Some post-Mother’s Day Thoughts on Fatherhood

With yesterday being Mother’s Day, I decided to take a some time and ponder on my role as Father. A little backwards, I know, but since my wife is so awesome, spending a day to celebrate her awesomeness made me want to take stock of myself and see what I need to be doing better—to bring myself up to her level.

As I was thinking about this, some words from The Family: A Proclamation to the World came into my head:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”

As I was thinking about that, I got stuck on the word “Preside” which has become a problematic word in our society because many people primarily associate that word with “rule,” “govern,” or “dictate.” Which, if you look up the word’s definition in a modern dictionary is pretty much what it means nowadays. I didn’t stop there though, so I tried to learn more about its Latin origin: “praesidēre” which taken literally means to sit in front of.

I was sure that wasn’t how the word was used though, so I kept digging and found out that “praesidēre” is the present active infinitive of the Latin word “praesideo which apparently still means to sit in front of, but in terms of actual usage means to “guard,” “watch,” “protect,” or “defend.”

I like those four words a lot better when thinking about my role as father. It got me thinking about one place in our society where the word “preside” is not controversial, and that would be a judge presiding over a courtroom. In the role of judge in our society, the judge does not always get to sit in judgment and decide the innocence or guilt of the accused, that role is left to a jury. What the judge is actually doing is guarding, watching, protecting, and defending the Law itself as set by our society. The judge makes sure that the prosecution and defense are following the rules so that when the jury comes to their decision we as a society can be assured that the rules were followed (in a best case scenario).

So, if the role of a father according to modern day prophets is that “by divine design, fathers are to [guard, watch, protect and defend] their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families,” then what would that kind of presiding look like?

In my mind, the best way to envision that behavior is to think of Jesus Christ himself and how He presided over his disciples and trained them to spread the gospel following His crucifixion. He didn’t shield them from pain, but he typically used gentle guidance to help them progress from simple fisherman, and into the missionaries whose work and influence has defined Western Civilization for the past 2000 years. There were occasions when he was stern with his disciples and quickly condemned their behavior or statements when they risked going seriously astray, but He cared for them enough that they grew into amazing men.

In modern scripture we also have this advice given to holders of the priesthood (D&C 121):

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

 43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

 44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

So, when we are told by modern prophets to preside over our families we are not being told to rule and govern our families, we are being commanded to watch over our families as Christ would and to behave as He would behave were He here instead of us.

This has actually been an ongoing theme that I have been finding as I have been studying the scriptures during this year. I have been acutely aware and noticed every time I’ve come to a  controversial scripture, a modern teaching, or a section of temple ordinance that people have claimed elevates the role of men while diminishing or subordinating the role of women. As I spend time digging a little deeper, and pondering the meaning within the full context of the Gospel and the Atonement, I often find that the role of men is incorrectly being interpreted as one of authority, when it is really a role of service. It is those that serve, not those that rule, who are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

The blessing to me, that was blessing my daughter.

I read something this morning that pierced my soul when I read it.  It literally caused my heart to race and my hands to begin to tremble.  This emotional reaction came on so suddenly and strongly that my cognitive processes were unable to keep up and I didn’t immediately know why this short paragraph had effected me so dramatically.  To put this feeling into context, it was basically a mini-panic attack.  Now, being a advocate for mindfulness, I recognized that I needed to process this experience and get to the root cause of why I felt so attacked by what I read.  So, here is what I learned about myself through my internal reflection.

I’ll start with what triggered this.  It was a testimonial from a man named Adam on the Ordain Women website that was shared on Facebook.  Here is the link, but I’ll also share Adam’s entire testimonial here:

About three years ago I remember standing in a circle, surrounded by men (some important to me, some not so much). We were about to take part in one of the more significant events of a child’s life. In this instance, that child happened to be my own. I remember looking straight ahead through a gap between my uncle in-law and an old friend of mine, who more or less invited himself into the circle. What I saw was a face that stared back at me with a handful of emotions painted on it. Admiration, appreciation, a sense of parental pride, perhaps. Yet there she was, sitting on a bench, a mere spectator. Some of the men in the circle couldn’t tell you the full name of my infant, let alone did they sacrifice their bodies to keep her alive for 9 months. And they certainly had never spent one sleepless night ensuring the comfort of my little girl, amidst incessant cries. I remember thinking, “Something isn’t right here. She should be the one to do this.”

This is simply a small example among countless others that make it crystal clear to me.

I believe women should be ordained.

