Home Teaching: September 2006: Fatherhood

It’s the end of the month, must be time for home teaching. It’s been a while. Blame the hiatus on my move to Old Europe.

Hey, here’s a challenge: if you’re a bloke, be sure to go home teaching in October. Let’s have a BCC-sponsored HT-fest.

Anyway, on to the lesson. It’s inspired by James E. Faust’s September Ensign message, “The Father Who Cares.”

It is humbling for those of us who are fathers to consider how great the influence is that we can have on our children. Yes, all children will eventually be agents unto themselves, and yes, the good or harm a father does can be counteracted by a mother and others. Still, the influence is great. Children can learn from their fathers faith, work, commitment and courage, or they can learn anger, violence, and dishonesty. We hope, of course, for the former.

Here’s a nice story from October 2002 General Conference. Elder F. Melvin Hammond, challenged the fathers of the Church to “rear their children in righteousness.” He told the story of a camping trip with his son. At night, snuggled together in a sleeping bag, his son put his arms around him and asked,

“Dad, are you awake?”

Elder Hammond replied, “Yes, my son, I am awake.”

“Dad, I love you a million, trillion times!”

Elder Hammond goes on:

“Immediately he was asleep. But I was awake far into the night, expressing my great thanks for such wonderful blessings clothed with a little boy’s body.”

I can well imagine the joy that entered Elder Hammond’s heart. For whatever reason, this kind of thing seems to happen most in the outdoors. As Autumn sets in, go camping with your kids one last time. And not just your sons.

My own father and I enjoyed many trips like this one. Growing up in England, it was only a short trip to the rugged mountains of Wales. Each year, just before Christmas, we would go hiking, perhaps in an effort to release some of the energy that often bubbles over in little boys during the holidays. We would stay over in a Bed and Breakfast, hike all the next day, and drive home exhausted but in time for Christmas Eve.

We called these times together “adventures” and on them my father, with the backdrop of nature all around us, would bear me his testimony of the Saviour and the Gospel. These were special moments for us, and years later it would be these Christmas adventures that I relived, not the presents and gifts, lovely though they were.

In the rush of life, it is important for busy dads to take time for their children. Time shows we care, and unless our children know that we care, that we are “awake,” they are less likely to heed our calls for them to live good lives. Sermons given by distant fathers are worth far less than the quiet conversations we can have in the mountains.

Near the end of his ministry, we read of a time when Jesus sought association with his Father. Before he was crucified, Jesus went “as he was wont, to the mount of
Olives” (Luke 22: 39). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed. Another rendering of the word “wont” is “accustomed”; in other words, we are told that the Savior often went to that sacred spot to speak with his Father.

Jesus withdrew from his disciples, “and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22: 41-42).

But there’s a heartbreaking twist to this story. In that pivotal moment, because the Saviour’s sacrifice had to be one he made alone, the Father could not be with his beloved Son. Jesus was not to be left comfortless, however. The scriptures record that “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22: 43).

There is a great message in this story. In some cases, even in the case of the Son of God, fathers cannot be with their children. Through no fault of their own, many children are left for moments in their life, perhaps their whole lives, without the influence of a dad. But that does not mean that such children cannot enjoy the power for good that an honourable man can bring them.

Which is why I’m a big fan of the youth programme in the Church: Seminary, Young Men’s, Young Women’s, Scouting. Male primary teachers, youth and Scouting leaders, Bishops and home teachers can all fill, in some small measure, the hole that exists in the life of a child without a father.

There are a few thorns in this patch, I admit. First, it is only a small measure. It’s really not fair that some of us are deprived of a good dad. Also, my own mother would kill me for not mentioning her massive influence for good on me (hi mum!). Had my dad not been around, I would still have turned out OK. I guess I was doubly blessed. As to the Church, well, worries about child molestation seem to be taking men out of Primary, and it is really the young men and not the young women who benefit most from the gifts that men can bring to the youth. Still, I raise my glass to the youth leaders of the Church and wish them luck.

