Guest Post: Good Dad/Bad Dad: Or A Study in Moral Relativism
Last year I flew to the other side of the country to help celebrate my friend Jane’s graduation from law school. In the days before the actual event, I stayed at her parent’s house with her and a few of our other friends and got a bit of a feel for her family dynamic. Before I arrived, I knew that Jane was having issues with her father; it seemed like the older he grew the grumpier and more demanding he became. This particular weekend was no exception.
Jane, our friends, her sisters, and I woke relatively early on Saturday to help her mom prepare for the graduation party that night. Her father, the high councilman in charge of the YSAs in the stake, was busy loading gear into his boat. He had decided last minute to take the YSA men to the lake. When her mom suggested he take my friends and me along, he curtly replied that there was no room.
Judging by her mom’s reaction, this was nothing unusual. She pursed her lips, fed the boys some breakfast, sighed a bit, and then wrote up some shopping lists. We spent the day driving to different stores across their small town, cleaning the house, and cooking. Her father returned around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, picked a fight in the kitchen, declared he wouldn’t come to the party, and huffed off to his office above the garage.
He did end up coming to the party just long enough to keep up appearances and make a few quips about my friend’s singlehood and lack of children for him to spoil. The rest of the time he bragged about his sons and their successes.
I found myself missing my own father profoundly over the course of the weekend, which I found a little strange considering his situation at the time. While I was celebrating Jane’s graduation and prestigious job offer, my dad was on a communication freeze in his addiction recovery treatment center and preparing for a church disciplinary council as soon as he got out. The problems and issues that led him there are complex and ongoing, so I won’t go into much detail other than to say that he broke his covenants and was eventually excommunicated. At this point, I still felt a lot of anger and hurt towards him, which is why I found it strange that I was missing him so much.
It took me a while to realize that I had been subconsciously comparing Jane’s father and my dad, and that, even in my anger and hurt, I infinitely preferred my dad. I found myself remembering countless family events, or even just regular Sunday dinners, where my dad helped shop, clean, set the table, stir something on the stove, and basically do whatever he could to help reduce my mom’s stress. It was so regular and so natural; I naively believed all fathers were like that. I saw how Jane’s father treated her and her sisters compared to how he treated his sons (and even the boys in the stake), and my anger found a new source. I was horrified and enraged by his favoritism and barely hidden misogyny. My dad, for all his faults, made sure my siblings and I felt valued and loved for our individual selves. I sometimes rib him about favoring my brother, but since he’s the youngest and the only boy and just about the best person ever, we’re all obviously a little too guilty of spoiling him. My dad praises me (sometimes, embarrassingly, in public) for my accomplishments, encourages me to push myself, and is one of the best listeners I know. He’s never harped on me to get married so I can finally be a “real adult” and give him grandchildren; instead, he prods me to continue my graduate studies, and if I meet a nice boy along the way, then that’s fantastic. My dad has never picked a fight with me, and if we ever did get into a heated or emotional argument, he was quick to apologize, express his love, and try to make it right. Even now, as my dad struggles through his repentance process and tries to make amends, I’m constantly amazed at his humility and empathy for others.
I looked at these two men. One has a steady and reputable job, holds a respected office in church leadership, and considers himself the priesthood leader in his home. One had just lost his job due to his indiscretions, broke his temple covenants and was facing church discipline, and was working to regain the trust of his wife and children. Taken at such stark face value, I can imagine that these two men are prime examples of A Good Mormon Dad (provides for his family, has a leadership calling, and presides in his home) and a Bad Mormon Dad (not all of those things).
Yet I’ll give you three guesses which one I prefer.