Father's Day - my thoughts in talk

When Bro. McAfee first approached me about speaking in church I was in denial. That worked for a little while, considering my original assignment was pre-empted by Elder Garlock’s farewell address. For that reason alone I think every young man and young woman, as well as most of you couples need to serve missions. 

But then he gave me a new assignment to speak today. I was a little angry, because I had wanted to be in AZ with my sister this weekend. But that’s the problem with a roadtrip – there’s no change fee at the gas station.

Then earlier this week I transitioned into the bargaining stage. I actually tried to find a surrogate speaker in Addison. You see, she wants an iPod and she is looking for any and every opportunity to earn an extra buck to apply to her growing iPod fund - in fact, I haven’t changed many poopy diapers for over a week now. So sensing an opportunity I offered her $2/minute if she would give my talk today. After a couple of hours of quiet deliberation she realized that this talk was worth at least 24 poopy diapers and she agreed to speak on my behalf. But when she learned that she would also have to write the talk she wavered. It seems changing a couple dozen poopy diapers is more fun than giving a talk in sacrament meeting. On this matter either Addy has wisdom beyond her years, or I am incredibly immature because we definitely think alike.

With today being father’s day, I want to wish my perfect husband who is a perfect father to my above-average children a happy father’s day. I also need to thank him for agreeing to write this talk for me once he recognized that I was slipping into the depression stage. I am the only person I know who married better than Nate did. I also wish my own dad, who’s far away, and all of the dads here today a happy father’s day.

I want to start with a quick story. Many of you are familiar with the tale of Johnny Lingo. For those of you who aren’t, allow me to quickly review. Johnny Lingo was a young, handsome, successful man in the pacific islands. It was said that with his wealth and position he could have any woman he chose. Mahana was a homely girl whose father was very concerned he would never be able to marry her off. As per the society’s custom, marriages were arranged and agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s father. The father was paid a number of cows by the groom in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Rumor spread across the island that Johnny Lingo planned to seek Mahana’s hand in marriage. Mahana’s father was shocked that someone like Johnny would want his ugly Mahana for a wife. Others speculated that Johnny, being a shrewd negotiator, just wanted to get the cheapest wife possible. Mahana’s father decided to request 3 cows but, if necessary, to settle for just 1. The villagers joked that he would potentially have to pay cows to get Johnny to take her off his hands.

“Mahana, you ugly, get over here” wasn’t enough to draw a nervous and defeated girl out of the trees when Johnny arrived for the negotiation. No matter. Johnny immediately offered 8 cows. Mahana’s father was speechless, but agreeable.

With a gentle voice and kind words, Johnny persuaded Mahana to leave her home, and the island with him. Months later they returned and hosted her father in their new home. Mahana had transformed into a beautiful, confident, graceful woman – the woman Johnny had always saw her to be, and had allowed her to become through the way he treated her. Mahana’s father was flabbergasted, outraged - “You only paid 8 cows for a 10 cow woman!” he cried. A woman, that just months earlier, he was willing to give away for only a single cow.

I have always liked the Johnny Lingo story – maybe it’s because my childhood piano teacher played the role of “gossipy village woman #1” or because I had a friend whose name was unfortunately similar to Mahana, and as such, we had a good time teasing her. But, I was asked to speak on building strong fathers. Surprised? I shouldn’t joke because I have to admit I feel wholly inadequate standing up here, in the throes of giving a talk on building strong fathers, when of the potential fathers I’m raising, one still sleeps with a stuffed dog and a Mater night light, and the other still drinks out of a bottle and wears those previously mentioned poopy diapers.

In preparing for this talk, I looked to the scriptures for examples of strong fathers. The Book of Mormon is full of excellent examples. From Lehi we learn the importance of obedience to the commandments of God. Jacob taught Enos to pray with fervent honesty. King Benjamin counseled his children to provide for themselves. Alma is the perfect example of the unconditional love and hope a parent should always have for their child. Mormon, in his final days, taught Moroni to listen to the spirit and trust that Heavenly Father would direct his path.

