"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."
-Harold B. Lee
OverviewFathering is not just a social role; it is the work fathers do every day. This work is different from a routine job or career in that it comes from a moral obligation to meet children's needs and actively build a caring and supportive father-child relationship. In order to do these important things, fathers should focus on seven specific categories of work: ethical work, stewardship work, development work, recreation work, spiritual work, relationship work, and mentoring work (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997).The stories that follow exemplify the spiritual work fathers do to care for their children and the next generation.
Spiritual work consists of the father's ability and responsibility to confirm (to affirm his belief and confidence in the child) and to counsel (to guide, teach, advise, and inspire the child). The use of the term spiritual work here does not necessarily imply religious belief or practice, but does suggest a strong, deep nurturing and guiding connection between father and child in ways that the child can obtain some meaning and direction and come experience some degree of peace about their life and future. Nonetheless, religious beliefs and practices often can be helpful in facilitating generative spiritual work.
StoriesThe following story is about a father's feelings at the birth of his first child. At this time in his life, he turns to God for guidance.
"There are in my memory some small, bright, open places that never close or fade. I remember as if it were yesterday the moment when the doctor put our just-delivered, still-wet, first child on my trembling arm. I remember the outside things: the antiseptic hospital smell, the unique combination of joy and fatigue on my wife's face, the exquisite perfection of each tiny new finger and toe. Even more, I remember the inside feelings: the sighing relief, the welling joy, the almost irresistible urge to throw open the hospital window right then (at 3 A.M.) and announce the new arrival to the world. Slid in, just under the joy, was another feeling: the weight of responsibility, the sudden remarkable reality that this soul, this spirit, this tiny real person was ours now, ours to raise, her destiny so totally trusted in our inexperienced, untried, untrained parenthood.
"Within the next hour there were calls to new grandparents and the fun of hearing their voices jump from grogginess to excitement. Then finally, with new baby and new mother fast asleep, there was nothing more for me to do but drive home. By then it was early-summer dawn, with deserted streets and delicate, pale gold sky. Spontaneously, as I drove, I started to pray out loud.
"Somehow the joy, the marvel, the miracle of birth had lifted my spirit higher, closer, so that it seemed natural right at that moment to just talk to God. "Thank you" was the essence of the prayer; thank you for something so great I could not comprehend, for something I could not imagine I was worthy to receive. After the thank you, all that was left was the desire (not the obligation) to repay, to commit, to promise--to somehow make my thanks more than just words by pledging that I would honor the stewardship, that I would strive to be a great father.
"Suddenly, the fullness of the word struck: "Father." The Father of us all had just allowed me to take that role, that title (His role, His title) for one of His children. I remember the exact words that came next in my prayer: "Oh, Father, help me to be a father."
This is a story of a boy who confesses serious mistakes to his father. He is concerned that his relationship with his father will never be the same again.
"When I was 18 years old, I had what could be termed as a pivotal experience with my father. I say pivotal, because it was an experience that effected not only our relationship at that time, but it also had a profound influence on our future interactions as well. This experience took place while I was completing the final preparations to turn in my missionary papers. It was a bitter-sweet time for me emotionally. I was excited for the opportunity I might have to serve the Lord, yet at the same time, there were some shadows of the past that would not let me feel at ease. I had not lived what one could call the ideal pre-mission life. However, during my senior year of high school, I had some very personal experiences that created a profound spiritual awakening in my life. Those experiences made me realize how far my life had strayed from the teachings of the Savior and His prophets. During that time of soul searching and change, I began to hunger for forgiveness and peace. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to put my spiritual life back in order.
"During my senior year of high school, I enlisted the help of my bishop and made great strides in living a more Christlike life. To a large degree, I found much of the peace I was looking for. However, as I began the process of putting together my missionary papers, I began to feel an uneasiness in my life again. Despite the reassurances of my bishop that I was ready for my mission, I could not shake the feeling that my previous mistakes were unforgivable. The adversary was doing a pretty good job of making me feel that my Father in Heaven would never be able to love me after all that I had done.
