Fatherhood – An Eternal Calling

As we live in this ever-chaotic world, we see Satan working overtime to exert his influence over as many of God’s children as possible. As has been warned before, he has identified the fundamental unit of the family as a target for his strategy. This makes perfect sense. We are sent to Earth and the place where we gain our initial identity, security and direction is from those who we are brought into the earth from – our parents.

Elder L Tom Perry elaborated in his remarks: “During the past few decades, Satan has waged a vigorous campaign to belittle and demean this basic and most important of all organizations. His success is becoming increasingly evident—the grim facts are seen, reported, and heard about daily and involve the collapse of many family units. With the decay of the family, we see the terrible effects on our society—increased crime, behavior disorders, poverty, drug abuse, and the list continues to grow and grow.”

Whilst some circumstances make a complete family life impossible, the ideal stated in the Proclamation to the World is to have a father and mother, united and in love, to raise children into the world. Focusing in on fathers – there are two ways in which fathers are being lost in the family’s daily battle: physically not being in the family unit and also, the role of the father being belittled in today’s society.

A World with Diminishing Fathers

Looking at how there are less and less fathers in the world first – the statistics are worrying. We all know them. One click away and we can find the research. Here are a couple facts for you:

  • The most recent stats in 2015 by the Office for National Statistics shows that from 2005 to 2015 there has been an increase of 81,000 single parent families – now up to 2 million
  • Of all ‘families’ with dependent children, 25% are single-parent families (90% of those are without a father) – this is constantly increasing each year

It is clear that the erosion of the family is in full swing. Elder L Tom Perry further added: 

“Surely we have learned by now, from the experience over centuries, that the basic family provides the most stable and secure foundation for society and is fundamental to the preparation of young people for their future responsibilities. We should have learned by now that alternate styles of family formations have not worked and never will work.”

If we have not learnt from history then there are clear findings today. I will not go into details as to what these are for, once again, they can be found one Internet search away but it is eye-opening. One that I will mention which I would encourage all fathers to remember is this:

  • Among fathers living in urban areas, those who more frequently attended religious services were more likely to be engaged in activities with their children than peers who attended less frequently. Fathers who reduced the frequency of their religious attendance during the first year of their children’s lives became, on average, less engaged with their children compared to peers who maintained their level of religious attendance.

What does this teach us? As stated in Preach My Gospel “The restored gospel blesses and helps husbands and wives, parents and children as they strive to develop stronger relationships and spiritual strength in their families.”

A family based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and with a father and mother leading the way is more likely (according to doctrine and backed by scientific research) to succeed and achieve their potential than in any other way.

We see so many examples in the scriptures of fathers who, with their wives, led their family to peace and a knowledge of the Gospel:

 

Because these fathers were present – they were able to have an impact on their children. Notice that these stories all have a variety of outcomes. For Lehi, yes Nephi was valiant and true but not all Lehi’s children were. Two of Lehi’s children went on to create an ignorant, Godless nation, focusing on destroying their brother’s descendants – does that make Lehi a bad father? Alma the Younger was destroying the Church of God, leading others astray. Does that mean Alma wasn’t there for his son? Of course not. Whilst families with a father are more likely to succeed, it does not guarantee success. There are also a number of single-parent families without fathers who will also accomplish their goals and be able to be close to the Saviour. I was made aware this week of a young family with a heart-breaking story. After having cancer diagnosed and unsuccessful treatment (as well as torment on the Internet from insensitive commenters who mocked and branded the news a lie), a father of five children died at the age of 34. Does that mean this family will fail without their loving, caring father? I’m certain the Lord will bless them. It is simply more likely that with a father, a family is more likely to achieve their goals – why else would Satan be so focused on eroded the family unit itself?

A World of Diminishing Respect for Fathers

However, something that is far more concerning than losing fathers is losing the respect and the ideal of fatherhood. In a talk in the April 2015 Conference, Sister Linda K Burton said about the devaluing of the role of the father in today’s world: 

“On the other end of the scale is the degrading and mocking message that husbands and fathers are no longer needed. I plead with you not to listen to Satan’s lies! He has forfeited that sacred privilege of ever becoming a husband or father. Because he is jealous of those who have the sacred roles he will never fill, he is intent on making “all men … miserable like unto himself”

In today’s media, the role of the father is being attacked. I had not considered this. I suppose it was the example set to me in my home growing up that helped me to avoid this view. My Mum and Dad raised, and continue to raise their children, with the clear view to involve each other, love each other and respect each other. My wife and I are striving for that ideal. However, here are some things which, a first may seem trivial, but really are painting an alarming picture: 

  • In most welfare offices, fathers are not invited to case planning meetings, and when a home visitor is greeted at the door by a man, she often asks to speak with the mother. Given these scenarios, fathers are likely to get the message that they are invisible or irrelevant to their children’s welfare, unless it involves financial support.
  • In a study of fatherhood in popular TV sitcoms, psychologists concluded that fathers are generally shown to be relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. In addition, the researchers found that fathers often served as the butt of family members’ jokes. All of these characterizations, while the intention may be humor, depicted fathers as being socially incompetent and objects of derision.
  • In a study of depictions of fathers in the best selling children’s picture books, a researcher concluded that of the 200 books analyzed, there were only 24 books where the father appears alone, and only 35 books where mother and father appear together. The author concludes, “because fathers are not present or prominent in a large number of these books, readers are given only a narrow set of images and ideas from which they can construct an understanding of the cultural expectations of fatherhood and what I means to be a father.”
  • Also in popular TV and movies, the ever-increasing ‘joke’ (to use the term ‘joke’ lightly) of children not knowing their fathers is ever increasing.

These, and many other more worrying direct degrading comments and views on fatherhood is having a major impact on how the world views fathers.

The Ultimate Father

We cannot take the role of the father lightly – to do so would degrade the role of the One Father we all share in common. Our Heavenly Father is the ultimate example. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught “…Fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution. The role of father is of divine origin, beginning with a Father in Heaven and, in this mortal sphere, with Father Adam.” 

If you are a father, you have a divine assignment. It is infinitely more vital to you and the building of the Kingdom of God than your calling and your career. It is to be the standing replacement of a Father in Heaven that your little one has only left recently in their eternal lives. Do we recognise this? We will not be perfect like Him in this life but we are expected to fill the role He would if He were here with that child. Even if your child has reached their adult years, your Father in Heaven has been their Father infinitely longer than you have been theirs…and yet He has trusted you to be their father now, in the most important period of their eternal lives!

The way we as a father act, influences the way that our child sees our Father in Heaven.

Let us remember those we call ‘Dad’ and if we do not one to call our own, let us all one day look forward to when we shall meet the one we call ‘Father’. 

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