of the eternal nature of fatherhood. Jesus Christ is a grown, wise, perfect man. Yet he will always be his Father’s son, and he will always honor and love his Father.
From Christ’s visit to the American continent we learn two important keys of being good sons to our earthly father as well as to our Father in Heaven.
First, we can go to our father for counsel. The Savior set a beautiful example of this when he called the little children before him and prayed to his Father for them. He was a son who knew how to talk to his Father.
The scriptures record, “And behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written. …
“The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father” (3 Ne. 17:15–16).
We should be willing to submit to our father’s righteous counsel and honor him by our deeds. Christ is the perfect example of this. When he appeared to the Nephites, he said, “I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Ne. 11:11).
Like fathers and sons in the Book of Mormon, we live in troubled times. Never have great fathers been more needed and seemingly more rare. As we examine more closely the Book of Mormon’s priceless blueprint for fatherhood, we can receive yet another witness that this great scripture was written for our generation, that our Father in Heaven is aware of our challenges, and that he has given latter-day fathers guidelines to help them successfully rear their children.