If there is an urgent need today in modern society, it is the need for better fathers. Somehow, active parenting by many fathers worldwide has slipped noticeably. While becoming increasingly common in the world's industrialized nations, the absence of fathers from their children's lives is magnifying societal ills worldwide.
Consider just a few sobering statistics: In America, one in five divorced fathers has not seen his children in the past year; more than half do not see them regularly - patterns that may be common to other countries. Fathers who do not see their children do not much feel like paying for their support; and failure to pay child support is a growing problem all over the Western world.Commenting on this trend, the British newsmagazine The Economist said in its May 18, 1996, issue: "To glimpse what a fatherless society looks like, try the American inner city, where . . . according to the national census, 90 percent or more of homes with children lack a father." Certainly, absentee fathers are not confined to just one race or to a single nation.
The role of father has changed over time in many cultures and societies. He still has the obligation to preside and provide, but his role now also extends to other spheres. Blessed is the man who can assume those family responsibilities, sharing the nurturing chores with his wife and teaching his children to make their way in the world.
In their proclamation on the family issued in 1995, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve declared: "Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities. 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 of their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."
They then have sobering words for those who fail in their family duties: "We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon the individual, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."
When it comes to fatherhood, who are your role models? Your own father? A grandfather? A friend's father? A priesthood leader?
Perhaps the best examples of fathers are contained in the scriptures. Father Lehi, King Mosiah, Alma the elder, Mormon. These Book of Mormon fathers had many traits in common. First, was their love of the Lord, their faith and faithfulness. They were committed to their families, teaching them the gospel, providing for their temporal and spiritual needs. They also served others outside their own family circle. These men did not shrink from their responsibilities. They were not absent, even though they were preaching, teaching and leading others.
President Spencer W. Kimball said: "Certainly, if fathers are to be respected, they must merit respect - if they are to be loved, they must be consistent, lovable, understanding and kind - and they must honor their priesthood. They must see themselves as fortunate trustees of precious spirit children whom God has entrusted to their care." ( Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 338.)
These Book of Mormon fathers exemplified that counsel. How are we doing in our own homes?
President Ezra Taft Benson had this counsel for fathers: "Once you determine that a high priority in your life is to see that your wife and your children are happy, you will do all in your power to do so. I am not just speaking of satisfying material desires, but of filling other vital needs such as appreciation, compliments, comforting, encouraging, listening and giving love and affection." (Conference Report, April 1981.)
As President Benson advised on another occasion: "As the patriarch in your home, you have a serious responsibility to assume leadership in working with your children. You must help create a home where the Spirit of the Lord can abide. Your place is to give direction to all family life." (Conference Report, October 1987.)
Fatherhood is a sacred responsibility. A father's presence and influence is extremely important. If we follow the counsel given to fathers by the Lord through His prophets, we will be able to fulfill that sacred trust.