November 28th, 2007

The Role of the Presiding Patriarch

photo credit: Janusfinder

Last night, John pointed out a talk to me in the 1973 Ensign titled “Strengthening the Patriarchal Order in the Home”, by Brent A. Barlow.

The article is quite interesting, and I recommend its perusal. Barlow’s main point is that the role of father needs to be strengthened in the family, with emphasis on his patriarchal duties and directing stewardship.

Barlow notes several trends that are still (if not more so) applicable 35 years later. One such trend is the diminishing of the role of fatherhood in the family. A prime example of this situation is found in modern sitcoms that revolve around a family. Whether it be The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, Family Guy, or Home Improvement, the father is portrayed as a witless buffoon. He is just another one of the children that the wife/mother has to look after and care for.

Noting this issue, one study conducted earlier this year paints a dismal picture:

Fathers in the USA are a lot less supportive and accepting than TV sitcom dads, even falling short of the low bar set by Homer Simpson, a study of college students’ views suggests.

While this study might be disputed for its general applicability and accuracy, there is clearly a need to shun the media’s perception of fatherhood and find a scriptural and prophetic guide. To this end, Barlow offers a few quotes and scriptures that emphasize the need for a strong father figure that assumes his divine role as the patriarch and presiding priesthood authority.

Commenting on this trend, Elder Tuttle wrote:

There is genuine concern over the diminishing role of the father in the home. His influence is fading. Presiding responsibilities formerly assumed are left either to the mother or to agencies outside the home. This diminishing role is at the root of a multitude of our problems. Numerous things go awry when the scriptural family organization is upset!

The father is the patriarch in the home. This means that the father is the presiding authority. (A. Theodore Tuttle, via Quoty)

In attempting to understand how one presides in the family, one question arises, as John suggested to me last night: where is the balance between presiding and being an “equal partner” as the Proclamation says? One answer is to be found in the following words of the late President Faust:

The father and mother are equal partners with different roles in nurturing and teaching their family members on the journey to immortality and eternal life. (James E. Faust, “Eternity Lies before Us,” Ensign, May 1997, 18)

Equal partners, different roles. One is the patriarch, one is the counselor (this is an angle Barlow explores in more detail). Elder Oaks elaborates further:

A most important difference in the functioning of priesthood authority in the family and in the Church results from the fact that the government of the family is patriarchal, whereas the government of the Church is hierarchical. The concept of partnership functions differently in the family than in the Church.

The family proclamation gives this beautiful explanation of the relationship between a husband and a wife: While they have separate responsibilities, “in these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners”.

President Spencer W. Kimball said this: “When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner”.

President Kimball also declared, “We have heard of men who have said to their wives, ‘I hold the priesthood and you’ve got to do what I say.’ ” He decisively rejected that abuse of priesthood authority in a marriage, declaring that such a man “should not be honored in his priesthood”.

If men desire the Lord’s blessings in their family leadership, they must exercise their priesthood authority according to the Lord’s principles for its use:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge”.

When priesthood authority is exercised in that way in the patriarchal family, we achieve the “full partnership” President Kimball taught. As declared in the family proclamation:

“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, [and] compassion”. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 24; emphasis added)

It seems that Elder Oaks’ message implies that to attain “equal partnership” as the Proclamation directs, each partner must fulfill their separate responsibilities in their distinct roles. By assuming his patriarchal role and ultimately making important familial decisions, the father fulfills his role. By nurturing the family, offering counsel and support, the mother fulfills hers. When this takes place, the partnership is whole and equal.

I think of it like a business: managing partners can have equal status, but different roles. Partners in a law firm obviously have work they each do or specialize in. But in working together by efficiently and sufficiently fulfilling their separate roles, the partnership succeeds. Even when there is a “senior partner” in the business as there is in marriage, the other partners (or in the case on the family, the wife) have a lot of weight and authority.

I believe that the Lord intended for the family to be guided by a strong patriarch—one who seeks the Spirit, leads with persuasion, exudes love, and is open to counsel. I believe that our society has long been heading down the opposite path, and thus the scriptures, modern counsel, and the Proclamation on the Family are crucial in understanding how a father is to properly preside in the home.

20 Responses to “The Role of the Presiding Patriarch”

  1. John
    November 28, 2007 at 10:14 am #

    Hey wait a second… did you pick a picture of a woman cowering behind a man on purpose?!?!