"To compound my anxiety, I also knew that I still had to meet with my Stake President for a final Priesthood interview for my mission. The prospect of reviewing my worthiness with my stake president made my stomach turn. Even though I knew that the Atonement was real, I was having a difficult time allowing it to apply to my past mistakes. I knew that talking with my stake president was a necessary step in my mission preparation, but I just felt that he would be so disappointed in my life up to that point. My anxiousness for this particular interview was so high because I had known my stake president for years and I respected him more that anyone else. You see, my stake president was my dad.
"The night of my interview with my father, I remember wondering if our relationship would ever be the same. My parents had raised my brothers and me with very high standards and expectations. Our home had always revolved around the Gospel. My father had been my priesthood leader in one way or another since I was two years old. First he was my bishop, and then later he was called into the stake presidency. I just did not know what my father would think as I told him about my past mistakes. We had always had a very loving and open relationship, and I was afraid that I was going to destroy that trust as I told him about the things I had kept hidden from him and my mother for so long.
"In many ways, I felt as though I had used his trust in me to hide my "double life."
"As I put my tie on to go over to the church, I felt a knot forming in my stomach. I was convinced that my father would be so hurt and disappointed that our relationship would never be the same. As I left for my father's office at the church, I felt the knot in my stomach tighten. When I arrived at the church offices, I felt so alone. I took a seat on the couch in the waiting foyer and gazed at a picture of the Savior on the opposite wall. His love seemed so far away. My father came to the door and invited me into his office. I was always grateful that my father had my brothers and me come over to the church building for interviews. He often told us that he wanted us to feel that we still had a stake president, even though he was our father.
"As I entered the room, I could not look my father in the eye. He told me that he knew that this was difficult for me and that he wished there was another way to handle the situation. He assured me that our conversation that night would be between him and me only, and that my mother would not know anything I did not want her to know. As I began to speak, my eyes filled with tears. I felt as though I was letting the person I respected most see my worst side. I felt particularly stung when I told my father how I had lied about some things during high school in order to hide my double life from him and my mother. It was truly one of the lowest moments of my life. However, the events that transpired next have forever effected the relationship I have with my father.
"As I looked up for the first time that evening to see my father's reaction, I saw something I will never forget. His eyes were filled with tears, and his cheeks were wet with a compassion that reached out to me. His eyes touched me with pure fatherly love. As we discussed life up to that point, I caught a glimpse of the type of love God must have for His children. He loves us without conditions. He is on our side and desperately wants us to succeed. He yearns to take all of our pain and suffering from us, yet he knows that we must experience the bitterness of this life so that we might grow and learn.
"I learned that night that our Father in Heaven is often times more willing to forgive the truly penitent sinner than the sinner is willing to forgive himself. I learned these things that night because that is the type of love my father had for me. Seeing the empathy he had for me convinced me that forgiveness and pure love do exist. That night I experienced pure fatherly love, the same type of love our Father in Heaven has for us. As I left my father's office that night, I felt the peace I had been searching for. During our interview, my father shared a scripture that signified to me our relationship at that time. "And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down to repentance." (Alma 42:29) I learned from my father that it was only the adversary who wanted me to believe that I was beyond the love of the Savior. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to talk with my father that evening. It was a profound private moment between the two of us that helped me come to know the depth of a father's love."
In this story, a little girl is lost in the forest and prays to find her way home. It is her father who helps her, having prayed that God would help him find his daughter.
"When I was three or four years old we lived in North Carolina in a house that backed up right against the woods. It was beautiful. One day my friend Mark Sullivan, my sisters, and I were playing next door on our neighbors' trampoline. Suddenly the neighborhood dog, a puppy, scurried off into the woods. Mark and I were afraid he would get lost, so we followed him. Apparently, the dog soon found his way back home, but Mark and I were completely lost. The Carolina pines were very thick, and we could not see our way through the trees. For hours we wandered looking for an opening. It seemed possible that we would never see home again.
