By Sean E. Brotherson
This concept goes back to our earliest understanding of fathers. Adam, for example, was given the power by God to name the creatures that came forth upon the earth. To name is to give identity and purpose. The privilege of naming is to hold the power of identity. It is a sacred power.
When a father or father figure stands before a Latter-day Saint congregation, takes an infant child in his arms, and pronounces upon that child a name and a blessing, it is a dramatic symbol of this reality. Fathers are meant to be holy figures in the lives of their children. It is a tragic circumstance when a father ignores or abuses this responsibility and instead is hurtful or uncaring toward his children. Fathers must learn that to exercise power in the lives of their children does not mean to control them, but rather to bless them.
It is not simply power that a father needs. It is the power to bless. It is what might be called “power in righteousness.” Men do not bless by the mere exercise of power. They bless only by the exercise of power in righteousness.
To be a holy figure in the life of a child, in the life of a family, requires an association with the powers of heaven. Clearly that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled not handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). A mere man, who becomes a father, must become a righteous man. A man who realizes and accepts that fatherhood is sacred.
Sacred fathering recognizes the sacredness of being a father and accepts it with purpose. What might this mean? It means that a father recognizes that he can be a blessing or a burden to his children and the generations of his family yet unborn. A father can bring blessing or pain. I’d like to briefly suggest seven areas in which a father’s love and righteousness can impact the lives of his children in a sacred manner.
Is there order and peace? Is there appreciation and recognition? Is there love and tenderness? Is there laughter and learning?
Fathers have a great capacity, because of their power, to sow either beauty or ugliness in the lives of their children and family members. How do you sow beauty? Perhaps you begin by recognizing that to be the father of a child is a beautiful thing.
A child is beautiful. But you cultivate beauty in the life of a child only as you act with care and love toward the mother of your child. This is part of sacred fathering. To treat the mother of your child with honor and respect. You may sow beauty or ugliness.
Joy and sorrow are both part of the mortal experience. But the degree of joy or sorrow in family life may be related to the manner in which fathers act in caring and compassion.
Fathers may bring sorrow by their absence and joy by their presence. I have talked with many little children who seldom see their fathers. This may be due to divorce. Or abuse. Or neglect. Or simply travel and “other” priorities. God sees the tears of children. He counts those tears.
Fathers should seek not only to be present in the lives of their children, but to live in a way that their presence is a joyful presence to their children and spouses.
I watched a child of mine, a son, participate last year in a soccer game. I arrived a few minutes late to the game and he was not aware of my presence at first. Suddenly, toward the end of the game, he found himself near the goal and in scoring position. He hesitated and then took the ball, kicked it toward the goal, and then reacted with wonder when it bounced into the back of the net. Joy lit his face. And then he looked around. He looked to see if anyone was there to share this moment of triumph. And he saw me. He waved and jumped up and down with his teammates, and I cheered, and I will admit shed a quiet tear on the sideline by myself.
I will never forget it. Joy is most joyful when it is shared, especially between a father and a child.
Fathers are kind of like bears. They can be gentle with their own but they can also get mean and angry at times. Gentleness versus anger. How much does it matter?
As I noted earlier, fathers have power in the lives of their children. When fathers give themselves over to anger and they yell, rage, curse, or act with a controlling and cold purpose toward a spouse or children, for children it becomes a terrifying thing. Power unleashed in anger is frightening to a child.
Gentleness, by contrast, soothes and comforts and stills the feelings of a child who is sick, upset, or feeling hurt. Fathers have great power when they choose gentleness rather than anger.
Fathers have enormous capacity to direct their children in the paths of life.
When you train a horse, especially a young horse, you spend a lot of time training it by leading it. You must get out in front of it and show it which way to go and how to act. If a young horse becomes rowdy or upset, it is not uncommon to put it with an older, more mature horse that can teach it good habits and lead it in the right direction. However, if a young horse gets mixed in with older, rowdy horses it quickly learns bad habits and these can be very difficult to break.
Fathers play the powerful role model in the lives of their children that older, responsible horses play in the training of a younger horse. They provide a protective buffer between children and the world.
Children are seekers of truth. Children hold parents to the truth if parents have made a promise. Fathers must be careful that they not break promises to children. The trust of a child is a sacred thing.
When promises are not kept, a child’s hopes are dashed and disappointed. It is too easy, as a father, to break a promise to a child. Why? Because fathers have greater power in the relationship. Children cannot revoke your allowance. Children cannot suspend your driving privileges. What is the consequence then of a broken promise to a child? Mistrust. Lack of confidence. Disappointment. Even despair.
One of the most sacred aspects of the sacred work of fathering is the support that a father provides to the mother of his children.
To abandon that support for women, for mothers, in their particular stewardship of life is to leave out much of what it means to do the sacred work of fathering. To neglect rather than to support is to deny what it means to truly be a father.
To father is a child is more than a biological act. It is more than a social role to fulfill. It is sacred work.
To truly father a child is to nurture the soul of a child. To truly father a child is to honor and respect womanhood and motherhood.
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