What is a Father? Guest post by Jonathan LaForce

(Give a warm welcome to a good friend of mine. Jonathan LaForce is a Marine, a husband, a father and much more. The following is a talk he gave this past weekend. When I read it, I knew I wanted to share it. So much of it resonated with me because it reminded me of things my father said. So, without further adieu, here’s Jonathan.)

Good morning brothers and sisters, I’m Jonathan LaForce. By way of introduction, I served my mission in the Republic of Texas, greatest state in the Union. I love shooting cannons and I speak 3 languages: English, Southernese, and Marine. The last has a tendency to come out around my brother jar heads, my wife’s friends and people who annoy me.

Right now I’m in something of a quandary. See, when a Marine gives a period of instruction, the final command before we launch into our topic is “smoke em if you got em, chew or dip if you want, don’t miss the bottle.” The man giving the lecture will then light up a cigarette or insert a wad of chewing tobacco. We practice the word of wisdom as a church, so I chew sunflowers seeds. It is very much a comfort thing. If you see me making weird movements with my cheek, I really want Jim Beam sunflower seeds. I could also go for a tall Dr. Pepper. But we are in the chapel, and I can’t have those right now. Woe is me.

Today, we’re going to cover the duties of a father. Lest anybody think otherwise, that blond haired, blue eyed little boy with the big mouth? Over in the third row? That one? He’s mine.

Now what are the duties of a father? If you’ve ever watched McClintock, there’s a scene where John Wayne’s daughter demands that her father defend her honor. She’s says and I quote “if you’re my father and you really love me, you’ll shoot him.” This in turn leads to the most repeated line my sisters have ever used “Shoot him daddy! Shoot him!” Most of the time this request was aimed at me. I don’t know why. I’ve certainly never done anything to antagonize the women in my life. Nor do I know why my wife is rolling her eyes.

As fathers we are to love our children. George Strait said it best- “Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love A secret that my daddy said was just between us You see daddies don’t just love their children every now and then It’s a love without end, Amen.”

God in Heaven, our Eternal Father, loves every single one of us. Physically, we are the children of those who brought us into this world, but the father of our spirits is the maker of Heaven and Earth. He knows us, he loves us, and he sets the example. As fathers, there’s a time and place for everything. Sometimes the best thing we can do is sit our sons down on our knees and tell those boys that we still love them.

Years ago, my father told me that even if I never served a mission or married in the temple, he’d still love me. And in so many ways, it has made all the difference. When I went to serve a mission, it was me doing those things because I chose it. Not because my daddy made me do it. When I took a woman to be my wife and married her in the house of the Lord 4 years ago come November, it was because she and I knew that was where we needed to be married if we wished to be sealed together with our children for time and all eternity.

I still call him daddy, despite the fact that I’m nearly 30 with 2 kids of my own out of habit. It started when he introduced me to the movie Big Jake with John Wayne. The catchphrase of the movie is John Wayne saying “Don’t call me daddy” to which his eldest eventually replies “Where’s the money daddy?” This became running a joke in our house that stuck. It was Daddy who introduced me to John Wayne movies, a country band called Alabama, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. For all y’all young’uns, those are singers who didn’t need autotune to sound good. I still remember the first time I ever heard Sinatra. We were sitting in a pizza hut when Daddy saw the jukebox. He wandered over, flipped through some of the selections, started dropping quarters like it was a slot machine. For the next hour, there was nothing playing but music he’d grown up listening to in the 60s and 70s.

How do I know about flower shopping? Because I saw my father doing it often enough for my mother. He buys her flowers just because he can, not because he’s apologizing for something. Did he just get home after 4 days away at work? Man’s got flowers in hand when he steps through the door. It’s something that’s stuck with me throughout the years. I in turn learned how easy FTD Flower Delivery is. You can order flowers in time for mother’s day from Okinawa Japan when you really need to. Yesterday I was down in Los Angeles seeing a brother Marine for the first time in 3 years and came across my wife’s favorite flowers- Hawaiian plumerias. Turns out they grow nicely in LA. So I bought my wife her own blooming Plumeria. Now she can get to grow a little piece of something she loves from her home.

Another piece of advice Daddy gave me that has made all the difference in my life came with regards to dating and marriage. “Boy, dating is how you figure out what you like in a woman. While you’re at it, ask yourself something. ‘Can I see this woman being the mother of my children and raising them in a way that would make me happy?”

