A few weeks ago at church we sat behind a family of four girls. Their mother sat at the far end of the row, but their father was not there, nor was their brother who is away serving a mission. About twenty minutes after the meeting started their father came in, but there was no room on the pew for him, so he slipped in past us and sat behind them. He had been involved in his stake calling, making him late for sacrament meeting.

One by one we saw his teenage daughters smile and reach a hand back to him. Each time it happened he gently took hold and held it a few seconds, giving a tender squeeze. It was obvious these girls love their father, and also obvious that he loves them back. It was a tender scene, brief but powerful in the love it portrayed.

What kind of father makes these kinds of spontaneous loving gestures happen? We wanted to know, so we called their mother and asked. She readily said, “That’s an easy question. He’s very involved in their lives. He cares about them more than his work or any other assignment.” She explained that he attends their basketball games, track meets, soccer games, and dance recitals. Each girl has her own interests and talents and he’s there to give his encouragement and support to all. Then she said, “He has never missed an event where they are competing or performing. He schedules his vacations, work trips, and meetings around these events.”

We found that to be pretty amazing, considering the number of children he has and how active they are. She added, “In fact, we make it a family affair for all of us to be there to support one another, just like we did for their brother.”

As endearing as it is, not all fathers can do what this father does. Most are not as in control of their work schedules as he is, so they can’t attend all the activities they’d like to, but with effort they can attend at least some events to show their love and support.

Father with young children laughing

In addition to this there are many other ways a father can win the hearts of his children. Even if the father mentioned above wasn’t able to attend all the activities of his kids, there is something else he does that every father can do. Their mother said, “It’s not just attending their activities that has created this bond. It is more than that. He has fun with them at home, teasing, goofing off with them, basically giving them a hard time, and they give it back, laughing and having fun.”

“In addition to that,” she said, “he’s always asking their opinion about things. He listens to them.” She said they are quick to give him advice like, “You need to eat healthier, Dad.” Or “You need to exercise more.” She said, “He seems to enjoy that they care about him like this.”

Facebook Friends Comment

In preparation for writing this article we sent out a Facebook request, asking “What did your father do that made him lovable? How did he effectively teach you and care about you? Or what does your husband do with your children that wins their hearts?” Their comments were revealing and helpful. Here are a few of them.

Kathy H: “He paid for all of my piano lessons…never complained when I practiced while he was trying to watch TV, back when there was only one TV in the home. There were a lot of lessons. I continue to share my gift accompanying others and at church and Stake musicals. I toured Europe with The Sounds of Zion (USU Institute) etc. I’m grateful for those lessons that paid off.”

Carrie Lynn D: “[My dad] worked hard every day, and always made our yard look nice. He was kind, smiled a lot and was friendly towards us and others. He always allowed for our free will and agency, never tried to force his will on any of us, he was never forceful. We always felt of his love and unconditional acceptance.”

Dena J: “My father is still the greatest man that really ever lived. When I was 8 years old my dad married my mom. When I was 12 my dad officially adopted me because my birth father was not involved in my life. . . Although at times we do not see eye to eye about the church or the gospel, I always know that he loves me unconditionally. My dad always took walks with me and we would discuss politics, philosophy, the Church, anything I wanted to talk about. My dad told me once that when I am going through the hardest time in my life, he sees me as a little girl and wants to carry me through the storm unharmed by life’s trials. My dad has always comforted me when I was sad, spent time with me, and told me once that he always wanted a daughter just like me, so when the chance arose to make me “his” he was so grateful he was given the opportunity. Most dads do not get to choose to be a dad, but with my dad, he made the [conscience] choice to drive up to Alaska as a family to have my birth father sign non-conventional adoption papers that allowed my birth father to be relieved of paying child support, but allowed my dad to have me as his daughter. The adoption papers also said that my birth father would always have an open door to come visit me or call me or contact me whenever he pleased. My dad never ever said anything rude about anyone, even my birth father. My dad has taught me with love, guided with his gentle hand and loved me unconditionally.”                                                                                             

Rebecca W: “My husband spends time with our kids. He talks to them and is genuinely interested in them. And he has fun with them.”

Father reading to daughter

Karilee C: “Bedtime has always been a special time for my husband to spend with the children. I realize just how great he is when I hear that not too many of my siblings or friends’ spouses participate at all during bedtime. He loves to read to them and sing songs. Our children have come to love music because of him. He has a great voice and they love to sing along with him. In fact, just today I overheard our 2 year old singing a country song with the lyrics, “You’re so darn hot.” I just had to laugh. He really likes to hear about their day, even when they were very little we would tell him all that happened that day and he would really listen. He is a great man and we are so lucky to have him.”

Cherilee S: “I will always be grateful that my father taught me the importance of work, loyalty, gratitude, family, my relationship with God and keeping the flame of patriotism alive.

