29 June 2017

Being a Committed and Present as a Parent

The following is a talk I gave at my church on June 18, 2017.

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Father's day is a confusing day for me. Our early years are foundational for each and every one of us. That when I think of fathers day, I flashback to kindergarten and grade one. I can see my friends and classmates excitedly working on crafts for their fathers, while I  am awkwardly making another "mothers day" craft. But then I come to the present and think of the wonderful handmade crafts that my children made for me, and the hugs, kisses and laughs this morning, and I am filled with joy.

Unfortunately though, my every day work-life reinforces and confirms my early years experience, and my perceptions of fatherhood. I co-facilitate a parenting program for parents of children aged 0-6. Since September 2014 we have had 61 participants in the group, and only six of those have been dads. Then I think of my clients, several of them are in care, and many of them come from broken homes where a dad is not present or available. I then take this negative reinforced view and apply it to the world around me, which isn't such a great thing to do.

I have, and continue to fact check my perception, and it is incorrect. In 1986, according to Statistics Canada, one out of two dads were involved at home. This number has increased to two out of three dads in 2015. Plus, the recent East Kootenay Addictions Survey on East Kootenay youth indicated that 64% of youth live with both birth parents. So my perception is obviously wrong, and I need to adjust it.

But what makes this Fathers Day particularly confusing for me is that it is the first Fathers Day since my birth father passed away from alcoholism last summer. A man that I have not seen since I was younger than my own children. I have from him a letter that he wrote on a type-writer that I have had with me since as long as I can remember. One piece that continuously sticks out to me is how he ends the letter, "Live long and prosper" - so I know where I get my nerdiness from. In the letter though, he says that he loves me three times. As a child this was confusing, because if you loved me, wouldn't you be around to be my father.

This makes me think of a program that I am involved in at work where we support children and youth who have complex trauma and disrupted attachment history, we are intentionally encouraging caregivers of these children to use the word committed instead of love. While commitment is a part of love, it's not always present when some says I love you. Because when we have children, it is a commitment.

President Monson stated the following: "Perhaps when we face our maker, we will not be asked 'how many positions did you hold?' But rather 'how many people did you help?"

Elder Oaks added to this by saying: "A familiar example of losing ourselves in the service of others is the sacrifice parents make for their children. Mothers suffer pain and loss of personal priorities and comforts to bear and rear each child. Fathers adjust their lives and priorities to support a family."

That is commitment.

I would like to address a couple of ways that Satan tries to destroy the family, or at least make us less effective in rearing children. Which by the way, are spirit children, just like us, to Heavenly Father.

First I would like to focus briefly on Contention.

I recently conducted a survey on over 1,000 divorced members. The top two reasons for divorce were: emotional abuse and infidelity. Next were related to growing apart. (Did you know couples know each other the most at two years and one month, and then the least at 40 years and 11 months).

In the For Strength of Youth we read: "Strong families require effort.... Be cheerful, helpful, and considerate of family members. Many problems in the home come from family members speaking and acting selfishly and unkindly. Seek to be a peacemaker rather than to tease, fight, and quarrel."

President Ezra Taft Benson also said:  "A father’s duty is to make his home a place of happiness and joy. He cannot do this when there is bickering, quarreling, contention or unrighteous behavior. The powerful effect of righteous fathers in setting an example, disciplining and training, nurturing and loving is vital to the spiritual welfare of his children. "

Next let's talk a little about Pride.

Of those divorced members that I surveyed, nearly one third refused to seek any professional help.

Pride, to me, is also known as a white knight on a white horse syndrome, the desire to not be weak. Brene Brown, a guru on shame and vulnerability, shared the following experience:

"I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. It wasn't until a man looked at me after a book signing, and said, "I love what say about shame, I'm curious why you didn't mention men." And I said, "I don't study men." And he said, "That's convenient."

And I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?" I said, "Yeah." "They'd rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down.""

I sometimes feel that this type of perspective is reinforced accidentally when fathers read The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It states that "fathers are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families." It's easy to see the draw of the white horse when that one part is the only section on fatherhood cited. When in actuality, it later says that fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. That means dads can and should help in the nurturing of children. Think of it like a board or video game, this is often what I tell dads, that your primary weapon is to provide and protect, your secondary weapon is to nurture.

Elder Ballard said: "There is no other relationship quite like that which can and should exist between a boy [and I would also add daughter] and their dad."

Which leads me to my next item, Relationships.

