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4 Ways to Become a Better Father (from the Life of David O. McKay)

The following is an excerpt from No Other Success: The Parenting Practices of David O. McKay by Mark D. Ogletree.

To connect with a child is “to form healthy lasting attachments with a child” (Dollahite, Hawkins, and Brotherson, “Fatherwork: A Conceptual Ethic of Fathering as Generative Work,” 32). A father cannot connect with his children unless he understands his children and seeks to meet their needs. Successful fathers establish bonds with their children by doing things with them. Moreover, “Father-child relationships are strengthened when fathers competently respond to a child’s needs” (Dollahite, Hawkins, and Brotherson, “Narrative Accounts, Generative Fathering, and Family Life Education,” in The Methods and Methodologies of Qualitative Family Research, 362). When there is connection between fathers and their children, there is also the opportunity to influence, teach, and guide them. A father who has no relationship with his children will have little ability to influence them for good or teach them the things that matter. David O. McKay was a father who was connected to his children both emotionally and spiritually. The deep connection he had with his children serves as an example to all fathers on how to build strong parent-child relationships.

Connection through Emulation

President McKay observed, “Children are more influenced by sermons you act than by the sermons you preach” (Conference Report, April 1955, 26). Indeed, strong fathers will recognize that how they live is their most powerful sermon. Since children are always watching, how a father acts is much more significant than what he preaches or teaches. Usually, evidence of a strong, healthy relationship between a father and his children is emulation. Most of us want to be like the people we love and admire. Emulation implies admiration and relationship, and David’s children wanted to be just like him. He taught, “Our debt to our parents is unpayable except in one way, and that is by emulating their ideals and bringing joy to them in their old age” (“The True Meaning of Loyalty,” Instructor, February 1962, 37).

For example, one of David’s young sons was visiting the home of his grandfather. It was springtime, and workmen occupied the home as they were cleaning the house and hanging wallpaper. A particular workman asked the young McKay, “When you are a man, would you like to be a painter and paper-hanger?” Without any hesitation, the child answered, “No, sir.” The workman then asked, “Then what would you like to be?” The boy promptly responded, “I should like to be a ‘Twelve Apostle’” [Jeanette Morrell, Highlights in the Life of President David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 42]. Obviously, this young boy looked up to his father, who at the time was serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Connection with Humor

Another way through which a father can connect with his children is with humor. A successful father will not take himself too seriously. Moreover, he will create a fun, enjoyable, happy atmosphere in the home. David O. McKay loved to laugh, and he forged family relationships through the medium of humor. Daughter Lou Jean recalled: “Father was not at all serious. . . . He was fun at the dinner table. When I was at the University, Father would come home for dinner. He wanted a happy dinner, no sad stories. At the office, he would get a Scottish joke. He would come home and have us laughing. He wanted us to be happy. When he came home, he played games with us. We loved that. We loved our father, he was such a darling with us. He wasn’t strict. He taught us lessons. He meant what he said and we obeyed him” (L. J. M. Blood, interview by Mary Jane Woodger, 8 August 1995).

Lawrence remembered that his father always seemed to have a humorous story to tell, but he was careful not to use humor inappropriately, especially at the expense of another family member. However, there was one exception to this rule. When the family was in Huntsville one summer, David sent Lawrence out to the garden to get a head of lettuce. Instead, Lawrence returned with a head of cabbage. His father said, “That’s not the only cabbage head you brought back” (David L. McKay, interview by Gordon Irving, James Moyle Oral History Program, Salt Lake City, January–May 1984, 41). Lawrence may have been the only one not laughing after that.

Even when President McKay became older, his humor never left him. Lawrence had shoveled some snow off the walks at the cottage in Huntsville. As he was assisting his father down the sidewalk, President McKay slipped, bumped into Lawrence, and took them both down like bowling pins. Both President McKay and Lawrence were laughing hysterically. Lawrence said, “Father was like a boy in his ability to enjoy such things” (McKay, My Father, David O. McKay, 73).

President McKay once taught, “The dearest possession a man has is his family. In the divine assurance that family ties may transcend the boundaries of death, and may continue throughout endless ages of eternity, I find supreme consolation and inspiration” (Llewelyn McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay, 213). David certainly treated his children as his dearest possessions. He must have believed that laughing together was one way to make lasting memories.

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