Now, in full disclosure I am not a supporter of the Ordain Women movement, but I am not a detractor either.  I do think there are equality issues within the Church and culture that need to be addressed, and I think that this movement is shining a light on areas of inequality.  However, my own personal opinion is to have patience with the Lord’s revelatory process and look at the way the system now works and search for the good that exists because of the current sex-segregated priesthood system while not putting blinders on to any gross inequalities and injustices.

Back to Adam’s story though and my personal reaction to it.  As I came to grips with my immediate emotional response, I began to realize that I reacted so strongly to this story because had my wife blessed our first daughter instead of me, irreparable damage may have happened to my family.  Not some imaginary damage, but real, lasting, devastating damage that may have ended my relationship with my wife and daughter.  The fact that I was able to bless my daughter provided me with a measure of protection from forces that were trying to destroy me shortly after my daughter was born.

One seriously under-reported mental health problem among men is male-postpartum depression and anxiety.  I came down with this very swiftly and severely following my daughter’s birth.  Even though I had been through battles with depression prior to this, this time it hit so quickly and so unexpectedly I couldn’t even consider disclosing what I was going through to anyone.  My internal thoughts and my supposed implications of becoming depressed right after the birth of my first-born were too horrific to let anyone who could have helped me know what was going on in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.  I kept a smiling face publicly, but within myself was a torment too great to put into words.  Too often, the only balm that I felt could have ended my torment was to run, to leave me wife and daughter; after all, if this was how bad I felt simply because my daughter had been born, what good was I to them?

Yet the Lord in his infinite wisdom has decreed that fathers should bless their children.  So, in the midst of being racked in my mind with continual torment, I knew that on an upcoming Sunday I would need to stand before a congregation of fellow members, my family, and my wife and allow myself to be a vessel of the Lord and a conduit for revelation.  I needed to spend time in prayer and fasting so I could be the person who the Lord, my daughter, and my wife needed me to be when that blessing was given, and that’s what happened.  Giving my daughter her blessing connected her to me, it renewed within me a strength and commitment to her and to her mother.  Now it was not a complete fix, I did eventually need both therapy and medication to overcome this challenge, but the act of giving my daughter a blessing was a great protection.  It was the first step of many that saved my family from the brink of destruction.

Let me conclude my remarks by speaking directly to you, Adam.  Do not discount your role in the rearing of your child and the importance of the fact that YOU were the person responsible for his/her blessing.  Yes, your wife sacrificed 9 months and the health of her body to bring this child into the world, and she will continue to sacrifice for the care and well-being of this child, but those 9 months also gave her a 9 month advantage in getting to know your child and his/her personality.  As a father, you need every opportunity given to you to connect to your children and understand them, and still you will never catch up with your wife in being able to sense when something is wrong, when they need help, and how to succor and care for them.  She had 9 months of pregnancy followed my months of breastfeeding and cuddling.  You need your time too to get to know this child, and the blessing is a wonderful opportunity to do so.  It is a few minutes where if you can prepare yourself, you can feel the touch of revelation and see the same potential in this child that Heavenly Father does.  These are revelations your wife has likely already received during her months of pregnancy and her first moments with her newborn.

If you feel your wife was a mere spectator during the blessing, take corrective action when your next child is born or during future ordinances.  Be more selective and intentional about who is in the circle beforehand.  Have a family gathering before the service with all invited members of the circle and have your wife offer a prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide your words in the blessing.  In your prayer as a couple the night before, as your wife to say that prayer and ask her to seek for things in that prayer that you ought to include in your blessing the next morning.  Go out of your way to include your wife in this blessing within the Lord’s guidelines as we currently understand them.

I simply want to share that in this specific regard I hope that the Child’s Blessing remains the father’s responsibility.  It was a necessary and protective blessing to me in my family, because if I had witnessed my wife blessing our daughter when I felt so disconnected to this newborn, I may have given in to the horrific thoughts in my mind to take off because clearly my wife wouldn’t have needed me.  She had carried her, she had delivered her, she was now feeding and caring for her.  If she had also blessed her, that what good was I?  I hate to think what I might have done if I can succumbed to such thoughts.  I hope that as we pursue opportunities to increase women’s equality in the Church, we do not eliminate traditions that bring blessings to fathers in our relationships with our children.  This goes so far beyond and deeper than the “women have children; men have the priesthood” platitude, this is about advocating an equality in the father/child and the mother/child relationship.  Something that is vital for both fathers and children.