[Belated] Father’s Day– “Just Where Does He Belong?”

By June 21, 2012

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.?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Somehow I don’t think the reference to Taylor’s article was necessary here. All you do with it is juxtapose his supposed infidelity to the words of the prophets with your own supposed fidelity to their words in some sort of appeal to authority. That may be good reasoning in some circles, but I’m not sure it is so on an academic history blog.

    Otherwise, you seem to be interested in orienting ideas about gender to some fairly unspecified “pre-fall” “condition.” Assuming a belief in that condition (and there, you’ve probably lost a decent subset of folks with whom you are proposing to dialogue with), can you give anything more concrete about what these conditions were? Or are we just stuck in a thought-loop that merely confirms everyone’s pre-conceived notions about gender? Which, again, isn’t quite an exercise I come to expect at an academic history blog.

    Comment by Jared T. — June 21, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  2. Jared T.,
    Let me see if I can clarify. I think TP’s article contains many provocative and compelling theological and historical viewpoints. Juxtaposing one of his ideas to one of Erastus Snow’s was not intended as an appeal to authority. I should have made more explicit that I consider “early church teachings” more compelling, not because of their authority (which, actually, I think they lack [in an absolute or conclusive sense], implied in the qualifier “early”: i.e. it’s not currently used or taught) but because I find it intuitively sound and more harmonious with a conception of the overall Gospel as I understand it. I recognize that there are many different perspectives and teachings which do not and cannot all coincide, so we have to pick and choose according to whatever criteria we establish. Appeal to authority was not one I was using here.
    I agree that referencing a “pre-fall” condition is vague; this wasn’t meant to a rigorously determined conclusion, but more of a musing. But for the purposes of my question (which focused more on the paradox of “presiding” and “equality,” if you noticed), I was thinking of the conditions of non-hierarchy and complementarity, concluded through evidence of absence and contrast (why impose hierarchy if it was in place, before? and why “create” [or place] a female if not for some purpose related to her otherness?). I hope this provides some clarification.

    Comment by Rachael — June 21, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

  3. Rachael: many thanks for this very thoughtful and provocative post. I find your insistence of finding a pre-fall orientation of gender roles to be insightful and needed, and I like what you are doing in resurrecting some gems from the murky and problematic origins of Mormonism–in a way, I see you doing much of the same type of work Taylor did himself in his article.

    Well done. I’m glad we could house this at JI.

    Comment by Ben P — June 21, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  4. “I find it intuitively sound and more harmonious with a conception of the overall Gospel as I understand it. I recognize that there are many different perspectives and teachings which do not and cannot all coincide, so we have to pick and choose according to whatever criteria we establish.”

    Thanks for the clarification, though this portion goes to the root of why I would have to differ with Ben about the importance and need of “resurrecting” the theological “gems” of the past and applying them to the present without more thorough historical grounding and contextualization.

    Comment by Jared T — June 21, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  5. I believe both adult speakers in my ward on Father’s Day, one a man and one a woman, both asked that same question of where does the father belong and came up wanting. Both chose to speak about our Heavenly Father, neither spoke even a word about their own earthly fathers, no fond remembrances, no lessons taught, no quirks, no amusing stories, nothing.

    Comment by KLC — June 21, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  6. Our ward didn’t do Father’s Day. They did the the kids sing but none of the speakers spoke on that topic. It was a pretty good meeting.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 22, 2012 @ 10:26 am

  7. In all of the wrestling that goes on over what role who plays and what specifics tasks are appointed to each no one ever sees anything but a hierarchy. I believe it is so because that is way the government of the church is run.

    Families are not run that way. Father’s and Mother’s are complimentary and not intrinsically unequal. Inequality comes from the value assigned to various tasks attached to roles by the larger culture. The more entropic a task is the less it is valued. Since this inequality is a mortal construction and not an eternal one why can’t we see a mother and father and their relationship as a table. A round table where no one sits at the head. Wile they might have different tasks, the tasks that each has is essential to the well being and functioning of the family unit. And, yes it is as important that someone take out the garbage as it is that someone brings in salary.

    Comment by YvonneS — June 23, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  8. KLC- that’s interesting. Why do you think they came up wanting? Was it because they didn’t know what made fathers/fatherhood distinctive or unique, or because they felt unsure about the place of fathers in general? Were they older or younger?
    Steve- I think that may be the way to go; I know plenty of women who cringe when Mother’s Day comes up and efforts are made to either praise mothers [making them feel guilty for the impossible characterizations] or describe them in essentialist ways [marginalizing outliers, as always] and so on. Perhaps best to just keep the meetings Christ-centered and explore those themes in spaces where dialogue and plurality of views are encouraged (Sunday school?), so the complicated prescriptive elements are less focal.
    Yvonne – I agree that there is a distinction in the way the church should be run, and how the family should be run, according to general teachings– see Elder Packer: “I don?t want you treating your wife like you do the stake… In the stake when a decision is to be made, you will seek the opinion of your counselors and other concerned individuals. Then you will prayerfully reach a decision on the matter, and they will all rally around and support you because you are the president and you have the mantle of authority. In your family when there is a decision to be made that affects everyone, you and your wife together will seek whatever counsel you might need, and together you will prayerfully come to a unified decision.” It still leaves a little ambiguity to some people as to how, then, a man is meant to preside in a non-hierarchical way, like the table you describe (when the word seems so hierarchical). I’m interested in hearing ideas– I think John Widstoe’s comment “[the man] is under the responsibility of speaking and acting for the family in official matters” suggests one way– in which, for the sake of efficiency and order (though it may have had more to do with private/public sphere divisions during his time), men offer the official articulation of family decisions, for public purposes (though I can’t really think of scenarios like that in our current society…). It’s easier to say “where the father [and mother] belongs” when there are clearly defined roles, but I think the Church (and society, for that matter) is moving towards more co-parenting and egalitarian teamwork, so it alters the traditional positions a bit. I’m just curious to see if anything will happen to the concept of “preside” and “nurture.”

    Comment by Rachael — June 23, 2012 @ 6:35 pm


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