  2. Allie
    November 28, 2007 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks for the post. It goes along nicely with the discussions about Julie Beck’s talk in conference that I’ve been discussing on my blog.

    If men are (in general) leaving more and more work around the home to women, no wonder so many women feel overwhelmed and like failures. We need to work together as a partnership.

  3. Kaela
    November 28, 2007 at 12:24 pm #

    I concur 🙂

  4. Connor
    November 28, 2007 at 12:32 pm #

    This is an interesting subject to explore: what is equality in marriage? Is it taking turns emptying the dishwasher and changing diapers? Is it rotating being the decision maker? Is it alternating who files taxes?

    I think that back and forth assignments do not engender equality. This is why I appreciate Pres. Faust’s words. We can be equal while doing completely different things. I might work 40-50 hours a week in order to support a family. My wife might do all the chores at home, run errands, cook meals, etc.

    Does that make her my subordinate? Are we unequal? To attain equality, should I split half of all home chores? If so, does that mean I should work 20-25 hours a week, and my wife should pick up the slack?

    Elder Oaks commented on this view that many feminists have about their purportedly lesser role in society by being a homemaker and mother:

    By the same token, a woman’s righteous and appropriate desires to grow, to develop, and to magnify her talents—desires strongly reinforced by current feminist teachings—also have their extreme manifestations, which can lead to attempts to preempt priesthood leadership, to the advocacy of ideas out of harmony with Church doctrine, or even to the abandonment of family responsibilities. (Dallin H. Oaks, via Quoty)

    I agree with President Faust. We can be equals while fulfilling separate roles. I fulfill my Priesthood duties, and my wife will (one day) fulfill her motherhood responsibilities. This is another subject to explore: the fact that yes, men have the Priesthood (if worthy), but the equal (if not greater) blessing women have to be mothers. There’s a lot of symbolism between motherhood and Heavenly Father’s role in our lives, and that position that women can hold wields quite a bit of power and prestige. But in a world that downplays that duty (if not demeans and denies it), it is no surprise that the shout for equality takes on a different angle and confuses principles and doctrine.

  5. Russell
    November 28, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    I think one thing we forget when we say “equal partners” is that husband and wife hold the bag on the responsibility to help these children complete the commitments they made prior to birth.

    In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life.

    As husband and wife… parents….

    Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

  6. Russell
    November 28, 2007 at 12:57 pm #

    one more thing….

    The Proclamation doesn’t say Fathers and Mothers are “equal.” It says “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

    Something tells me that’s on purpose. It tells Father to help his wife as an equal partner and Mother to help her husband as an equal partner. So what’s the point of identifying that one small word?

    If it’s so important for a father/mother (note the terms) to treat the other as an equal and family is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children,” what thing to you think Satan himself is going to try his hardest to confuse in the hearts of Fathers and Mothers?

    What thing did Satan himself try to suggest to God in the premortal realm? “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”

    It wasn’t just that he wanted the honor, he wanted all to equally have salvation from hell by removing agency. There goes Celestial glory, along with telesial and terestrial glory.

    What I am suggesting is that I am not surprised one bit that there is so much disagreement/discussion/etc.. in the LDS world that surrounds the word “equal.”

  7. Carissa
    November 28, 2007 at 1:15 pm #

    I’ve always looked at it this way, the Priesthood calling is for serving others. It is not about prestige or power over others. When my husband fulfills his calling as the patriarch of our family, he is serving our family by doing so. Early on in our marriage, he didn’t “preside” because he didn’t grow up with the church and was unaware of this aspect of his role as a husband and father. Since he has begun to do so, I feel like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders and our family has more order and unity.

  8. Allie
    November 28, 2007 at 1:28 pm #

    I think fathers and mothers are equal. As Connor pointed out, that doesn’t mean they do the same things. It means they are equally valuable, which would suggest to me that regardless of who is home during the day and who earns the money, children need to have both parents active in their lives.

  9. salt h2o
    November 28, 2007 at 4:31 pm #

    Connor- I think this post is very appropreate considering some of the remarks you got on your last post. Putting in clear light how the church views women- as partners.

    Here’s the frustraiting element: Men get to choose their careers from a vast field of opportunity. At a young age they are told they can be firemen, doctors, mechanics, what ever. LDS women are told that the most valuable role in life is Mother, and the ideal situation for a woman is to be a stay at home mom, which 9 times out of 10 means housework. Men have thousands of valuable career options, LDS women are told they only have one.