I’ve only had that answer once, and I got it at the same time I was told by the Spirit of the Lord that I had finally found the woman he meant for me to marry. I was told “yes, she’s the one, now quit goofing around and get to ring shopping.” That was the third week of May. By the 3rd week of August, we were engaged. The responsibility of being a father begins long before your wife ever tells you that in a few months you’re gonna have this screaming, always hungry little bundle of that looks like you but cuter. It begins when you’re dating. Take heed of that young men, it’s going to happen sooner than you care to think about.

After that baby gets here and you’re daddy, own that title. Eminem is famous for saying “Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?” For our purposes, its “Will this baby’s father please stand up?” A wife really cannot carry the whole load of running a house and taking care of kids on her own. I have learned how to change diapers and rock a baby to sleep because it’s what my wife needed from me. I have cleaned puke out of a crib at ten o’clock at night because it’s what needed to happen. It also helps that I can’t smell puke. Living in Marine barracks has killed whatever discomfort I might have had about it. Baby goes in the tub, crib goes outside, gets hosed off and dried off, baby gets rocked to sleep, I’m back in bed by eleven. Ain’t hard, it’s a matter of learning the mechanics of it all.

Johnny was 2 months old, Autumn was exhausted and needed sleep, and it was my day off. So I go to rock the baby. I also have a bad back, I can’t hold a baby for long periods. I decided to cheat a little. Grabbed a can of Monster for myself, put Johnny in my truck, cranked on the music, my son and I went for a drive. Who knew babies respond so well to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Poison and Whitesnake? I certainly didn’t. But I can’t complain about results. I’m singing Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, he’s in the back seat snoring. When we got home, Autumn had been able to get more sleep, and she was ready to take on the day.

It still happens to this day. Autumn hit a point Wednesday where she could not get Dixie to fall asleep. It wasn’t even a question in my mind. Baby went in her car seat, I took her for a drive, and soon enough she was asleep. Thursday night we did the same thing with Johnny. God gave Eve to Adam as a help meet. This does not mean that Eve did everything on her own. Learn to help, learn to enjoy it. Because otherwise you’ve got years of being miserable ahead of you. No, washing dishes is not glamorous, but darn if it doesn’t make your wife happy to come home to a clean kitchen and her favorite flowers in a vase on the table. Young men, this also works on your mothers and it covereth a multitude of sins. Same with vacuuming the house and taking out the trash. I’m not perfect at it. But I am improving. Try it boys and see if it don’t improve things in your life.

Being a daddy is fun. I absolutely enjoy it. But every rose has it’s thorns. Sometimes, Daddy has to be the disciplinarian. When my son gets rowdy and won’t listen to his mother, I get to go deal with it. Just part of life. I don’t hate my son, I don’t regret bringing him into this world. Teaching a boy discipline and respect is just part of being a father. I was 15 years old the last time I talked back to my mother. And I gotta say, my mother is a master of timing. Daddy was at work when it happened, on a 4-day stretch of graveyard shift. He never came home during that stretch because of all the overtime. Add in an hour commute, all the man wants is sleep plus a hot bowl of ramen noodles. Instead he got momma, greeting him at the door with a hug and kiss and the words “your son has been talking back to me.” He did not even glance at my brother Matthew. Oh no. His head swiveled around like the turrets on a battleship, locked eyes with me, said “Boy is this true?” “Yes daddy.” “Go git your running shoes on, and a pair of shorts. You have a heartbeat, move.”

We drove me to the American Legion post on the corner of J and 40th East, he kicked me out the truck and said start running towards 90th, you run fast enough I’ll let you off early. Every mile marker he was waiting in his truck, yelling out the time and “Not fast enough keep running.” It’s a July afternoon. A sinner has plenty of time to contemplate their existence and the nature of their mistakes under such conditions. 52 minutes after I started, I finally made it to the stop sign at 90th and J. I was hot, tired, dirty, dusty and humbled. And there was daddy, with a cold bottle of Gatorade from the gas station sitting against the tailgate of his truck. Handed me the bottle, motioned for me to sit and listen. “You can be rude to a lot of people son, but don’t you never disrespect my wife, my eternal companion like that, and we are not going to have this conversation ever again, are we?” “No daddy.” “Good now drink that, let’s go home so you can apologize to your mother and take a shower because good gravy you’re sweaty.”

