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.