"I remember telling Mark that we had to pray if we wanted to get home safely. He agreed to let me do it. Within one minute of that sincere prayer we heard a faint sound off in the distance that gradually got louder until I clearly heard, 'Kerrrrriiii! Kerrriiiii Rogggeerrrrssss! Where are youuuuuuu?' Never has my dad's voice sounded so sweet to me before or since. We ran whooping and hollering until we found him sitting on a tree stump at the edge of the forest. I ran to his arms and just cried with relief.
"He was crying, too. After that emotional reunion was over, we took Mark home and then quickly returned to my mother, who was having a nervous breakdown back at the house. I was terrified that I was going to be severely punished for causing my parents so much worry. I don't remember Mom's reaction--only that soon afterward I was told to "go down to the den" which was my dad's office at home and where we were often sent to be disciplined. It was always traumatic experience to go to there.
"My dad was waiting for me with a stern look on his face and a serious tone in his voice. I thought I was in for the spanking of my life. He quietly asked me for my side of the story and listened very intently. As I finished he said, 'Well, Kerri, I'm going to have to punish you for running off without telling us and causing so much worry. You know that, don't you?' I nodded because I was too scared to do anything else. He had me bend over his knee for the 1-2-3 and I waited for the pain. Instead I heard him say '1-2-3,' felt three soft pats on my bottom, and then got a great big hug and kiss from my father. I was stunned! He made me swear never to run off like that again. I agreed, and I never did.
"The next day at church Dad bore his testimony in public for one of the few times in his life. It is the only time I can remember him doing it with me at his side. He helped me tell my story and then shared his own experience. He had been searching for hours and was about to give up. Stopping on a stump to rest, he prayed that God would help him find his daughter. When he finished he felt it 'wouldn't hurt' to try one last time. That was the only time I heard my father's call."
In this story, a little girl's father blessed her with faith to overcome her illness. He was her greatest support during her suffering.
"This is not much of a story in that it doesn't flow as nicely as most stories do, but it is a true experience with my father. In preparing to write this I have done a lot of reflecting on my relationship with my father. Many experiences have come into my mind, but none of them quite typifies our relationship like my twenty-fourth surgery, which I had when I was sixteen years old. It was summer so my dad, a French professor, did not have to worry about getting a substitute for his classes, or about work piling up as much as he would have in fall or winter.
"My parents spent from about nine in the morning to about eight at night with me every day at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake, then they left to drive back home to Provo so my father would not get too tired. The night before my surgery my father and my uncle gave me a healing blessing that gave me courage and comfort. It helped me know that I would be all right, that I was loved, and that I would be well cared for.
"As soon as I was in my own room after the surgery, while I was still quite anesthetized, my father pulled out his camera and took a picture of me. When I groaned about it he said, "Well, at least I didn't make any 'cutting' remarks." I groaned again, my usual response to his really corny puns, and went to sleep. This joking is a very important part of our relationship and one of the ways we show caring for each other.
"Later, after the anesthesia had worn off, I was in a great deal of pain. They had discovered a few weeks earlier (after another surgery) that I am allergic to both codeine and morphine, which most strong pain medications are based on. Because of this they had me on a high dosage of Extra-Strength Tylenol. It may have been "extra-strength," but it just was not "extra-strength" enough for my pain. I spent most of the next few days trying to breath deeply while quivering and sobbing in pain. My father spent much of that time sitting next to me, holding my hand so I would have something to squeeze, and wiping my tears. It meant a great deal to me and was one of the ways that I can remember that my father showed me he loved me."
In this story, a little girl learns to love God's creations through her father's example.
