I am dedicating this post to my step-father Jerry Iverson who passed away June 7th, a little over a week before Father’s Day, and who’s funeral was held today. His life was the embodiment of many of the principles outlined below, especially the central theme of unconditional love. He loved his darling daughter, step-children, and grand-children without condition. He spent time with them, he cared for them, worried about them and loved them. I never heard a negative word pass his lips about anyone, including those he knew so very well. I will miss him but I’m sure my mother is delighted to be reunited with him after a short absence. They absolutely adored each other. Jerry, I am so appreciative of everything you did for mom and our family. You are one of the good ones. I am honored and blessed to have known you. God speed and Aloha.
On Father’s Day, June 16th 2013, I heard one of the best talks on fatherhood and parenting in general at church. I asked the speaker and friend, Pat White if I could get a copy and share it with my blog readers. He graciously said yes. Please note, some of the references included are from LDS scriptures that you may not be familiar with but they teach universal principles.
Pat started his talk by sharing a story told to him by one of his daughters.
“I just finished my first year of teaching. Words can hardy describe how amazing this year has been with my little ones.
On our last day of school I talked to them about how they all were special and that they should never forget it. I made them come up one by one and pinky promise that they would never forget how special they were. It started out with the children giggling, thinking I was so silly. But the room quickly silenced as I softly held each one of their little faces and looked them in the eye and said ‘You are special. Don't you ever forget it.’ It was the loudest silence I ever heard – each child bursting with the knowledge and pride that they were special. It was an amazing moment we shared together in our little classroom that truly cumulated our year together.”
My daughter knows that all of those children’s prospects for a good life are not the same. But she also knows that heavenly father loves them! She wanted them to have a vision of their worth and their ability to do good things.
I like to believe that Heavenly Father had the same moment with us before sending us to our mortal life. He held our faces and said “You are special, don’t ever forget it”.
I have been a lot of things so far in my life: baby, child, teenager (a pretty obnoxious one), Presbyterian (the hardest requirement was to be able to spell it) , new convert, missionary, returned missionary, student, Scribe (one who tries to determine what all the rules are), Pharisee (one who tries to enforce those rules), and sinner. I have even been a Zoramite (a member of an ancient group of people who felt they were better than everyone else – they stood on a raised platform called a Rameumpton and recited the following prayer “we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; … ; we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children;” – see Alma 31:13-23). Most importantly I’m a son, husband, brother, friend, father, and grandfather.
As I reflect on being a father today I am grateful that I have had this opportunity. I hope that I have sufficiently appreciated this blessing, and the role that my children and I play in one another’s lives.
In Alma 39-42 Alma teaches his wayward son Corianton about relationships.
“Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; …” Alma 41:14
This principle is also taught in D&C 11: 12
“And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.”
If we believe anything about the gospel, then we should believe that of all the people that we should love unconditionally, and deal justly and righteously with, and do good to, our families are first and foremost (and then we try to love everyone else in the world just as much).
I recognize that this day is not a happy one for some. There are those who would have welcomed children into their lives and have not been able to do so. There are those who may not feel good about the type of father they have been. There are those who have not had fathers in their lives, or who have had fathers that did not have a positive role in your life, who were not gentle, or kind, or nurturing. One of the great miracles in life is that regardless of where we have come from, we can choose our own path going forward. We can choose to love unconditionally, the way that Heavenly Father loves.
So for you, I hope that today is a reminder that YOU can break bad cycles, you can break the mold, you can make a positive difference in others lives.
Instead of talking only to fathers or about fathers today, I would like to share some of thoughts about ways to improve our relationships that apply to all of us. One of the few advantages of aging is that you have had more time to make mistakes, often over and over again, and hopefully learned from them. I don’t pretend to be any better person than you; and most of you have learned these same things. These are just observations and lessons that I have experienced in my life, through trial and error, as a friend, a son, a brother, a husband, and a father.
When I was a teenager my father did a lot of things that I thought were unfair and uncalled for. As I got older my dad seemed to get smarter. As an adult and as a husband and father when I learned more about his life I became more understanding and forgiving of him.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
- Ask your parents/grandparents about their lives growing up.
For example, I learned the following late in life about my parents (I wish I had taken the time to learn about them much earlier):
- Mom – my mom was a Rosie the Riveter – she put together the instrument panels on B-25 bombers. Last year at an air show some men who owned a B-25 found out about my mom and invited her to come see the plane. They hoisted my 87 year old mom up into the plane and let her sit in the cockpit and then put her in a gunners chair and took her for a ride!
- Dad – When dad was 13 his mom went to visit her sister in the summer, and never came back. The next year his dad left and my dad was boarded out. His dad paid for his room and food. My dad had to work for any clothes or school fees or spending money. That helps me understand a lot.
- Whatever I think my spouse or children or parents are thinking is usually completely wrong; not even close to reality
We need to learn how to really LISTEN, to our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends. We can’t assume that we know what they are thinking and feeling, even if we have experienced something similar. The sum total of our life experience is different from anyone else’s. We need to ask, and then not talk … just listen very carefully, without judging or interrupting. This can be really difficult in today’s society. We have to turn off the iPod, the TV, the cell phone, and stop texting, tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, Tumbling, Angry Birding, Mine Crafting, — put aside whatever we are doing and listen and be mindful, fully present in the moment.
Getting my own way when I was single and living on my own was selfish, getting my own way in a family is unrighteous dominion.
NEVER, EVER throw your teenage daughters new clothes over the backyard fence, even if she refuses to clean the kitchen
I should apologize; even if I don’t think I was wrong AND I should never say, I am sorry, BUT …
I am not perfect, I am wrong way more often than I think I am, and I should admit when I am wrong.
This is one of the greatest teaching tools we have with our families. Since we are not perfect, we make mistakes. It is how we deal with our own mistakes that teaches our children.
So when we overreact, lose our temper, are impatient, insensitive, unfair, ignorant, inconsiderate, inconsistent, judgmental or just plain WRONG;
- Say nothing
- Hold our ground rather than admit we were wrong
- Make excuses
- Blame something or someone else
When we do these things we teach our family to be selfish, to be stubborn, to defer accountability, that it is not their fault, that someone or something else is to blame for their behavior. …
Or we can apologize. We need to be sincere, we need to ask for forgiveness and have an open, heartfelt talk about whatever it was.
When we do this, we teach family members to be humble, accountable for their own behavior and actions, and to have a desire to make things right.
There is a big difference between what God expects of us and what we think God expects of us.
By the time our children are 8 they know if WE are following what THEY are being taught.
Relationships are hard work!
There IS no such thing as constructive criticism!
Positive reinforcement works better!
I am not the boss, I am an equal partner. The priesthood does not give me the deciding vote.
You can love someone all of the time and not like them some of the time AND You CAN love someone unconditionally.
Some years ago I attended a seminar presented by a psychologist who specialized in helping troubled teens. After his presentation he opened a question and answer discussion. After quite a few questions he commented that everyone was basically asking the same thing over and over again:
- How can I make ________ be the way I want them to be?
- How can I make my child want to go to church?
- How can I make my spouse more spiritual?
His response was always the same: You can’t. You can only love them with all your heart, and hope that they do the right things. If they know that you love them unconditionally, like the Savior does, they may have the desire to change. But you can’t change them, you can only change yourself. Love them. Love them. Love them.
Let my family be themselves, even when its different from me
All of us come to earth with some of our own personality traits and interests. We had a choice with our spouse; we had a chance to get to know them before we got married, we chose to marry them. With children we get to discover their personalities along the way. Their likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses - after they have become part of our family.
It is easy to be supportive of family members when they are interested in the same things that we are, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. We need to be invested and supportive of family members in whatever good things they choose, whether it is something that WE would choose or not.