    We are told that there is ONE career we should be striving for- ONE life we should want to obtain and that includes doing the laundry, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. And maybe you won’t be ‘lucky’ enough to have the opporutnity to be a stay at home mom, but that should be ultimate desire of your heart. Where is our luxury of choice? Why is it that LDS culture has told me to be a good mother I have to sit at home and fold laundry while my spouse gets to fufill his career dreams and aspirations?

    I see no equality in this, luckily this is not LDS doctrine, just culture.

  10. Connor
    November 28, 2007 at 4:41 pm #

    Where is our luxury of choice? Why is it that LDS culture has told me to be a good mother I have to sit at home and fold laundry while my spouse gets to fufill his career dreams and aspirations?

    Perhaps you don’t understand the vast possibilities available to a stay at home mom.

    Case in point: my mother.

    She’s the deputy mayor, an estate planning attorney, author, lecturer, life coach, and all this on top of of being Relief Society President. She’s also Vice President of her local chapter of Mothers Without Borders and a national board member for Rotary, as well as a Poway Chamber of Commerce member.

    And more importantly, she’s an excellent stay at home mother.

    So every time I see somebody complain about how boring motherhood can be, or how limited they are in their options, I laugh.

    Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that you are complaining. I am simply observing something that you’ve probably seen as much as I: the mentality that women are restricted in their options.

    I would love to trade with my wife. I would love to not have a 9-5 job and feel the burden of providing for our financial needs. I would love to be able to have a flexible schedule and be involved in many more causes and things.

    I’m envious of stay at home women. Really, I am. If they manage their time right, they can be a force for much good. Seriously. If women managed their time well, they could capitalize on so much extra time to do things of value. Turn off Oprah, put down the magazine – there’s work to do!

    There is equality, but it’s left up to individuals to assume that potential and make themselves equal, instead of sitting on their laurels, feeling like doing laundry or working in a cubicle is all life is about.

  11. Allie
    November 28, 2007 at 4:49 pm #

    I don’t think being a stay at home mom ought to mean you have to do all the housework.

    I don’t fold laundry.


    I do volunteer as an advisor for our city youth council.

    Sometimes I think it would be nice to go to work, but most of the time I’m grateful that I get to be home with my kids, and volunteer at my son’s school, and blog, and read, and do whatever else I want to do.

  12. salt h2o
    November 28, 2007 at 5:01 pm #


    I started typing up a response when I remembered your mom was in Poway- which we all know doesn’t count because people in San Diego county are just flat out cool. The mormon sub-culture in San Diego is WAY toned down compared to that in Utah. Things are different there.

    (To be honest, I don’t think I’d have this beef with the LDS sub-culture if I still lived in out of state)

  13. Jay
    November 28, 2007 at 5:02 pm #

    In my home, being equal means we both do whatever it takes to get the job done. My day doesn’t end at 5:00, because my wife’s day doesn’t end at 5:00. When I get home, there are dishes to do, kids to help with homework, shopping to be done, cooking, cleaning, errands, church meetings, etc. She has done a wonderful job in raising our ten children, but there’s no way I could feel good about coming home and sitting in front of the television while she keeps on going for five more hours.

    BTW, my wife is a stay at home mother of ten and has a career in:

    Fashion, Art, Handicraft, Energy and Electronics, Maintenance, Accounting, Purchasing, and Economics, Literature and Government, Religion and Psychology, Grief Counseling, Community Relations, And Biology, Romance and Consulting, Geriatrics, Recreation, Entertainment, Horticulture, Management and Transportation, Home Design, Nutrition, Cuisine, and Education, Medicine and Pediatrics,
    Law and Organization.

    among others . . .

    (She writes cool stuff too!)

    She’s pretty wonderful. I have the best wife in the world.


  14. Kaela
    November 28, 2007 at 5:29 pm #

    Salt H20-as a recent transplant to Utah, I feel absolutely STIFLED by that sub-culture. You are SO RIGHT. I don’t think it’s so much the LDS church that tells women they have ONE CHOICE, but the LDS culture (especially in Utah Valley) that makes women feel as if there IS only one choice (it’s all in interpretation). Going back to ‘the church/gospel is perfect, but the people are not.’

    How can we change that? Start with this generation. ENCOURAGE young women to pursue those dreams and goals. Have the career of their dreams, follow their passions, get that education, learn as much as you can about what excites you. For some, that is still being a mommy, for some it’s volunteering, for some it’s a high-powered career. There doesn’t have to be an either or-EVEN if the sub-culture leads us to feel that way. My mom did both and I’m not scarred for life, but I AM inspired by her example. I didn’t miss having her home during the day-I was at school anyway! She and my dad were always home at night to eat dinner and help with homework, attend concerts and other activities. They were both still able to volunteer at school for field trips and booster boards, pick me up for lunch on my birthday, and help me with my costume on Halloween.

    PS. What about stay at home dads? I wouldn’t rule that out 🙂 I know a few dads that want to be as actively involved as they can be-so they work their careers around their family or run their own business. I think that’s pretty cool!

  15. John
    November 28, 2007 at 5:43 pm #

    My question is this: can a woman have a “high-powered career” and keep the nurture of her children as a primary concern? Even if children are at school, they’re not there for 8-9 hours a day. Most “high-powered” careers are probably demanding even more.

    Does the stay-at-home Dad fit in with what the Proclamation (and the article Connor cited) is outlining?

    I’m not sure it does, and I’m not yet sure what I think about it. I think there’s much more room for flexibility and achievement than some people would have us think, but I think certain things seem to be out of bounds.


  16. Yin
    November 28, 2007 at 5:52 pm #

    These are two excellent posts that are inspiring some good conversation.

    It’s interesting that Connor would love to switch places with his wife. I don’t know about the other wives out there, but I would never want to switch places with my husband. I feel so blessed to have the flexibility and time that I do. I’m so grateful for my husband, and that he takes on the majority of the financial responsibility. That he feels that pressure, and does it cheerfully every day. I feel, at this point, that I have way more options than he does.

    Additionally, we both have dreams, desires, goals, etc., but I’m not the only one that may be slightly limited in realizing them. My work as wife and mother may interfere. But, the reality of adult life and finances definitely interfere for him. Men might not have as many options as we think.

  17. Brandon
    November 29, 2007 at 11:21 pm #

    I have no idea what other people should do with their lives. I only know what I have experienced. I work at an international consumer electronics manufacturer. I am surrounded by women in fast paced and important careers. They all seem satisfied with their choices to be working women. However, I feel so sorry for them. Most of them have extremely stressful jobs that are draining and difficult. They often work 10 or 11 hours each day. The ones I have spoken with seem to place very little importance on spending time with their children (that is if they even have them or want them). In my opinion, they are missing out. My happiest moment each day is when I get home from work and see my son’s face. If I could stay home with my wife and son all day, I would. Nothing could make me happier than sharing each little learning moment with them. I also can’t understand why people feel that their job is a measure of who they are as a person. I will be much happier if I am a poor man with wonderful children than a rich man with brats. I don’t think this is a woman or man issue as much as it is a values issue. What do we value in this life? Is it money, possesions and status or do we value relationships and family? Maybe we can value all of those, I don’t know. I feel sorry for both women and men that feel that they cannot be fullfilled or happy unless they pursue their own career dreams (as a previous poster mentioned). Many of the things I do each day are done because I love my family and not because I want to be doing them. This is a problem faced by both men and women (though some seem to think it is faced only by their own sex and not the other).

  18. Josh Wiliams
    November 29, 2007 at 11:46 pm #

    In my opinion, the subject of gender roles, is one about which it is impossible to be objective.

    Other than the barest biological facts, I have never heard a reliable definition of what, exactly, it means to be male or female. Therefore, any debate on the subject seems to me to be wholly rhetorical. It’s hard to argue whether or not gender roles are equal, if you can’t define them in real, objective terms in the first place. By that token, gender roles are not about reality, only about how we decide to perceive reality.

    People who state their opinions about gender roles sometimes use words like “could,” “should,” or “must,” which are red flags for wishful thinking.

    I think that, in the play of life, the only role God expects us to play is that of ourselves. In other words, the Parable of the Talents applies: God only expects us to do the best we can with what we have. (I will say, that fathers who work long hours away from their family, not to feed and clothe their children, but to maintain their precious materialistic American lifestyle, probably come up short in this regard.)

    On the other hand, who am I to refuse to participate in a rhetorical debate?………

    A prime example of this situation is found in modern sitcoms that revolve around a family. Whether it be The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, Family Guy, or Home Improvement, the father is portrayed as a witless buffoon. He is just another one of the children that the wife/mother has to look after and care for.

