Guest Post: “The Only Thing the World Understands Less than Motherhood”

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From my wife’s talk in church this Father’s Day:

Good morning, everyone, and happy Father’s Day. For those who don’t know me, my name is Nyssa Silvester, and my husband, Neal, and I moved into the ward less than three months ago. Since this is the first time many of you have seen me, please permit me to give you a quick introduction to our family.

Neal and I grew up separately in California, less than two hours apart from each other. My cousins even lived in his small hometown, so I’m convinced that we spent several Thanksgivings and Christmases dining and celebrating not two minutes from each other, though we didn’t know it at the time.

We met each other in Provo, Utah, where I was attending BYU and where Neal had moved to start the next phase of his life. After what I’ll call a “Utah-length courtship,” we got married and five years later had our wonderful daughter Dagny. When she was just two months old, we moved across the country, here to Ohio, to start a new job and provide a new life for her. I’ve heard it said that no one really moves to Cleveland, but we love it here so far.

I’ve been privileged this year to see Neal become a father. I’ve seen him carry more responsibilities on his shoulders and stand up straighter for it. I’ve seen him become simultaneously stronger and more tender as he takes care of our young daughter. So I’m grateful to speak to you today about something I have a new perspective on–fatherhood.

Specifically, I’ve been asked to talk about Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk from the most recent general conference, which he called simply “Fathers.” I think the title of the talk is so broad because there is so much to cover on this topic. After all, perhaps the only thing the world understands less than motherhood is fatherhood.

If the world tragically underestimates the importance of a mother’s role, they at least seem to understand what mothers at their best can do. Celebrities and young children alike confidently say that their mothers are their heroes. They understand the depth of a mother’s love and the sacrifices mothers make for their children.

On the other hand, how does the world view fathers? As Elder Christofferson points out, media and entertainment outlets frequently depict fathers as “bumblers and buffoons or ‘the guys who cause problems.’” Fatherhood is so mischaracterized and misunderstood that when a father stays home to take care of his children, many men and women alike would say that he is babysitting instead of parenting.

We clearly know that this portrayal of fatherhood is false, because we can look to our Heavenly Father as an example. Could you ever picture Heavenly Father as the typical sitcom dad? As a parent tasked merely with babysitting us while we’re on earth? Absolutely not–and that’s how we know that the world has it wrong.

So what should fathers be doing instead? Truthfully, surpassing the world’s vision of fatherhood is not hard, but here’s how President Dieter F. Uchtdorf describes how to be a good father in this month’s First Presidency Message: “Two of the most important roles fathers have in the lives of their children are those of being a good example and a mentor. Fathers do more than tell their children what is right or wrong. . . . Fathers mentor their precious children and show by their good example the way an honest life is lived.”

Essentially, President Uchtdorf says that the father’s role is to be a role model. Just as we look to our Heavenly Father as an example of divine parenthood, our children should be able to look at their fathers and see honorable men they can strive to emulate. Jesus said, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (John 8:38). As parents, we should be demonstrating every day what we want our children to learn.

Further, The Family: A Proclamation to the World tells fathers the most important spheres to excel in–the areas where fathers can best serve as role models: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Today, I’d like to focus on the providing part of the father’s role

Because of Neal’s and my career paths and temperaments, we decided that I would to join the workforce while Neal stays at home with our daughter and works on his books. I don’t claim to understand all the challenges that fathers go through, but I do know how hard breadwinning can be. If you work a traditional job, every hour you work is an hour away from your family, and even at the best jobs, it can be painful to leave your children, drive to an office, and give your valuable time on earth to an employer–not to mention the effects that too much time away from home could have on your children.

Church leaders understand the challenges that come from the workforce. In his talk, Elder Christofferson says, “Breadwinning is a consecrated activity. Providing for one’s family, although it generally requires time away from the family, is not inconsistent with fatherhood–it is the essence of being a good father. ‘Work and family are overlapping domains.’”

Let’s take a closer look at that word: consecrated. In a general conference address from 2010, Elder Christofferson defined consecration “to set apart or dedicate something as sacred, devoted to holy purposes.” And honest work can be sacred, as evidenced by how often it appears in the scriptures, from Adam and Eve earning bread by the sweat of their brow to Zenos’s extended allegory of the laborers in the vineyard. But I think that part of Elder Christofferson’s message is that we must consecrate our work because it takes us away from our family so much. If we spend that much time away from our family, which is the most important part of our earth life, we must have a good reason–an eternal reason–for doing so.