As parents we have a sacred responsibility to the Lord to teach our children the gospel and to pray, to recognize the spirit, and to love the Savior. We have been counseled that by fulfilling these responsibilities we increase our children’s ability to withstand temptation and make righteous choices - such as serving a mission and living worthy to marry in the temple.

While preparing, I also spent a lot of time reflecting on my own experiences growing up (both then and as I continue to grow up even now), thinking about the lessons I learned from my own dad, from my father-in-law, and from watching Nate father my kids. From those, as well as the examples in the scriptures and the lessons of the gospel, I put together a list of 12 additional ideas for dads (and moms and grandpas and grandmas) on how to raise 10 cow daughters.

1. JUST LISTEN: When Addy was little, she loved the nursery rhyme “Baa, Baa black Sheep.” She also had a terrifying fear of bath tubs that we eventually learned stemmed from this nursery rhyme. “Baa baa black sheep have you any wool, yes sir yes sir 3 bags full, 1 for the master, 1 for the dame and 1 for the little boy who lives down the drain.” Yes, being sucked down the drain with the little boy can be very frightening. Young kids have fears and concerns that are often irrational. But to them they are very real. As a parent you don’t always need to solve their problems, explain them away, or even spin a bright side. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is to just listen. What she has to say matters and is worth hearing, even if it doesn’t always make sense. Just listening to her helps her gain and maintain self-worth. If you really try to hear them and understand them when they are young, they will be more likely to confide in you when they are older. If you marginalize their opinions or dismiss their fears or feelings they will eventually stop bringing them to you and instead they’ll find someone else to confide in.

2. SPEND TIME ONE-ON-ONE: Family home evening, family vacations, and dinnertime all serve as great bonding moments for the entire family. But group dynamics are always different and less emotionally intimate than one-on-one interactions. When I was 11 I traveled to Canada with my Dad while my siblings went to California with my mom. I remember feeling like my Dad’s world revolved around only me for a change – a feeling that even now as an adult I relish in. Spend time alone with your daughter to hear her individual voice. One-on-one you will experience a side of her that is available at no other time. And that will give both of you a deeper understanding, love, and respect for one another.

3. BE HER BIGGEST FAN: We are all busy and it is so easy to simply bring the kids along for the ride which is our own life. Instead, jump on the roller coaster that is her life. Whether it is art or dance, drama or basketball, your daughter will dabble or dive into a multitude of interests. Know her passions and become her biggest fan. Any lack of enthusiasm from you won’t go unnoticed. She is looking for your validation and approval – freely and genuinely give it. If you try hard enough, I promise that you can learn to appreciate almost anything your daughter loves, unless it’s the piccolo. Nate will never love the piccolo.

4. MAKE MEMORIES WORTH TRIGGERING: Have you ever noticed how certain sights, smells and sounds can trigger vivid memories? Whenever I go to Utah and stay in Nate’s grandma’s old room I can hear her laugh and feel her death-grip of a hug, even though she died almost 4 years ago. You can create similar memories for your daughter. While I recognize that boys and girls need to be treated differently, I caution you not to tie what you teach to gender. Just as your sons need to learn how to cook a meal, wash clothes, and iron a shirt, your daughters need to learn how to change a tire, drive a stick shift, and throw a ball. Trust me on this, years later when your daughter hears the smack of a ball hitting a glove, she will think of dad and remember special times talking and laughing while playing catch.

5. BE HANDS ON: When kids are young, dads provide the best physical, rough house play. But kids, and especially daughters, eventually grow out of wrestling on the floor with dad. As she grows your daughter will pull back, but don’t let that be an excuse to not be a hands on dad. A hug goodnight, a kiss on the forehead as you leave for work - your physical contact reminds her that you love her and that she is special. Don’t let her seeming apathy fool you. She notices and appreciates and needs your hug - even as she rolls her eyes.

6. SET HIGH EXPECTATIONS: Your daughter is a child of God and that defines her potential. You should have only the highest of expectations for her. Most of us only reach as high as we are expected to, so set the bar high. Obstacles and achievement work to build confidence. Challenge her to see a glimpse of what she is capable of becoming. But in the process, celebrate her progress, encourage her through setbacks, and assure her of your unconditional love. Don’t underestimate the impact of yours kind words and support.