    I don’t think this is a good example to argue your point. Comedy and satire aren’t concerned with reality; they tend to play to our fantasies about ourselves, particularly our hopes and fears. Characters such as Ricky Ricardo, and Ward Cleaver collectively represent the kind of archetypes which we unconsciously hope to become, whereas Homer Simpson and Ray Romano represent that which we fear we really are. The reality of father behavior in America tends to lie somewhere on the sidelines, and is much more complex.

  19. Josh Wiliams
    November 29, 2007 at 11:49 pm #

    I don’t think this is a woman or man issue as much as it is a values issue. What do we value in this life? Is it money, possesions and status or do we value relationships and family? Maybe we can value all of those, I don’t know. I feel sorry for both women and men that feel that they cannot be fullfilled or happy unless they pursue their own career dreams (as a previous poster mentioned).

    I agree wholeheartedly…….

  20. True Love
    December 8, 2007 at 10:32 am #

    I believe as the Church teaches, that women & men are equal just as all men are created equal, with equal rights to God’s blessings & priviledges, but that does not mean our roles are equal, or even that our spirits are equal in ability or spirituality, as BY said they weren’t. The Prophets have repeated stated the supreme role of “Motherhood” is the highest holiest, most powerful & influencial calling to be assumed by mankind”, because of the huge sacrifices it requires from women when honored. Anyone who questions this need only go into a delivery room where one sees best the stark difference between the sacrifices in parental roles. Hers is a Christlike sacrifice the prophet’s say. I believe Fatherhood becomes equal to Motherhood when a husband is righteous & also becomes Christlike & truely lays down his daily life for his wife & children & puts them first above himself. Especially if he is called to defend them & shed his blood for them as the wife has.

    Also, when we understand what the word ‘preside’ means (to watch over, protect & provide for, & guide) we see that the wife does that equally as much as the husband, though it’s not mentioned very often. Wives preside equally with equal power & authority as their husbands (the church says) but in often different ways & usually more ways, for often the husband is not home to help preside. Each has a responsibility to have an equal voice in all decisions in the marriage, family & home (career, education, children, money, house, moves, etc.)

    When we think about men’s careers, we must remember that he is really working mainly to support his wife in her calling of Motherhood & make her comfortable & happy & fulfill all her wishes, for she voluntarily gave up that right (to have a career & fulfill her own needs) to provide him love, home & children. If he happens to be so fortunate to be able to be in a career that not only satisfies the needs & desires of his wife & family & one the wife agrees to & he enjoys it too, than that is an added blessing. But his 1st thought is not if he enjoys what he does.

    I believe marriage can only be successful & happy when each fulfills their respective roles. When a husband does not acknowledge that half of all child care, meals, dishes, cleaning, shopping, etc. is also their responsibility (as Elder Packer & other prophets have said it was) then the woman usually feels very overwhelmed doing it all herself, especially if the man is away all day at work & she is left alone to do it all. We must realize that today’s lifestyle of husbands gone all day is not natural or even good for marriage & family. Though it is common & hard to avoid these days.

    Stay at home Dads, who do alot of their providing or earning from home or close to, as they have for 6000 years, are vital to the success of the marriage & family. When men started leaving the home 75 years ago to go to an office all day, women weren’t far behind, for who wants to stay home alone with the whole responsibility of home & children on their shoulders.

    Often women don’t realize that just ‘pregnancy & bearing of children’ alone is equal to a man’s responsibility ‘to provide’. All the rest, taking care of children, home & meals, is to be divided between the two of them. These days it is often left mostly to the woman. Thus women stopped having so many kids, for ‘Children’ were intended to be a job for 2 all day. Adam & Eve worked ‘side by side’ all day.

    Those that can manage to do this usually find the great joy & blessings of this principle. I so honor men who take responsibility for all their part. I know it is hard to live this ideal now a days, but it remains the ideal way to happiness & success as a couple. This ideal thus also frees up the woman more so she also has time to pursue personal education & interests to thereby bless & serve her family & others better. Though I don’t believe that means earning money, for that is the husband’s responsibility, unless he is disabled. When women work to provide for the family, their are almost always serious negative consequences that come, to her, her husband & children. Women are to be protected & taken care of, so they can be calm & at peace to fulfill their divine role as wife & mother & grandmother – the way H.F. intended it. Only then women, men & children find their greatest happiness.

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