When we were first married we were very poor and very pregnant. I remember one night how excited we were when we found thirty-three cents in our couch cushions. This allowed us to walk to McDonalds and buy an ice cream cone, an almost decadent extravagance. Poor Meredith was pregnant and having cravings. She wanted a subway sandwich in a way that only a pregnant woman can. But given the state of our finances, she might as well have wanted a twelve course meal flown in from Paris.
After fighting the craving for a week or two, she finally broke down and called her dad to ask if he could loan us a few dollars for Subway. A few days later the mail brought a check for $300.00. An attached note said “Meredith’s subway cushion.” That’s what fathers do.
Years ago our toddler caught a ghastly stomach virus. He literally could not keep anything down. We were up around the clock taking care of him and doing laundry and cleaning up body fluids. It is not hyperbole to say that we did laundry 24 hours a day. After a few days of this, we were completely exhausted. We called to see if my mom could help us. She was reluctant because after many years at his company, my dad was retiring and his firm was giving a formal farewell dinner. Obviously, this was not something that could be rescheduled or lightly missed. Although we would have loved the help, we understood the significance of the event.
Mom called back shortly after. Dad had insisted that she miss the dinner and come help us. That’s what fathers do.
One of my favorite scriptures is an obscure verse from the story of Helaman’s young warriors. Helaman’s account contains this almost incidental verse: “And now it came to pass in the second month of this year, there was brought unto us many provisions from the fathers of those my two thousand sons” (Alma 56:27).
Every time I read this I get a lump in my throat and my eyes get a little tearyo.
We hear most frequently about the mothers of these outstanding young men and rightly so. But, on Father’s Day, I like to reflect on this verse and think about the fathers of these warriors.
I can see these worn and weary men. Time and suffering have etched lines in their faces and refining fires have burned their hair to gray. But their eyes glow with the light of faith and they are moist as they see their sons. Their bodies are thin from the hard labor required to raise this food, the rigors of the journey, and the knowledge that whatever they eat leaves less for their sons. They may limp and stagger a bit. They’ve been pushing themselves to cover as much ground as possible so they haven’t had much sleep. Undoubtedly some of them have holes in their sandals so their sons could have a new pair.
They clutch sticks and staves tightly. They are carrying precious food through a war-torn land. But they don’t have swords or knives. They made a covenant that they keep to the death.
That covenant meant that they were willing to be slaughtered before lifting up their swords again. When war broke out their sons, who had not made this covenant, went to war so that they could keep their promises to God.
These men had to choose between their covenants with God and letting their sons go to war for them. In their place. Knowing how likely it was that their boys would ever come back.
This would be terrible for any father. A few lines in the scriptures cannot capture what must have been the gut-wrenching, Abrahamic test of a lifetime for them.
They couldn’t change the situation so they did what they could do, what all good fathers do. They provided for their boys. That’s what fathers do.
I wish I could describe the reunion when the fathers came into camp and found their sons. But an artist, not a writer, needs to paint this picture because very little was said and everything is so subtle that it defies description.
These fathers provided critical sustenance to their sons and gave them the physical strength to fight their battles, just as their mothers provided the spiritual strength they needed. It was a less obvious, less visible contribution perhaps. And in a strictly eternal sense, one could even argue that it was minimal. But in that moment, in time, not eternity, when an army was preparing to go to war, they needed that food. The contributions of father and mother compliment and cooperate, they don’t compete.
When we needed her, my mom was an angel to come and help us and I don’t know what we would have done without her. Her sacrifice was large and obvious. But it took me years to realize that there was another angel in the story. Dad also made a profound sacrifice, one that enabled Mom’s. A man wants his wife to be with him when he’s being honored for his life’s work. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing my Dad gave up. That’s what fathers do.
A mother’s sacrifices are obvious and apparent. Her work is difficult but, with all the frustrations inherent in her work, she enjoys a preeminent place in her children’s hearts. Mothers are vital and their love warms our hearts and save our souls. We rightly honor them.
But in the background is the dad. Quietly making his own sacrifices to ensure that everything works out. Dad is the great facilitator, the provider and protector who does whatever it takes to get whatever his family needs. For his daughter to go to college. For his son to go on a mission. He provides the means for them in the here-and-now, sending money for Subway or provisions for young warriors. His solid, stable presence solves problems and fills gaps. That’s what fathers do.
Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theater from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theater and music at a private school. Braden’s first novel, The Roadshow, was released in June. He blogs at bradenbell.com.