"My father was an avid fisherman, duck hunter, and deer hunter; a regular outdoors man. He had a membership at East Canyon Resort and was thrilled about spending time in the outdoors whenever he had the chance. Every birthday, Father's day, or Christmas I remember buying my dad shot gun shells. He owned lots of guns, which he hung to display; a mounted deer, which hung right outside my parent's bedroom; and wooden ducks. He was a 'typical' masculine male.
"When I was eleven or twelve years old, my dad took me up to East Canyon for the day. This particular trip stands out vividly in my mind and I cherish it because I was able to be in the outdoors with my dad, and it was one of the last outings I had with him. He had been diagnosed with cancer the year before and that year the cancer spread throughout his left leg and the doctors had to amputate it. Our family had been through a lot that year and felt a lot of new and confusing emotions.
"This particular Saturday afternoon, my brothers came up to East Canyon to play some sort of paint gun game, but my dad and I drove up together in our old tan Dodge van. My dad had on his usual gray sweats and a short sleeved shirt. He was a lot thinner than he'd ever been. He now wore light brown baseball gloves on his hands so hey wouldn't get calluses from his crutches. He no longer looked like the dad I had always known. It was a beautiful day in the canyon, and I knew that my dad wished that he could play the game with my brothers, but this time he could only watch.
"When he stopped the van, the next few minutes in time were very meaningful for me. My dad's crutches were in the back of the van, and he asked me to get them for him. I jumped out and opened the side door, trying to hurry to show my dad that I could help him. I grabbed his crutches from the back and walked around to the driver side. The look on his face told me that he was in pain. I handed him the crutches, and he thanked me. He used his arms to slide his body to the edge of the seat, and again his face revealed his discomfort. I knew that this process wasn't easy for him. He took one crutch in each hand and supported himself as he slid down. Then together we walked over to the place where the game would start. My dad used to always hold my hand; actually he would hold my pinkie with his. Now he couldn't hold my hand at all because he had to hold onto his crutches. I felt safe with my dad and I was proud to be his daughter.
"I felt a special bond with my dad that day. First, I was in a place that he loved so much and I was glad that he brought me along. Second, I felt like he needed me to be there so that I could help him. Third, for the first time I realized that my dad was imperfect and that even adults didn't always feel strong and secure. My own dad had need for a little eleven year old girl. It's funny that I remember this small and seemingly insignificant experience with my father, but I had a lot of strong emotions for him that day. I felt like he was so strong to be able to make it through all the things he had been through, and to have people look at him because he only had one leg. I felt so proud that he was my dad."
In this story, a young girl explains that even though her father isn't a "religious" man, he taught her about loving people sincerely.
"He taught me something I will never forget. I was thirteen at the time, and basically thought I was "all that." My dad was my pal and cool to hang with. I always new he was a good guy with a good heart, but it wasn't until my phone conversation with Melissa Martin that I learned how much he cared about people. I had just hung up the phone after telling Melissa I couldn't help her with her algebra that afternoon. Dad wanted to know why I had said no to her. I told him I didn't want to waste my afternoon helping her with algebra when I could spend the time with my other girlfriends at the mall. I also told him that it was no big deal anyway because we didn't have a test for another two weeks.
"My dad looked disappointed. I can't bear for him to be disappointed in me for any reason, so I asked what the problem was. He hesitated and then taught me something I will never forget. He sat me down and explained to me the importance of being nice to people. I thought it was an unnecessary conversation at first, because I was going to help Melissa with math, just not today. But the more I listened and thought of my dad's words, the more I began to see why he is someone I admire so much. He explained to me that it's easy to be nice to people when it's convenient, but it's when it isn't convenient that one's true colors show.
"My dad has a way of teaching me things that penetrate my heart and motivate me to follow his council. Even though we aren't affiliated with any particular religion, I think I have learned more from my dad than any other person about the importance of being nice to others. He is the nicest man I know--not just to me, but to everyone."More metaphors about fathering
Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following: