At a recent sacrament meeting, young women spoke about their fathers. I reflected on my childhood and realized I couldn’t give such a talk. I was not raised with a father. I was the youngest of a family of six all raised by a single mother. During my reflection, I realized I have joy because of four tender mercies God gave to a fatherless boy.
The first tender mercy is not being constrained by traditional roles. In my childhood, men/fathers and women/mothers had very rigid roles. Men were breadwinners and women were homemakers. Mothers were nurturers and fathers were disciplinarians. On rare occasions, dads would share advice. However, in my case my mother was my everything. She worked very hard to give us a home and food on the table. She was the one who fixed broken bikes. She was the one who gave me “fatherly” advice. As an adult, I realize how difficult her task was. She was either always working or supporting us at home. I think this cloud had a silver lining. I learned that a person can develop many different qualities. I never felt constrained to live the roles society placed on males or females. I learned such roles are situational based rather than gender based. Even today, I fulfill roles based on the need rather than by a predefined role.
The second tender mercy was the opportunity to build a personal relationship with Heavenly Father as a child and youth. No matter how great my mom was, I still yearned for a father. Since I didn’t have a father at the time (I met my father in my early thirties), I turned to the father I had. My prayers became deeper because I was seeking advice from God like one would from their earthly father. The hymn “Oh, My Father” brought me great comfort. I developed a testimony early of a loving Heavenly Father looking over me and guiding my growth. At eighteen, I received my Patriarchal Blessing. To this day, I cherish it as my letter from my father much like a lonely college student cherishes emails from home. It is a great blessing to know that I have a father who is unchanging, who is in my corner, and is keeping me safe – physically and spiritualty.
The third tender mercy occurred throughout my life. Even though I had a strong relationship with my Father in Heaven, I still needed to learn how to be a man on earth. Being raised without a father gave me the opportunity to observe others and incorporate their good qualities into my life. The first person was my friend’s father who was strong and stable. Two qualities I was lacking. Thank you, Mr. Henry (you never called adults by their first name in my childhood). As I grew, I became grateful for schoolteachers (e.g., Mr. Ken Zenger, Mr. Brooke Noall). Priesthood leaders (e.g., Bishop Hedgepeth, President Wonacott of the England Bristol Mission, A priest quorum advisor in the Arbor ward). And as an adult, good friends and family (e.g., Lynn, Jerry, Sheldon, and Ed) came into my life. Men like these provide role models for fatherless kids like me.
While on my mission, I used another source to get fatherly advice. In 1974, Deseret Book published a book titled “My Dear Son,”. It was compilation of letters written by Brigham Young to his sons edited by Dean Jesse. Throughout my mission, I would read the letters pretending that were written to me.
A final source for me (good and bad) are the men/fathers on TV. Now, I was lucky being a child of the sixties. I had great TV men to learn from – Sheriff Andy Taylor, Rob Petrie and Jed Clampett. I shudder to think of growing up later with men/fathers like Al Bundy or Raymond Romano or Homer Simpson. Such men are pictured as deceivers, manipulators, buffoons, or just plain dumb. Can you image your children, or your grandchildren being raised by Al Bundy? We need to see more real men/fathers on TV and in the movies.
A fourth tender mercy came while serving as a bishop. Because of my background, I related to many who came into my office. I understood the pains of a family living in poverty. I related to the worries of a single mother as she spoke of her wayward son. I related with youth who didn’t feel like they belonged. I understood how you feel when you have more downs than ups. Most importantly, I could talk about a brighter future. That such situations are not dream killers. The dreams just take more time or more work. No one is stuck in a situation because of their non-ideal family upbringing.
If I ponder some more, I am sure I will come with other Godly blessings. All of this reminds that God provides opportunities to grow like him. What are your thoughts? Do agree with me? Disagree with me? I look forward to our dialogue.