Our modern prophet has given the following counsel to fathers:

Yours is the basic and inescapable responsibility to stand as head of the family. That does not carry with it any implication of dictatorship or unrighteous dominion. It carries with it a mandate that fathers provide for the needs of their families. Those needs are more than food, clothing, and shelter. Those needs include righteous direction and the teaching, by example as well as precept, of basic principles of honesty, integrity, service, respect for the rights of others, and an understanding that we are accountable for that which we do in this life” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Bring Up a Child in the Way He Should Go,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 60).

To the question, “Dad, are you awake?” the fathers and surrogate fathers of the Church need to respond with a resounding, “Yes, I am awake!”

Go forth and be dads!


  1. Ronan – What a beautiful essay. Your advice and counsel is absolutely correct and timely. And fathers need to understand that, as in the case of all giving of one’s self, spending time with your sons (and daughters as the case may be) ends up being a blessing for the dads as much as for the sons. I’m afraid that I was too focused on my professional life while my four sons were growing up. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t spend time together and enjoy each other’s company but it does mean that we could have, and should have spent more quality “in the mountains” together.

    But now as my sons are grown and starting their own families I’ve established a new set of priorities in my life and although some of them are great distances from our house we still make time for each other either through letters and phone conversations or through too seldom visits. And the grandkids are just icing on the cake.

    Your description of spending time “in the rugged mountains of Wales” makes we want to make a committment to visit the land of my ancestors (Wales) hopefully with my sons and their families standing beside me. Autumn is my favorite time of year, with the summer heat and humidity behind us and the expectation of brilliantly colored leaves and cool, crisp walks. A great time to re-establish and strengthen those father/son ties. Thanks for your words.

  2. Lamonte,
    If you ever find yourself in Wales look me up and I’ll take you hiking. Take your pick of Snowdonia in the north, or the Black Mountains/Brecon Beacons in the south.

  3. I think the role of father in society is losing its significance. More and more children are being raised by single mothers. It seems in an effort to have single mothers feel equal to the task we are telling them that father isn’t really required anyway. As a result fathers frequently appear more as a comedy figure (Homer Simpson being the classic example) rather than a role model. Fair comment or melodramatic?

  4. Thanks for the great visit.

    Your account of the garden is especially moving.

  5. Gomez,
    I’m sure I’ve read something along those lines (that fathers are made fun of in sitcoms). But I think Bart needs Homer.

  6. A few years back, one of my 10-year-old cub scouts was responsible for conducting the opening of our pack meeting. In his preparations for this he was looking for someone to assign the opening prayer, and he found a suitable prospect. He asked another den leader, “Wendy, what’s the name of your, your, uh, your boyfriend?” “You mean my husband?” “Yeah, that’s right, husband.” It was a bit heartbreaking that husband was not a familiar concept for that boy who will become a man, and I hoped that we who were serving him could, as Ronan says, fill some small measure of the example he needed.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks for the lesson, Ronan. Shall I say closing prayer? Anything we can do for you, Bloggernacle?

  8. Steve,
    Whom should we ask to assign the prayer?

    Yeah, that’s about what I had in mind. Thanks for your service. Of course, the boyfriend could also have been a great “dad.”

  9. Thanks for the lesson, Ronan. Shall I say closing prayer? Anything we can do for you, Bloggernacle?

    Umm . . . yeah–there’s those weeds out back. And, please don’t forget to bless the refreshments.

  10. Actually, with summer over, could you help carry the air conditioners down to the cellar. Much obliged.

    And, a hearty amen to Ronan’s encouragement to the “surrogate” fathers in the Church. Remember, of course, that for some young men, the struggles of adolescence may make them “fatherless” even when dad is at home.

