Monday, June 9, 2008

A Father's Impact

“Yet in my lineaments they trace / Some features of my father’s face.”
—Lord Byron's couplet, “Parisina”

At church yesterday, I was asked to speak next week during our religious services. It will be Father's Day. Researching this morning has led me to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's message several years ago, which I remember hearing then. I reference it here in italics.

As a father, I wonder if I and all other fathers could do more to build a sweeter, stronger relationship with our sons and daughters here on earth. Dads, is it too bold to hope that our children might have some small portion of the feeling for us that the Divine Son felt for His Father? Might we earn more of that love by trying to be more of what God was to His child? In any case, we do know that a young person’s developing concept of God centers on characteristics observed in that child’s earthly parents. (See “Parent-Child Relationships and Children’s Images of God,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Mar. 1997, 25–43.)

For that reason and many others, I suppose no book I have read in recent months has alarmed me more than a work entitled Fatherless America. In this study the author speaks of “fatherlessness” as “the most harmful demographic trend of this generation,” the leading cause of damage to children. It is, he is convinced, the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from poverty to crime to adolescent pregnancy to child abuse to domestic violence. Among the principal social issues of our time is the flight of fathers from their children’s lives. (David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (1995), 1.)

Of even greater concern than the physical absenteeism of some fathers is the spiritually or emotionally absent father. These are fatherly sins of omission that are probably more destructive than sins of commission. Why are we not surprised that when 2,000 children of all ages and backgrounds were asked what they appreciated most about their fathers, they answered universally, “He spends time with me”? (See “Becoming a Better Father,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 27.)

A young [woman] I met on a conference assignment not long ago wrote to me after our visit and said, “I wish my dad knew how much I need him spiritually and emotionally. I crave any kind comment, any warm personal gesture. I don’t think he knows how much it would mean to me to have him take an active interest in what is going on in my life... or just spend some time together. I know he worries that he won’t do the right thing or won’t say the words well. But just to have him try would mean more than he could ever know. I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I know he loves me. He sent me a note once and signed it ‘Love, Dad.’ I treasure that note. I hold it among my dearest possessions."

I visited a dear friend yesterday. He is of the age and wisdom that he could be my father and I even suggested that I could have him as my surrogate dad.

To paraphrase Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not only can we bless our own families, but we can range through the whole world anxious to bless the entire human race. Austin Howard is that kind of man. He is heavily involved in his Moose Lodge and assists young children through its organizational arm, Mooseheart. I am completely grateful for my neighbor-friend.

As his age is creeping up on him, he is having troubles mowing the lawn and cleaning the rain gutters on his rooftop. I volunteered to assist for he has assisted me with his friendliness, his personality, his genuine kindness.

Neighbors, friends, peers and associates all impact our lives in tremendous ways, but the DNA of fathers is more than just in face or feature. Fathers, whether estranged from their children or not, impact each of us in more powerful ways than through our genes. A fathers habits and actions can -- and does -- impact generations. Even my own mother said often of my grandfather, "Well, Daddy did [this or that], so I will." I've remembered those lessons well.

The burden of responsibility and obligation to men everywhere who have the physical capacity to reproduce, and the divine capacity to love and provide for their children should they so elect, reaches points and origins unable to recognize with a myopic view.

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