Sometimes, a father is the reinforcements you need to handle life’s challenges. I was 19 years old, middle of putting in mission papers when I went head to head against an Expedition with a ford Ranger doing 60 miles an hour. Both vehicles were spun out of traffic onto the shoulder of the road. My truck looked like a beer can that got stepped on by a combat boot. After I managed to catch my breath, I called my dad, told him what had happened. He beat the Sheriff’s deputies getting to M and 4th East. 911 does not move as fast as that man. By the time the deputies had a perimeter established and were looking things over, my father had walked my skid pattern to determine I was traveling within the speed limit, could verify I was still sober, and was prepared to lock horns with the world over my innocence. After the deputies got done and let me go, Daddy took me to Kaiser, sat there in urgent care with me so we could do x-rays make sure I still had a brain; we ended up at Carl’s Jr for a late night snack.

A father is a strong point of knowledge and advice about life. We always speak of Helaman’s stripling warriors and how much their mothers prepared them for life by teaching them obedience to the Lord. We forget how much it takes a father reinforce that example. The artwork depicting the 2,000 stripling warriors marching off to war is a motivational picture. But understand this- it took their fathers to teach them those skills. Something as simple as marching for hours and days at a time, with a combat load? That came from their fathers. Remember also that those same fathers swore an oath before God that they would never take up arms again in order to atone for their sins. But they were still some of the very best soldiers to be had, anywhere. I guarantee before Helaman ever rode outside the city gates at the head of an army, those fathers got together. They discussed what their sons were doing. And while those good men had sworn an oath, they never promised to not teach their sons everything they knew about a very hard profession. So they imparted that knowledge to their sons. It is a hard, painful process, whether you’re living in 62 BC or the modern world. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, the scars and a headful of memories to prove it.

Those fathers sent their sons off to war, and hoped it would be enough, prayed it would be enough. They waited for casualty lists. And they rejoiced when their sons came home. Because they finally knew they that all their efforts had been enough. And they knew how to help those sons adjust back to life on the other side of things. Those fathers were not perfect men, but they were what 2,000 young boys needed the most. Lord knows my daddy ain’t perfect, but it was the lessons learned from him, at a young age and on into adulthood that made Afghanistan a survivable experience for me.

Some folks don’t get along with their fathers. They learned by watching the men around them. A friend of mine declared that when he finally gets married and has kids of his own, the useless excuse of a man he came from is going to get a lesson about the good a father can do for his kids. My tutu kane, my father’s father, made a lot of mistakes in this life. But he also helped make sure my father attended church and was able to afford serving as a missionary to Japan. Nearly 30 years later, I actually considered delaying my mission because I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want to put that burden on my family. The example my tutu kane set is what inspired my father to sit me down and he said “Son, we got this, now go get paperwork filled out and meet with President Banfield like you need to.” I spent two very happy years in the Republic of Texas and I have never regretted, not for one minute, serving as a missionary.

I still call my daddy for advice when I don’t know something, or I’m uncertain about it. As a kid and a teen, we’d grapple in the living room. More than once, my mother would hear a loud THUMP and come running to see what we’d broken this time. The piano has nearly bought the farm several times. Daddy taught me how to tie a tie, what’s involved with preparing the sacrament. I memorized the sacrament prayer because he taught it to me.

You can ask me what I fear. It ain’t a natural disaster, I’ve lived through tornados and earthquakes and tsunami warnings and a couple good Okinawa monsoons without a scratch. I’d enjoy going back to Afghanistan on deployment. Middle of a 140 degree desert with a dozen of the smelliest tattooed men, on a cannon throwing bullets down range? Sounds like bliss. Even MRE cheese with bacon sounds good. I’d take that vacation.

What do I fear, above all else? The day I lay my father to rest, because I still have a lot to learn from him, because I love him. You can call him strict, you can call him mean, I’ve heard people call him all sorts of nasty names. I still love my father and I am grateful I have had him in my life to teach me about that very sacred responsibility.

The family is a divinely appointed institution. Fathers are central to that. We hear it over the pulpit, we hear it preached at General Conference. We hear it from prophets and apostles in this modern dispensation- fathers have an important role to fulfill in the eternal plan of salvation of the human race. I absolutely believe that, I sustain that, and I bear testimony of that.


1 Comment

  1. I thought I knew about the Father, until I became a father. And as I learned to become a father, I learned so much about the Father. It made me a better son, too.
    It’s absolutely the case that even if you don’t have a good example of a biological father, you can still get an awful lot from wise men, and sometimes even enter into a father-son relationship with them.
    Good words, J.

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