Thursday, January 26, 2012

Daddy Danger

Norbert over at BCC posted a really thought-provoking post on Tuesday around the question, “What is the greatest threat to your family?” Without transcribing his post (please go read it; it’s really quite good), I’ll cut to the chase:

Norbert suspects that his instructor meant to ask What is the greatest threat to THE family, but in response to the question asked, he determined that he – the dad -- was the greatest threat.

Many commenters (myself included) identified with his perspective. I am a little conflicted on this topic, though, and wanted to explore it a bit more.

Certainly the reality of Section 121 holds for fathers perhaps more than in any other circumstance:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion (v. 39).
For me, unrighteous dominion in the home is most insidious precisely because it is so easy to get there from here. Men are taught by the church to preside. Parents are taught to teach their children. There is an implied message that parents can be evaluated by how their kids behave. And so it is exceptionally easy for Dad to compel behavior in the name of “reproving betimes with sharpness.”

The other reason unrighteous dominion is so insidious is because the stakes are so high. The Proverbs teach “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). By golly, as a dad I want to ensure those kids are trained up right! But in doing so, I risk violating the terms of Section 121. In my zeal to have my kids “turn out right” I can easily do more harm than good.

There are some other complicating factors:

1. Many men (and maybe women, too, I suppose) really like the notion of control. I am one of those men. I am uncomfortable with uncertainty. Especially as a young father, I knew what a “happy family” looked like, and I was going to have one if it killed us.

2. Humans have an inborn “fight or flight” reflex that shows at the sign of conflict. Part of overcoming the natural man, I suppose, is overcoming this particular impulse. But those of us who lean toward the “fight” side of that pairing can be pretty tough to live with (and even dangerous in extreme circumstances).

3. Children are not highly predictable beings. Because they are constantly growing and learning, each day can be a new adventure for parents. For a dad who detests uncertainty, that can be particularly trying.
Section 121 actually offers a remedy, as well:

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;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (v. 41-42).

Of course as a parent, we sometimes need to offer correction. It’s part of our job, but even that requires the proper approach according to Section 121:

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;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (v. 43-44).

I’ve written about this before, but the sharpness of this verse, as taught by Theodore M. Burton, is the sharpness of a clear photograph, not the sharpness of a caustic acid. So we can offer clear correction, but that correction needs to be enveloped in enough love that our children know that our faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

There’s another thought that bears mentioning here. Our children have their agency. They will make bad choices. It is part of their earth-experience to do so. A friend of mine suggested that we should pray for our children to make their bad choices while they still live at home so that we are there to help teach them.

At some point, we are not responsible for the choices our children make – certainly by the time they are adults, but some might argue after age eight. We are responsible, as parents, to help our children feel the consequences of those choices so that they can learn right from wrong. In the end, however, our children will make their own choices.

I’ve been a parent for over 30 years, and my youngest child is 11, so we have a number of years to go before all our kids are out of the house. (We’ll never stop parenting, we’ve discovered, but the “away” parenting is very different from the day-to-day retail parenting of minor children.)

I’ve had some really great moments as a dad. And I’ve had some really bad ones. I can really understand Norbert’s suggestion that a father may be the biggest threat to his own family. Even a good, well-meaning father can make mistakes.

The good news is that the atonement extends to fathers, too. We can seek the forgiveness of our children if needed. We can repent. We can improve. We can take parenting classes. We can study. We can seek the help of a professional therapist if needed. We can listen to the counsel of our spouse. We can enjoy the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

As we approach the right behaviors in teaching our children, according to Section 121, there is a remarkable blessing available:

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (v. 46).
A good friend taught me that in his view, the greatest way that promise can be fulfilled is if our children (our everlasting dominion) come to us without compulsory means – that is that they want to be with us now and in the eternities.


  1. I think you did a really good job of showing how those parts of D&C applied to parents. The difficulty that you bring up is a very real one. Thanks for discussing it.

    I know when I was growing up, I really appreciated those times that my parents came to me and admitted they had been wrong or apologized for things they said. It helped me trust them more because it showed they could evaluate themselves and not just me.

  2. Michaela,

    Thanks for your comment!

    Some of my tenderest moments as a parent were when I made amends with my children over my mistakes as a dad.

  3. Great continuation of a great original post. It also made me stop and think deeply about myself - and that's an important thing.

    Also, amen to the tender moments thought. Apologies from parents are so needed - and so "unnatural".

  4. I think fathers are wonderful and necessary contributions to families, not threats to families.

  5. ji,

    I hope that your reading of the post confirms that I agree with you: when fathers follow the divine counsel to act out of love, being submissive their their Father in Heaven, they are an essential part of a successful family.

  6. Even when they aren't perfect, they are still an essential part of a successful family. Even when they don't understand or perfectly follow the divine counsel to act out of love, and even when they aren't fully submissive to their Father in Heaven, they are an essential part of a successful family.

    We don't say imperfect wives or imperfect children are dangers or threats to their families. Fatherhood is good and noble, inside and outside the Church. And imperfect fathers are usually better than no fathers at all. And it's so common but so unfair to label imperfect fathers as dangers or threats.

    The scriptures do tell husbands and fathers to submit to the Lord, and that is good counsel. The same scriptures tell wives to submit to the husbands and children to submit to their parents -- also good advice, but we always seem to stop short of condemning wives and children for not being perfect in this regard.

    Fatherhood is good and noble and approved of the Lord, both inside and outside the Church. As a general rule, fathers are a blessing to families.