7. TEACH HER TO WORK: Whether in the home or out, your daughter needs to know how to take care of herself. Don’t give her everything she wants, or everything she asks for. Instead, let her experience the struggle and satisfaction that comes from earning her own way. Help her to find value and take pride in learning to support herself. Teach her to manage her finances.

8. LET HER FAIL: Especially in today’s world, both boys and girls need to learn that actions have consequences. Let your daughter fail and learn to be accountable for her actions. Protecting her when she is young will only leave her more vulnerable when she is older.

9. SET LIMITS FOR HER: Kids make a lot of mistakes. And sometimes the best, the most “need to be heard” response, requires yelling - but not very often. In fact, as I’ve heard quoted, “Shouting to make your children obey is like using the horn to steer your car, and you get about the same results.” Psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim observed, “We become most upset with our children when we see in them aspects of our own personalities of which we disapprove.” That being said, your daughter needs limits and guidance. I can say from personal experience, there were times when the backbone I needed to stand up to my friends, to do what was right, came from being able to say, “I can’t do that, my dad would totally kill me.”

10. SET LIMITS FOR YOU: As a dad, you work hard to provide for your family. Chances are, you also work hard to provide for your ego. The rewards of professional accolades, pay increases, and promotions have a direct link to many dads’ self-worth - and that acknowledgement for career success can be relatively immediate. But keep in mind as you work the extra hours that you are passing on time with your family that you will never get back. In isolation, each missed meal, dance recital, or ballgame is relatively insignificant, but collectively they can change everything. Chances are, your kids will mess up most days. They will require your discipline, your patience, your time, your energy - and the rewards of that investment can be seemingly few and far between, taking much longer to materialize than many of the rewards of career. But I am confident that when you see your daughter on her wedding day, you will either be grateful for the strong relationship you have with one of the most remarkable people you have ever met, or you will wish that you had better savored that precious time when you were still the most important man in her life.

11. TELL HER WHAT SHE’S WORTH: Adolescence is full of struggles for every child. One day everything is perfect and wonderful, and then friends change, boys are mean, and you think everyone hates you. If one good friend can make all the difference in school, how much more of a difference can a deep, raw knowledge that you are valued above anything else to your dad make? Having a dad that loves you, that tells you are beautiful, that laughs with you, that knows you are smart, that believes in you – it might not make the hurt of the day go away, but it will help to keep it in perspective. It’s hard to fully value yourself when you question whether other people value you. So don’t let her question it. Tell her what she’s worth. Help her develop the confidence and self-respect that enables her to expect to be treated appropriately by everyone she comes in contact with. Just remember, she needs to hear all this before her world melts down because you’re unlikely to get credit for pep talks when she’s in the middle of a teenage girl crisis.

12. TREAT HER AS A DAUGHTER OF GOD: Your daughter is a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father. She needs to know that. Do your best to love her as her Father in heaven loves her. Love your wife. Your daughter will likely model an expectation for her own marriage relationship from what she witnesses in yours. Are you treating your wife the way you would want your daughter to be treated by her husband? Does she see her divine nature through the way you interact with her and with her mother? As her father, you are uniquely equipped to serve as the earthly example of your daughter’s relationship with her Heavenly Father.

I have covered a lot of points today and if you are like me, it will be hard to remember most of these by the end of the week. So if I could leave one encompassing thought it would be this, from Matthew Chapter 6 verse 21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

It is my testimony that our greatest happiness in this life will come from the emotionally intimate relationships we build with those we love. Treasure things of an eternal nature. Treasure your children with all of your heart. Make both the quantity and quality of the time you invest in them reflect the feelings of your heart. And if you do, you will receive some of the greatest treasures this life has to offer - plus 10 cows per daughter.


merathon said...

cecily-- that was a great talk! thanks so much for sharing it.

Robins Nest said...

This really was a great talk that you gave. I still think about it.