In [belated] honor of Father’s Day, I’m including a poem I came across from the 1921 Improvement Era:
All people render homage
To the mothers of the race.
Each child can feel a mother’s love,
For none can fill her place:
But what about true fatherhood,
So noble, kind, yet strong—
The father who each day toils on,
Just where does he belong?
True motherhood means life and love,
A home and all things dear;
A mother labors day by day
To serve her children here:
But who is always by her side
To comfort and to cheer?
Would home mean what it does to us
Without a father dear?
Fail not to honor motherhood,
Love mother more each day,
For she will always be your friend
Through all life’s rugged way;
But don’t forget the weary hours
Your father toils for you;
He labors without thought of self
Because he loves you, too.
Ida R. Alldredge
I have to admit that the poem made me laugh; it’s not often I find examples of women trying to reassure men of their place and their significance, in a Church that is so often tagged as male-centric and patriarchal. But the question Ida voiced—“Just where does he belong?” has been on my mind, as I continue to explore and work through issues of gender and identity, difference and sameness. As the Church continues on a trajectory of egalitarian marriage partnerships, where, according to Elder L. Tom Perry, “There is not a president and vice president in a family,” but only “co-presidents working together,” there is still the conundrum of a man’s calling to somehow [equally?] “preside.”
I know this paradox of equality and hierarchy has puzzled my male friends as it has my female ones, and I have heard a few explanations that might provide options as to how to reconcile the two. Alma Sorenson and Valerie Hudson co-wrote a book addressing some of these issues, which is one of the few I know of that tries to pose solutions in a scriptural and [somewhat loose] doctrinal context. They point to D&C 107:21’s explanation that “of necessity, there are presidents, or presiding officers,” to suggest that because priesthood power “must be highly decentralized so that all members can participate fully in its exercise, a central authority must exist to set in order the system of power and oversee it so that it operates according to its design and purpose.” Thus, they argue that preside “does not mean ruling over others…[but rather] empowering others to rule with you over all things.” Now, this still presents a conundrum to me, because someone who needs empowerment is not equal to someone already empowered. Implying that all women categorically need empowerment while all men categorically are empowered, still seems problematic to me.
But they steer away from this direction, and argue that Zion’s order will operate around family units of men and women equal in possession and power under marriage in the order of the priesthood—celestial [equal, companionate] marriage. Accordingly, the “stewardships of women [in heaven] will operate on the same principle, where a centralized authority necessarily exists to set in order and oversee the operation of that organization,” perhaps overseen by women themselves. Or perhaps women will acquire the “same general priesthood as men” with differing rights and offices; perhaps “men will hold the priesthood as they do now,” but the details of women’s empowerment and equal partnership will be “made clearer”; or perhaps “we will begin to better understand that women have held a priestesshood with its own special rights and powers all along.”
I find these conjectures interesting and worth thinking about, primarily because I think we need to orient our paradigms of marriage and its related ideas to the pre-fall coupling of Adam and Eve, where the post-fall condition of hierarchy was not yet instated. It makes sense to me to envision a Zion that operates on pre-fall, rather than post-fall, conditions—or, on post-post-fall conditions, so to speak, which progress, not regress, from the pre-fall state.
So, while this departed a bit from my original starting point with fatherhood, and how to pursue complementary-and-equal paradigms of fatherhood and motherhood that preserve distinctiveness and with egalitarianism, I ended with a discussion of the place of women. I promise, this isn’t because I am woman-centric to the point of dragging every discussion back to a feminist issue, but simply because I don’t think you can talk about the essence of fatherhood without motherhood, and vice versa. While Taylor Petrey suggested in his Dialogue article concepts of fatherhood (in the generative sense) that were not dualistic, I resonate more with the early Church teachings like the following excerpt from Erastus Snow, that matter-of-factly reinforced the inherently social and dualistic nature of God: “What, do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that Deity consist of man and woman….I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman, the male and the female.”