As I reflect on my experience as a father, one occasion has been repeated in my memory many times. When my children were very young, they would often fall asleep in bed with my wife while I was up late studying. Of course, this meant that there was no room for me when it was my turn to get some sleep. I would often find myself sleeping on the couch or in one of my children's beds with a small blanket and pillow. As tired as I often was, this never bothered me. Seeing my boys cuddled up and sleeping next to my wife has always been incredibly inspiring. It makes me want to be a better husband and father and gives me the courage to face my fears.
I have often thought that this must be how our Father in Heaven feels about us. Though He receives relatively little in return for the blessings He bestows upon humanity, He continues giving out of love and compassion for us. His commitment to His children is both inspiring and intimidating. It is inspiring because it is a great source of comfort to know that we have a loving Father who is there for us when we need Him. It is intimidating because He expects the same level of commitment from those responsible for caring for His spirit children.
The love that we show God by striving to be more like Him is what He requires of all of us. It is His example that I am trying to emulate in my life. God’s plan is clearly stated in Moses, 'For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39).
Fathers Cannot Be Replaced
As my eyes have been opened to the tremendous responsibility of fatherhood, it is clear that becoming a father is a lifelong process that is grown into through experience. The role of a father is a commitment to walk a path that is far from ideal. Many of the very best among us are not biological fathers. Some are single fathers and are barely scraping by. Some are divorced fathers who rarely see their children. Some fathers are overwhelmed by what Elder Holland described as the 'weight of a young father's fear' (Jeffrey R. Holland,'An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” Ensign, November 1999). Some fathers have lost their way and fail to comprehend the responsibility of this divine role.
To be born into a home with a loving father is one of the greatest blessings a child can have. For far too many children, this is not the case. We live in a time when there is a growing pandemic of father-deprived homes (Warren Farrell and John Gray, The Boy Crisis, ). We need to open our eyes to the purpose and the grand opportunities that await fathers who take an active role in the homes. Nothing can take the place of a righteous father either in our homes or in society. A father's contribution to the world and the lives of the rising generation is irreplaceable.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said of fathers: 'For men, fatherhood exposes us to our own weaknesses and our need to improve. Fatherhood requires sacrifice, but it is a source of incomparable satisfaction, even joy. Again, the ultimate model is our Heavenly Father, who so loved us, His spirit children, that He gave us His Only Begotten Son for our salvation and exaltation. Jesus said, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' Fathers manifest that love as they lay down their lives day by day, laboring in the service and support of their families” (D. Todd Christofferson, 'Fathers,' Ensign, May 2016).
A Child Teaches His Father
When my oldest son was little, and I was still in school, he would often sit next to me when I was studying in my office (which also happened to be our bedroom). I remember coming home from a particularly stressful day at school, going into my office/bedroom, and sitting on the bed thinking about all the difficulties we were going through and feeling pretty bad about it all. My son walked in as he usually did but didn't say a word. I think he could tell something was wrong.
He climbed up on the bed and came and sat right in front of me. I smiled at him but didn't say anything. He then gave me a huge hug. After the hug, he looked directly into my eyes, but he didn't say a word to me. He just smiled. I must have lowered my head because the minute I broke eye contact, he took his little hands, grabbed my face, and lifted it until my eyes met his again, and he smiled and hugged me again. He did this several times. Not a word was spoken between us. He stayed with me for a few minutes and just hugged me. I will never forget how I felt that day. I felt God was telling me that everything would be okay, that I was loved, and that things would be better.
I have often told my children that they are as much my teachers as I am theirs. I am a better person because they are in my life. I am not a perfect father, but I have a perfect Father in Heaven guiding my life. I am trying to train my boys to have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts that understand (Matthew 13:15-16). They aren’t perfect either, but there are moments when my children have exemplified the teachings of the Savior, and I have recognized those moments as learning opportunities for myself.