I think that a discussion of fatherhood — perhaps by men themselves — is long overdue. I think it is just one part of the equality equation — the part that asks, “What does it mean to be a nursing father?” It might help us tease out some of the threads that have gotten tangled up in the complementarity discussion and shift our conceptualization of a nurturing God.
I am the eldest of 8. My father, who was bishop and scout master several times over, was absent for most of my childhood doing important things with other men and boys. To my mother’s chagrin, he used our family vacations to take the Boy Scouts (including 2 of my brothers) on trips to the Unitas. This is even more remarkable, considering that we lived in Iowa.(Boy Scouts have always had more resources than Young Women). He left my mom home for long stretches of time in order to engage in emotionally less costly, more prestigious (even at times, escapist) church service while she took care of the day-to-day management and maintenance of the family. The only time my mom got time off — this was in the 1970’s — was when she went into the hospital to have another baby.
When my Amiable Husband and I had young children, I kept urging him to step up to his “leadership” role in the family and in the church. This was a role he did not want. My spouse is a nurturing, thoughtful person, and he wanted no part of the “power over” equation. He has never held any so-called “high” church positions. He is, on the other hand, very good at engaging with and showing affection to our kids.I’d be interested in hearing from Mormon men about what it means to them to be fathers and in what ways that does/doesn’t fit with how they conceptualize priesthood. (Obviously, this is also a topic that daughters and partners could weigh in on.)
I like psych professor/editor Michael Lamb’s research on fatherhood. Here are some points from his 1987 book, The Father’s Role: Cross-cultural Perspectives.
- “Responsible involvement” in parenting is the extent to which the parent takes ultimate responsibility for the child’s welfare and care, and can be illustrated by considering the difference between being responsible for childcare as opposed to being able and willing to “help out” when it is convenient.
- Even when both mother and father are employed 30 or more hours per week, the amount of responsibility assumed by fathers appears negligible, just as it does when mothers are unemployed.
- [In raising sons] paternal warmth or closeness is advantageous, whereas paternal masculinity is irrelevant. . . .better adjustment on the part of children seems to occur when the relationships between fathers and children are close and warm. In general, the same is true for mothers, so that children who have close relationships with both parents benefit from having two supportive, nurturant relationships and are psychologically better off as a result. As far as influence on children is concerned, there seems to be very little about the gender of the parent that is distinctly important. The characteristics of the father as a parent rather than the characteristics of the father as a man appear to influence child development.
- The same surveys that show a majority of men wanting to be more involved show that somewhere between 60% and 80% of women do not want their husbands to be more involved than they currently are. . . . .More importantly, increased paternal involvement may threaten to upset some fundamental power dynamics within the family. The role of mother and manager of the household are the two roles in which women’s authority has not been questioned; together, they constitute the one area in which women have had real power and control. Increased paternal involvement may threaten this power and preeminence. [Emphasis mine.]
This last point (granted this was nearly 30 years ago, so the percentages of women wanting to maintain parental pre-eminence may have dropped) could be one reason why ordination is so threatening to many Mormon women. I think it needs to be part of future conversations.
But how about a discussion of “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers” for Father’s Day, which is coming up in June: What does it mean to be a father? What did that look like in your family of origin? What does it look like now? In what ways does your idea of fatherhood fit/nor fit with how you conceptualize “priesthood” and/or “leadership?”
MayaLynn is a therapist and graduate student instructor, specializing in women’s issues