Do good unto others:
- Don’t do to reciprocate
- Don’t do for a reward
- Don’t do as penance
- Do because you love them and want to serve them and want them to be happy
I can’t pick and choose which principles and programs in the church I will follow.
There are many activities that compete for our attention and attendance. Family, church, school, friends and extracurricular activities. We are taught that family and church come first but it is easy to let activities/hobbies outside the home run our lives.
When we as parents allow activities outside family and church to come first, by choosing them over family home evening, mutual, and ward or stake activities, and allow our children to do the same, we send a message that you can choose which aspects of the gospel you will follow. It starts with the simple things like firesides or mutual, but in later years when attending Sunday school, Relief Society, Priesthood, the Temple or church in general becomes challenging or difficult, our children often choose not to participate.
Expecting full participation in family and church activities creates better attendance, which makes the activities better, which encourages more people to attend, which strengthens testimonies.
I have never heard a young person who is struggling in life comment that if they had only spent more time in “extracurricular activities” and less time with the family, things would be better.
Don’t tease family members
Think about the different response you would get to these two similar statements. Have a cookie, they are good EVEN THOUGH my wife made them versus have a cookie, they are good BECAUSE my wife made them.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
When your spouse or another family member does things that bother you, you really need to ask yourself how important it is. Does it affect their eternal welfare? OR is it something that is just different that what you like? SCIFI movies….
Children can easily play you against each other… Be consistent and unified
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: GOD LOVES US UNCONDITIONALLY!
When we are children we have these wonderful songs that tell us that Heavenly Father loves us, and we believe that without question. Then as we get older and learn right from wrong it seems to get more difficult to believe that He loves us. We start thinking that since we are not perfect, we are bad, and since we are bad, no one loves us, not even Heavenly Father.
We then notice that other people are different from us. They have different hair, clothes, vocabularies, social status, religious beliefs, habits, and we think that they must be bad and we shun them or treat them indifferently or are afraid of them. We treat them like Heavenly Father does not love them.
Heavenly Father has given us commandments (some people call them principles, or the plan of happiness). These principles are to help us be successful and happy. They DO NOT determine whether or not He loves us, or how much He loves us. He always loves us.
I have had a number of experiences in my life, particularly in the last few years, where I absolutely know that Heavenly Father loves me, my children and you, each and every one of you! I have a child who has chosen not to share in the values that my wife and I hold dear. This was very difficult for me and caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety. Between wondering where I had failed and worrying about my child’s future I was paralyzed emotionally and spiritually for a long time. After trying everything I could think of – more fasting, more prayer, more temple attendance, better home evenings, better scripture study, blessings, help from church leaders, professional counseling – I was completely defeated. Finally I just prayed and said “I don’t know what to do about my child. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know how to fix this. What do I do?” And very clearly I felt Heavenly Father say to me, “Just love him, I do.”
So if you remember nothing else from this talk today, please remember this:
HEAVENLY FATHER LOVES YOU!
He loves those who are faithful and strong. He loves those who are struggle and have weaknesses. He loves those who read the scriptures every day, those who play with face cards, who have tattoos, who struggle with drugs or alcohol. He loves you if you are popular; He loves you if you are not. He loves you if you have your natural hair color or if your hair is purple or pink or blue or straight or curly or spiked. He loves you if your parents are both church members, or if they are not. He loves you whether you make good grades or not, whether you made the student council or not. He loves you no matter what your skin color is. He loves you if you have a great accent or if you stutter. He loves you if you are married or single. He loves you if you are rich, poor, sophisticated, redneck, Mormon, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Muslim, Saved Christian, atheist, straight or gay,
HE LOVES YOU!
So for everyone here today please remember that you have a Father, a Heavenly Father, who loves you unconditionally, and will never fail you.
Now for FATHERS, whatever we have done in the past, starting today, let us make our families our foremost hobby and do everything we can to make their lives better. Support them, encourage them, validate them, strengthen them, respect them, play with them, listen to them, be their champion, honor them, love them unconditionally -- and in all ways serve them,
This is my prayer; in the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.