And on Sunday, Small Voices

My oldest has spent the last couple months wishing everyone a “happy mother’s day” because she remembers how much fun we all had. I think she considers it to mean the same thing as “happy birthday” but specific to parents (she wishes me happy mother’s day as well).

Today (although, not following the holiday or my calendar well, I accidentally ended up on a work trip this weekend), I am not interested so much in being honored as in honoring my fatherhood, which to me means two things: my children, and sharing those children with my wife. (This is specific to my situation; others will honor fatherhood in different settings and permutations, and I am glad to honor those as well.)

I love to watch my children interact with caterpillars, to feel their bony little heads collide with mine in the morning when we’ve gone camping (there must be something magnetic about bone tissue in small tents–no matter where they start, by the time I fall asleep they are hard little spheres of flesh and bone around my head). I love to watch them laugh, to see milk poring down their chins as they enthusiastically munch on cheerios. The middle one loves to water plants with our large watering pot which is almost her size, dipping it into my wife’s makeshift cistern, then proudly scattering moisture over flowers. The youngest feels like a living, enchanted mirror, exchanging laughter for smiles and coos for baby talk.

I ache at times with the recognition of how fragile we all are and how much responsibility we as parents bear for our children. The emotional intensity of my proselytizing experiences as a young adult are a pale flame compared to the strength of my attachments and worry over my children. I want them desperately to know God’s love and to be grounded in the face of adversity, to have meaningful and powerful relationships with humans and divinity. I also, however selfish it is in the Christian tradition, don’t want them to suffer.

For me, blessed without merit with biological parenthood, my children are my union with my wife. They share our genes and increasingly our affectations. When we eat together around a table, asking each other what we learned that day, I sense the irruption of the sacred into our often distracted lives, and I struggle to honor them and our shared experience.

It’s easy, and often appropriate, to draft these strange holidays (such a meager shadow of the Catholic liturgical calendar) into animated debates and discussions, particularly because devotions to children so often meld into sentimentalism, and, more importantly, because our experiences of parenthood are various and sometimes challenging or dissatisfying. Nevertheless, welcoming other experiences of fatherhood (while recognizing that life is lived and meaning found most fruitfully in the interactions of ideals and actual experiences), I thought I’d leave this area open for sharing about personal meanings.


  1. Sam, this is a wonderful and sacred post. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Sam.

    I give my wife a gift on Father’s Day each year to thank her for allowing me to be the father of her children. I’ll post more later; I am headed back to Church to sit with my wife, fill the pew and bask amid our greatest treasures.

  3. Sam,

    I know exactly what you mean about camping with children. It is difficult enough for me to sleep on the ground under the best of conditions, but with multiple small offspring all crowding in to see who can snuggle most closely, it’s almost impossible. I’ve spent many a night on family camping trips just staring at the top of the tent and counting my blessings.

    The responsibility and worry that you express are compounded for me by the recognition that my children will probably be like me in many respects.

  4. you’re a good dad Sam. I love your little family and the way you love them.

    If I ever have kids I hope I like them as much as you like yours.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m extremely proud of my kids. My daughter, Emily, is 25 and working on a master’s in art history at NIU. She just returned from three weeks in Europe. My son, Grant, is 20 and just finished his sophomore year at Utah State. He has been majoring in business, but he really wants to work with his hands and he is going to look into their welding program. His major changes every other month, so we’ll see what sticks.

    Neither of my kids is active at all in the Church, but that just doesn’t bother me the way I might have thought it would years ago. They’re happy, healthy, good, decent, and just great human beings. The kind of people you would want to have for friends. And I’ve found that that is much more important to me than engagement in the Church.

    I’ve paid tribute to my own father in a number of blog posts. I recognize a lot of him in me, but I also recognize a lot of my mother in me. From my father I got intelligence and faith, from my mother kindness and empathy, and I think my parents would agree that it was a good combination.