  11. Ronan! Why don’t you write for the Ensign?

    The message actually in the Ensign made me a wee mad, but this one is just plain good. I appreciate how much the Church (in the ways that you mention) try to help get many “fathers” involved in the community of families at Church. I remember one depressing Laurel ball at which we were all presented on stage as graduating Laurels and then our fathers were to come up, give us some award and dance with us. Everyone had dads but me and so after me standing alone on the stage for a bit, I wandered off feeling so stupid and mad that the leaders hadn’t thought about my situation (I am self-absorbed, I do not deny that) then this gangly 6’8″ 2nd counselor in the bishopric came bounding down the hall to ask me to dance. We didn’t talk at all during the dance (I am only 5’5″) and it was mostly awkward but I felt important and cared for.

    Also, I need to find a job, HTer. Can you get me one? Thanks.

  12. Ronan – Are you familair with a small village called Blackwood, somewhere near Cardiff? My great-great Grandparents were born there. Is it close to Black Mountains by chance?

  13. #11,

    Good point. Its important to remember that there are lots of kids who lack a father. We have such a kid in our ward right now. He is senior this year and ward members have found him a job, helped him with college applications and offered to help pay for his mission.

    James 1: vs 26

    True religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction….

    Also one of the hallmarks of the LDS faith for men in my opinion is this. LDS men are instructed to make their families their highest priorities over golf, careers etc. Its regularly discussed in my EQ

  14. Lamonte,
    Yep, it’s near the BM’s. Once you get out of the old coal-mining towns, it’s lovely countryside.

  15. Amri,

    A job? Ooh – that I can do. Just come to law school, and then I can hire you as a research assistant.

    True, it will set you back tens of thousands of student-loan dollars in tuition. However, you’ll then be able to make $10 an hour (limited to 20 hours a week) doing research on Westlaw. Viola — employment!

    Hmm, probably not helpful.

    Well, if I hear of any jobs that open up in Massachusetts, I’ll be sure to let you know. . .

  16. Ronan,

    Smart-ass comments aside, this is a nice take on an article that bugged many (see prior T&S discussion). You drew out the important points and made them resonate. Despite the patriarchal (and other) baggage that church members sometimes drag into the mix, the fact remains that fatherhood _is_ important, it _is_ wonderful, it _is_ worthy of praise and support and admiration (and sleep!). It’s a great, great job, and one that I throughly love. Thanks for a post that reminds of this.

  17. Ditto to what Kaimi said in #16 (except for the part about loving being a father).

  18. “Bishops and home teachers can all fill, in some small measure, the hole that exists in the life of a child without a father.”

    A child of any age. Last week my wonderful home teacher asked me to tell him about my father, who has been gone for two years now, and he listened attentively as long as I wanted to talk.

  19. Thanks for this lovely and heartfelt home teaching visit. What beautiful memories you have of your dad and the nature adventures you would take. Great post, Ronan!

  20. Cheers, everyone.

    I really, really like being a father. Most of my peers look aghast at the fact I am 30 and have three children. What they don’t know is that my kids fill me with such happiness. Really, being a father is an utterly selfish act for me. I gain far more than I receive. Sounds like a phony comment, but I promise it isn’t.

  21. Ronan, I’m curious. Your description of your father reminded me of mine, including longs hikes and shared testimony on camping trips. How much do you think your expectations of fatherhood were shaped by the example you had?

    My own feeling is that good fatherhood is very difficult to teach in any other way than by direct example, frequently repeated. I think the precepts and doctrine of the church are fine as far as they go, but ultimately fall short, standing alone.

  22. I also have a strong testimony of Gordon B. Hinckley’s advice to “raise boys with the rod – the fishing rod.”

  23. How much do you think your expectations of fatherhood were shaped by the example you had?


  24. What a great Home Teaching lesson! I really enjoyed your visit. Would you like another piece of spice cake to take home with you? I look forward to next month. :)

  25. Antonio Parr says:

    I found an essay that almost matches Ronan’s eloquent missive on Fatherhood, and thought to pass it on for others to enjoy.



  1. […] 3. Divide work and delate: Difference between doing work yourself and delegating. The EQP shouldn’t have to do all the unfinished HT. This is not only unwise, but it’s not HT (This is why Ronan and Steve at BCC do the ‘naccle HT at the end of the month) […]

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