In a ground breaking study with baby rhesus monkeys, scientists put two wire moms in a cage with the baby monkey. One mom was just wire and food, the other was covered in soft material. The hypothesis at the time was that the baby would spend more time with the mom that had food. Which was incorrect, the baby spent the most time with the comfortable mother than the one with the food. And would only eat when really hungry.

Brain research is showing that in order to build healthy brains, healthy emotional relationships are needed.

A scriptural example that I can think of that addresses this principal is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke when a father brings his son to be healed, and I will be bouncing between the three gospels in recounting this moment. I should note that in each of the Gospel's they have a slightly different diagnosis for the son, from lunatic to sick - either way, this boys brain is in need of help.

In the scriptures we read:

There came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying: Lord, have mercy on my son.

Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child.

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

And straightway the father cried out, Lord, I believe. (Not wanting to fall off the white horse. That desire to be a protector and not be weak) [The saviour sees through this, and the Father says] Help thou my unbelief (the father looses his pride, and becomes vulnerable)

Jesus then took the boy by the hand, lifted him up and he was healed.

Every time I read this, I think of how committed this father was to his son to have him healed by the Savior.

Lastly, is parenting in the moment, and some of the distractions that get in the way.

There was this husband and wife therapist combo, Fritz and Laura Perls that developed a psychotherapy called Gestalt Therapy, which simply put, it emphasizes personal responsibility in the the experience of the moment. It at times is a very annoying approach because the therapist points out everything that is happening in the moment for the client, "you keep tapping your fingers against the chair" "do you notice that your bouncing your leg" "how come you keep looking to the side of the room" "you are fidgeting again" "your face is scrunched" and so on, and tries to help the client find ownership for what is happening in the moment.

Now while this therapy did not establish and is neither the foundation for mindfulness, truly living in the moment, it was the start of the movement or realization of how humans tend to live passively, not owning what happens in the moment. Plus, that we focus more on what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future, instead of being present right now.

While focusing on the past tends to lean towards a type of depressed or sadness type personality, and a focus on the future is closer to a fear or anxiety type personality - I don't want to get too much into that mental health component - but rather that while more parents than ever are engaged in parenting, they are even more likely to be distracted or disengaged from the moment, most often by technology.

Everyone knows that I like technology, and I do believe it has a place in our modern world. But because of my fondness of tech, when Elder Ballard spoke last September about technology at a regional devotional and mentioned Pokemon Go, I heard a lot about this talk. (Interestingly, when you start typing Elder Ballard into Google, Pokemon Go is the recommended autocomplete - which means Elder Ballard and Pokemon Go are a commonly searched topic.)

Elder Ballard said: "Now someone has found one more way to keep family members occupied away from what matters most,” Elder Ballard continues. “It’s something called ‘Pokemon Go.’ I don’t understand this, and don’t ask me anything about it. I just know one thing is that young people, and maybe a lot of old people, they look down on their smartphones, trying to find Pokemon, I guess, instead of looking up to see the beautiful creations of God’s wonderful world"

Just think about this quote for a moment. While most were quick to blame Pokemon Go, understandably, how often do we look down at our cell phones for emails, texts, Facebook, Musicly, Snap Chat, Twitter, Instagram and many other notifications - instead of looking up to see God's creations: nature, wildlife, and children.

I'm just going to use myself as an example. I have an app called quality time that tracks the apps I use and the amount of time spent on my device. I consider myself a medium device user. And since I began tracking my use in December I have used my device as much as 26 hours in a week, and as low as 16 hours in a week. That means if I put all my cell phone use together, I spend a waking day or a whole day on it during a week.

Now of course I can use the excuse that I use my phone for work, which I do, and that I get paid to be on social media - but that's just one social media platform - and both of those really don't account for more than 30% of my smartphone use. So when Elder Ballard says "...one more way to keep family members occupied away from what matters most." It makes an impact.

It also makes me wonder if I don't fully understand what President Benson taught, that "A fathers calling is eternal and it's importance transcends time"

Now my hope has not been to bring shame or guilt, or to come across as perfect, I just shared that I spend 1/7th of my week on my cellphone.

I share these so that you don't end up like my birth-father, a man that's only impression on my entire life was a letter, instead be a committed parents in building relationships, being in the moment, and being peaceful and selfless.

I know that parenting, and fatherhood is a sacred responsibility that can bring us closer to our Saviour and Heavenly Father.


Amen

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