My husband has endless patience, is wonderful at making work into a game for the kids and he can always get us to laugh when we’re sad or upset. I love that. :)”

Linda M: “Ken came into our lives and made it possible for my son to leave for his mission to Korea and for my daughter to learn that she is worthwhile and important. He taught them the importance of putting your best effort into whatever you are doing. He is now trying to help teach our daughter’s children that don’t have a dad around for these important life lessons.”

Malia V: “A simple thing but my husband always insists on hugs and kisses from our boys when they first wake up, before he leaves for work, when he comes home, and before bed. He also always asks what they dreamed about (morning) and how their day was in the evening. I love watching them interact and love their response when he always asks them ‘Who’s your best friend?'”

JulieAnn N: “My dad used to take me on long walks when I was struggling with anything. We would walk and visit and somehow everything didn’t seem so bad by the time we got home. My dad has always been one of the strongest most hard working men I have ever met. He always was busy helping someone with something. He’s one of my heroes!”

Tristi P: “My dad admitted his faults and tried harder afterwards.”

Debi R: “[My husband] has been up before the sun working on everything, including baby bummies, scouts, his career, his church jobs, extra time on household projects, helping kids with early morning sports/music/seminary, volunteering on hundreds of things. First one there, last to leave. He has given up what he wanted to someone else- the good piece, the biggest piece, the best seat, the shady spot, the warmest coat, the best pair of gloves, the coveted place by the fire, the best of everything. He has listened to those no one will listen to. He wants to be kind and helpful, he intently listens and loves. He is available to just hear you, when most others never take the time to offer themselves in that way.”           

Rebecca L: “My dad always listens to me. Now that I’m away and on my own I can call him any time and he helps me out with problems I have. He always gives me suggestions and then leaves it up to me to decide what’s best for me. I like that he trusts me to make my own decisions. Also, I like that he sends me a text now and then to just check up on me and to let me know he’s thinking of me. It helps me know how much he loves me.”

Our Experience

Dad in overalls  hatI (Joy) remember my dad with the most tender of feelings. He was diligent in teaching me the gospel. He would read scriptures to our family, tell stories of faith that happened in his life. His example of righteous living has been my beacon. His greatest desire was to do missionary work wherever he was.

I was a cheerleader in high school and I don’t remember my dad ever being at a game, but when I needed a ride home he was always there to pick me up afterward when the farm chores were done (cows have to be milked). If I was out beyond curfew he came to find me, so you can imagine that I didn’t let that happen very often. He never yelled at me, just firmly said, “When I say be home at midnight I mean be home at midnight.” I remember fondly the many times he told me I was pretty (I thought I was quite ho-hum looking so that always sounded nice), and that he loved me. I knew beyond any doubt that he loved me and expected me to be obedient, especially to the Lord’s commandments. He adored my mother and that always made me feel secure. I will always remember the priesthood blessings he gave me and the peace and love I felt each time. It made me want to marry someone who honored that power as he did. That example lead me to my husband, Gary.

Dad color 1957

I (Gary) fondly remember my father, too. He was a quiet, gentle man. His work as a government auditor caused him to be away from home a lot when I was growing up. When he was home I observed that he was always faithful in the Church, serving in the behind-the-scenes callings, like ward clerk. I was proud of him.

When I was a young boy Dad would sit in the red mohair overstuffed chair and my brother and I would sit on the arms and he would read to us the classic stories. Other times on many evenings during the fall and winter he would set a fire in the fireplace, which brought a warm feeling into our home as we each sat doing our own things. He was a slow, methodical worker in doing things around the home, and said to me many times “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.” This is how I learned to fix things.

Church Leaders’ Counsel                                                                                 

At a General Conference Priesthood Meeting in October, 1994 President Howard W. Hunter gave this counsel to fathers: “We encourage you, brethren, to remember that priesthood is a righteous authority only. Earn the respect and confidence of your children through your loving relationship with them. A righteous father protects his children with his time and presence in their social, educational, and spiritual activities and responsibilities. Tender expressions of love and affection toward children are as much the responsibility of the father as the mother. Tell your children you love them.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said “We [are] not surprised that when 2,000 children of all ages and backgrounds were asked what they appreciated most about their fathers, they answered universally, He spends time with me.'” (“Hands of the Fathers,” Ensign, May 1999, 15).

One Step At a Time

Father praying alone                                                                                                                                                   Being a caring and lovable father requires time and effort. If it seems like an overwhelming responsibility, take a deep breath, say a sincere prayer, then pick one thing you need to improve on and focus on that for right now. Asking Heavenly Father to help you do all you need to do to be the father He wants you to be will make it possible. More than anything, He wants us to be able to return to Him and be with our families eternally. And He wants us to be happy along this journey back to Him. We just need to do what it takes.

It’s good to be reminded of the words of the legendary baseball player and manager Ted Williams: “Just keep going. Everybody gets better if they keep at it.” That advice applies pretty much to every aspect of life, including fatherhood.

Gary and Joy Lundberg are authors of books on creating happy family relationships, including I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better and Love That Lasts: 14 Secrets to a more joyful, passionate and fulfilling marriage. For more information visit their website .