For many fathers and other breadwinners, this time away from family can seem overwhelming. Between a standard full-time job and getting enough sleep to function, you lose about half of the time you could spend with your spouse and children–and that’s not to say anything about church callings, everyday errands, and other responsibilities. Similar to how Abraham was commanded to lay Isaac upon the altar, being a breadwinner can feel like we’re offering up our children in the form of our time with them, the fleeting years we have with them as children, hoping that we can still come home to their love and affection.

But, as with Abraham, Heavenly Father provides us our own ram in the thicket: although we spend time away from the house, if we consecrate our labor, our children can feel the blessings.

A story from Elder Christofferson’s talk illustrates this idea. He says, “I myself was blessed with an exemplary father. I recall that when I was a boy of about 12, my father became a candidate for the city council in our rather small community. He did not mount an extensive election campaign–all I remember was that Dad had my brothers and me distribute copies of a flyer door to door, urging people to vote for Paul Christofferson. There were a number of adults that I handed a flyer to who remarked that Paul was a good and honest man and that they would have no problem voting for him. My young boy heart swelled with pride in my father. It gave me confidence and a desire to follow in his footsteps. He was not perfect–no one is–but he was upright and good and an aspirational example for a son.”

Though I’m sure Elder Christofferson spent many joyful days and evenings with his father, this moment of fatherhood happened in Paul Christofferson’s absence. All the time that Paul spent working and developing his character came together for the good of his son, who learned from Paul’s example. By consecrating our labor, we do more than bring home money: we leave a legacy of integrity and dignity for our children to inherit. Through this consecrated work, fathers become the role models their children need.

At this point, you may naturally wonder how to consecrate your work. If you’ll excuse an extended quote, Elder Christofferson addressed this point well:

A consecrated life is a life of labor. Beginning early in His life, Jesus was about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:48–49). God Himself is glorified by His work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). We naturally desire to participate with Him in His work, and in so doing, we ought to recognize that all honest work is the work of God. In the words of Thomas Carlyle: “All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven.”

God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion. I recall the Prophet Joseph Smith’s simple statement: “By continuous labor [we] were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance” (Joseph Smith—History 1:55). By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the mortal experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.

I would add that I believe that honest work only becomes consecrated if we do it for the right reasons. For my part, I think the reasons for hard work come in “good, better, and best” varieties. A good reason to work hard might be that we enjoy it. I work in sales, so it’s all too easy to work hard only for the rush of competition. It’s good to enjoy my work, but I might lose sight of the why behind it. A better reason for hard work could be the satisfaction of performing a job well. This motivation adds to our integrity, guiding us to give our best, even when we don’t enjoy our work that day. But the best reason for hard work is consecration: to develop our spirits, provide for our families, and set a good example for our children.

As for my own experience of consecrating my labor, I’ve found it helpful to take a couple minutes after every meeting to sit alone and think of my family and the spiritual meaning of work. I will also, whenever possible, call Neal during my lunch break so I can talk to him and our daughter during the day. With these small efforts, even my time away from my family becomes an opportunity to bond with them through work consecrated for their good.

Of course, while you’re with your children, be doting fathers. Be the man who rocks sick children to sleep, who shows up for soccer games and ballet recitals, and who your daughters can rely on when they need you to buy tampons in the middle of the night. But also remember that part of parenting is what we do when our children aren’t around–when we labor honestly, conduct ourselves with integrity, and develop wisdom through living the gospel, we are also being good parents, the parents that God has called us to be.

Remember that God may not always be with us in the flesh, the way He was with Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. But we have His example through our doctrine, His words and wisdom through the scriptures, and His conscience through the Holy Ghost. Earthly fathers can leave their children with similar gifts to guide them through this world.

It’s not easy to give your all at a job and then be an active parent at home–believe me, I know that after long days at work, it can be hard to muster up the energy for a midnight feeding or another game of Candyland. But Christ’s Atonement can make us equal to these challenges. He promises, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” On the longest days, may that promise see us through, so we can give every sphere of our lives the attention it deserves.

Though we haven’t met everyone in the ward, we thank you for the examples you’re setting for your kids and for us. I wish you all a happy Father’s Day today, and I pray that on Monday, to paraphase Nephi, we can continue to spend our labor on that which does satisfy: our quest for eternal life and a bright future for our children. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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