    But we didn’t get any paper ties or candy from the Primary children at Church today. So I think I’ve lost my testimony.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s a tribute I wrote for my father this past February.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Kevin, Mark, and Ray. Thanks for the kindness, Amri. I tend to honor my female parent as both my mother and my father, but I have also loved others as participating in fatherhood when I was young. And I love those who participate with me in fatherhood in the wider circle, the “aunts” and “uncles” (both biological/affinal and separately chosen).

  8. Some years on Father’s Day my dad has brought breakfast in bed to all of us kids to thank us for getting to be our father. This year he emailed the kids who live far away from home his recipe for coffee cake.

    I have a nice dad.

  9. I have shared this to a lesser degree in another thread, but I learned what it means to love and serve your wife and children from my father. I never appreciated it while I was growing up; I only stood in awe of him a few years ago when the depth of his sacrifice came into focus.

    My mom has a rare form of schizophrenia. My father was unaware of this, as was everyone else (including my mother), when they got married. He found out after the birth of my sisters (twins), when she was overwhelmed and her mind wouldn’t shut down and allow her to sleep. She had what was termed a nervous breakdown, which led to her clinical diagnosis.

    From that moment forward, my dad shielded my mom from every care of the world so her condition would stay in remission, if you will. By all practical measures, he became my father and my mother. He shouldered all of the financial, household, emotional, physical, disciplinary, organizational, educational, etc. responsibilities for his family and allowed his wife to be seen by the community as the strong, spiritual one. People in town admired his work ethic, but they never realized what he was doing behind our doors – because he never once mentioned it in ANY way to ANYONE. He didn’t want others to view his wife as anyone other than the sweet angel he had married – to do anything that would lessen her in others’ eyes in a time when mental illness was not understood.

    Until her first breakdown, my father served in various leadership positions in the Church. After that, he waited nearly 30 years to serve in another position that required he spend significant time away from home – until his children were gone and my mom could function without the stress associated with raising them. He left an extremely well paying job with incredible advancement opportunities to go back to the small town where my mom was raised, simply to ease her stress and allow her to function normally. He became an elementary school janitor, took a 50% pay cut and focused on loving and serving his kids – both at home and at his school.

    Not holding a high profile church position, he came to known in town as a salt-of-the-earth farm boy – a good man, but certainly not a leader. I bought into that perception until my mother’s second breakdown a few years ago, when her “sleeping pills” stopped working and her whole personality changed. It was only after this experience that I finally saw my father for what he is – as close an example of the Savior’s single-minded dedication to service as anyone I have ever known.

    Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. I understand this holiday solely because of you.

  10. God bless your dad, Ray. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Ray, your dad is a hero, a Christian, and a Father.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Ray – what a wonderful man your father is. Thank you for sharing that.

  13. Thanks for the post Sam. I remember last Father’s Day and observing your children’s enthusiasm for their father in the ward at the time.

  14. I spent Sunday at church with my father in California, the first time in four years. In the afternoon all the kids and spouses gathered, some to meet my wife and kids for the the first time. As we sat on the back lawn playing with the boys and talking, I could see my father in the background, basking in his fatherliness. A day to remember.

  15. smb, Ronan & Rebecca – THANK YOU for your comments about my dad. After reading them, I felt inspired to pass them along to him – without sending him my tribute, which I didn’t understand at the time.

    You have to know my dad to appreciate this fully, but I just got a phone call from my mom, and she told me that when she printed your responses and gave them to my dad he was fighting tears as he read them. She asked if I would send what I had written, and it hit me – finally – why I had felt so strongly about not sending it when I wrote it.

    My father will appreciate what I wrote, but your comments touched him in a way that my words alone could never do. He has never sought the recognition and praise of strangers, so he never has received it. To hear my mom tell me of his tears as he read your words is a feeling I will never forget. I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

  16. Ray, thanks for the wonderful feedback. Your dad has every right to feel a hero. You made me want to relate a story. Come to think of it, it’s private, so I’ll email it to you.


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